Hello readers and welcome to a new series for the website. This is an outgrowth of a file that’s been sitting in my Google Drive for months now, so instead of laboring over it for another few months I thought I’d just break out some of the more important elements. That initial post was called “What’s a Reader For?” and was going to take a look at all the sources we bring into account each day as we try to understand the world. In the age of the internet and social media I realize that could be an infinite amount so I’m trying to break it down into the sources I try to follow.
To start I thought I would mention how this has changed for me over the past few years. I try to always start via my Gmail and then go to my other ways of getting information - feedly and Instapaper and some days, Twitter. I used to try and find out about world events first, but in the last few years have since tried to shift my focus to a more local angle, finding out what’s happening in Minnesota and more closely, Minneapolis.
So, what are some great sources for finding out what’s going on in this state? Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two places I have contributed to: Streets.mn and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. StreetsMN has been around for over a decade and covers a lot of great transportation and land-use issues and many of their contributors write for other places too. The Spokesman-Recorder is one of the oldest Black-owned newspapers in the country and focuses on all types of important issues, both here and nationwide.
Another great place to get a rundown on what’s happening is MinnPost. I try to check their “Glean” page every day as their editors find many important local stories twice a day. I have cultivated a decent relationship with one of their reporters and try to check out what he writes as often as possible. I would highly recommend checking this site out every day if you want to know what’s going on at a state level. They also have a bevy of important e-newsletters that are worth your time.
I will also shout-out two other hyper local outlets that do a great job: Sahan Journal, which covers immigrant stories (and plenty of others) and Racket, run by former City Pages staff and attempting to create a sustainable model via subscription service. And I should also mention Wedge LIVE, another hyperlocal operation (and podcast) run by a single person that tries to encompass much of Minneapolis news. (John Edwards also gave me some quotes for an article I did a few years back.)
I know I’m leaving a few outlets from this post so I’m going to do one more in the coming weeks regarding a few other notable sources in the Twin Cities. You may have noticed I’m not including places like the Star Tribune or the other local corporate news outlets. If you know my journalistic side, you’ll understand why I didn’t include them, but I won’t berate you if those are your own sources. I just don’t think they’re very good compared to the wealth of independent news places that have come about in the Minnesota area over the last decade.
But again, feel free to post comments or reply to the email regarding your own source lists. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but there’s only so much time in the day to read. As writers we need to make the most of that time in order to understand the world. Thanks for reading!
Hello to those of you on my email list or following me on social media. I know it’s been a long while since I’ve updated my website about my writing career, so I thought I’d do a quick one.
Where the heck have I been? You might recall the Reading List took a hiatus last May. I have a new batch of novels to read this year and will get to them after I finish the incredible nonfiction journalistic work Manufacturing Consent.
Speaking of journalism, in case you missed it I was lucky enough to work with Mel Reeves (RIP) and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder last September on an important piece concerning the Minneapolis Charter Commission. I’m now finishing up a final piece that will (hopefully) drop within another month or two.
A major event that happened last December was my having a mental health crisis over the holidays. Thankfully my wife Mary helped me through it, but it did raise some uncomfortable questions about my life and how I endure it. I was diagnosed as bipolar and am now on medication, but the path has not been easy. Please take care of your mental health as we experience this pandemic on a societal level. I know it’s cliché to say “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything” but after living that for a while I’d have to say it’s true.
Finally, the novel. I am diving back into the twelfth draft of Spheres of Influence, using my editor’s notes as a guide to expanding it. I will have more updates as I finish the draft. I am also planning on revising and writing new short stories once I get to that point.
I mentioned on Twitter recently that I've been working on a blog post called “What’s a reader for?” This dovetails with a similar query to my readers on a possible new series: A Note on Sourcing. That is, what are the many (many) sources that we as writers (or readers) try to take in each day, week, or month to understand what is going on in the world? Personally I try to focus on Minnesota/Minneapolis news and then expand to national news, but it’s a constant struggle to keep up with everything (else).
So for a query to you: what are the most important sources you follow each day? This could be email newsletters, actual newspapers, websites, blogs, whatever. Heck, it could just be Twitter or Instagram. Not everyone uses “old school” services like Feedly or Instapaper as I do. Feel free to respond to this with your lists, and I hope to compile them into a blog post someday.
And if you’re looking for something to read you can check out either of my novels, which are available from North Star Press or as e-books through B&N as well.
Thanks to all of you for reading my work over the years; there will be more blog posts in 2022!
Hello readers and welcome to what would have been the final installment of this part of the Reading List. As stated last time, my intent was to finish up with a non-fiction title. However I have since learned that the author was forced to resign in disgrace several years ago due to a sexual assault investigation. In the interest of standing with survivors of sexual assault, I will not be posting about this book.
This is unfortunate but does coincide with my plan to put the Reading List on hiatus for a while (at least a few months, possibly the rest of the year). What began as an initial experiment for this blog turned into a yearly series, and as I wrote in my final “reflections” post, will be ongoing for my career. Few other things have taught me so much about how to write and about my blind spots as an author. This fits in with an overall withdrawal that I will post on next month as I take some needed time away from my writing career.
Thanks to everyone who has read this blog for the past half-decade. The Reading List will return (eventually). jA
Hello readers and welcome to the penultimate installment of this leg of the Reading List. (ICYMI: As I stated in the final “reflections” post, this will be an ongoing series for the rest of my career.) I am continuing the genre detours and am now heading back to a few kinds I haven’t gotten to in a while. First up is Chris Ware’s 2000 graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.
First serialized in the Chicago alt-weekly Newcity and his own Acme Novelty Library, Ware’s genre-defining work was collected as a book by Pantheon and went on to win several major awards after publication. I have been reading graphic novels for a long time now but haven’t gotten to many classics of the form until the last few years. I feel I can state Jimmy Corrigan was quite possibly the best I’ve ever read. I have never encountered such a graphic work that blends story, thematic elements, palette and setting to tell such an engrossing tale. The book centers around an autobiographical protagonist of Ware (Jimmy). But the story follows far more than just this character as Ware weaves a rich backstory of both the history of Chicago and the Corrigan family within it.
A minor complaint I had (being an addled almost forty-year-old man) was that in some of the 19th century parts the cursive handwriting could be difficult to read even with my new glasses. But therein lies the draw, as small works very well for Ware through the panels, most of which use tiny lettering to paint a rich conversation among the expansive setting panels. There are also a few ludicrous craft pages that are hilarious and worth the effort to scour for detail. Overall the artwork makes this book a true masterpiece of its era.
The narrative deals with some heavy and important issues such as loneliness, depression, and racism in some quite profound ways. I would recommend it as one of the greatest examples of the form. I am looking forward to reading more of Ware’s work.
Next I am taking a final stop into a different type of non-fiction book (*gasp*) I haven’t read in years: the “how to write” category. This will also finally be my first Graywolf title, Ron Carlson Writes a Story. Thanks for joining me on this reading journey.
Hello readers and welcome to this installment of the Reading List. (ICYMI: As I stated in the final “reflections” post, this will be an ongoing series for the rest of my career.) Starting out this year will be a continuation of the genre detours I have established over the last few months, and last time I looked at a very interesting poetry anthology. As promised I am now going in a completely new direction, reading a (according to The Wikipedia) “young adult coming-of-age epistolary novel,” Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 book The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
This isn’t exactly an unknown title, being made into a quite successful film by Chbosky in 2012 (and the original impetus for my wanting to read the book), but I had forgotten in the intervening years how much the story is similar to my first novel from North Star Press. Before I get too deep into the comparisons I must say Chbosky wrote a far superior book and I’m glad he got the accolades. I also think he made a good call in using the epistolary form (something I tried to do with a diary) to tell the story as it allowed for a very intimate look into the main character’s life. Also (somewhat *trigger warning* if you need that) there is an incredible and sad revelation about abuse at the very end of the novel that made me think about how to layer in such an impactful moment and have it resonate.
Regarding those similarities, major themes in common would be (*spoiler* for my book, I guess?): suicide, drug use, and being an outcast (albeit a more religious way in my novel). But striking more to the core of it, despite the turgid anger of my Twitter feed these days, I was like Charlie for most of my life. Observing people rather than “participating,” trying to be someone I was not, and in general feeling sensitive toward the world rather than being active in it. I tried to wrangle all those things (much more a part of me in high school) for Our Senior Year along with some of the other crises I was facing in my “real” life at the time circa 2013. This “young adult” novel, despite a few quibbles of my own, does an incredible job of displaying what it is like to navigate this type of world and make it.
I wish Chbosky had focused the narrative a bit more on the “major” themes, but even that’s pretty personal. I also was a lot more repressed about homosexuality growing up and perhaps that understanding continues to limit me. That being said, growing up believing I needed to be a bigoted jerk about it does explain why in the novel (and played so freakin’ well in the film by Ezra Miller) Patrick needs to be careful with his identity. For those people in my own high school who felt that type of loathing from me, I know it’s far too late, but I am sorry.
Up next I’m switching over to a genre I haven’t returned to in a few years, the graphic novel. To wit, one of the utter ground-breaking classics of the genre: Chris Ware’s 2000 opus Jimmy Corrigan. (FYI the text is very small and a recent trip to the eye doctor confirmed my continuing addled decomposition, so this one might take a while.)
Thanks for reading and following my work. -ja
Hello readers and welcome to this installment of the Reading List. As I stated in my final “reflections” post, this will just be an ongoing series for the rest of my career. Starting out this year will be a continuation of the genre detours I have established over the last few months. As promised, the first book is this twentieth century lyrical work by Edgar Lee Masters.
This was a collection my wife has recommended to me for years and I thought it would be another good look at a different way to use language. The anthology is made up of cemetery epitaphs, some connected and some philosophical, that tell the story of the residents in the fictional town of Spoon River. The epitaphs are connected through stories and lives, and while most connect page to page others take longer to understand. At the end is an epic, Homeric type poem entitled “The Spooniad” that brings together many of the intertwining tales.
I thought this was a great read, and took my time with it. I would sit with ten to twenty of these epitaphs per session and think about them as they revealed similar mystery and passions that roiled any small Midwestern town over the last century. I kept being drawn to my own memories of fall and how little everything seems to change, even as it does. Some of the best epitaphs reveal hidden secrets behind everyday occurrences or the unvarnished truths about life. And while the overarching story concerning the pillars of the community (bank and church etc) collapsing due to corruption carries over and wrecks plenty of people, not all let the moral backwardness of the town rule their lives.
I would definitely recommend this collection for anyone looking to understand both the weird history of this country, but also those wanting to see how to tell a story in a different format. I would suggest checking out a stage version as well; this video I found on the series of You-Tubes has some great performances.
Up next I am going to wind even farther away from my normal patterns, yet reading a book I have been interested in for a long time: Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a young adult novel published (*adjusts spectacles*) over twenty years ago. Thanks for joining me on this reading adventure, and stay healthy out there.
Hello and congratulations for making it through the first year of this decade. And while most of us would prefer not to think about 2020 ever again, it seems 2021 is off to an even more rocky start. My long-time readers know what to expect from me at this juncture, and I decided to do one final reading reflection on the year before I continue this series as long as I can.
Readers also know by now this is a “revamped” list (focusing less on old white dudes) that also pivots to more genres. Toward the start of 2020 I wrapped up my tour (for now) of “mainstream” science fiction works and then started back with more contemporary female voices. I finished up the year with another “detour into drama” and just managed to jam the first poetry collection on the list. I was laid off from my bookstore job in March, eliminating most of my non-fiction reading time. But I still managed to get to one: Aldous Huxley’s 1954 work The Doors of Perception. All told I read through eleven books this year (far lower than usual, but then again it was 2020).
I also got some posts done in a few other series throughout the year. I managed to get parts four and five of my “How to Write a Book” series posted, and did another entry in the “Writing Life” series during the height of the unrest last summer. And came back to the series on Netflix, doing a post on the incredible Orange is the New Black (I also read the memoir, technically making that book number twelve for the year).
I don’t have much else to add other than to say thanks for reading my work on this here website for over five years. Most of the posts going forward will be divided into these series categories. I have a few other ideas regarding sourcing I’m figuring out, but I will be focusing on these categories. Thanks again for reading and have a great new year.
Hello readers and welcome to the final installment of the 2020 Reading List. I am pivoting through genres (last time taking my second dramatic detour) and decided on a poetry collection for my final book. In this case Scott Edward Anderson’s 2018 collection Dwelling: An Ecopoem. As the subtitle indicates, this was much more than just a group of poems and I found a lot of philosophical and environmental considerations laced throughout the work.
Claiming to be “in conversation with” Martin Heidegger’s essay “Building Dwelling Thinking,” the first half is a series of connected poems that look at those concepts. As I am a complete ignoramus in the realm of poetry, I was blown away by the excellent uses of language and figurative imagery to conjure the many ways humans have taken ourselves out of “nature” despite being a part of it ourselves. Through long poetic ruminations on housing (“dwelling”) and what it means in the larger picture of life, Anderson shows us how we can find our way back. Many of the poems I had to ponder on my own about how it affected and contrasted my own work.
I found the second half (“Some Questions of Dwelling”) just as enjoyable, as through a bunch of short essays Anderson details his philosophical arguments, both about Heidegger’s questionable history but also how his concept of “dwelling” fits in with our own modern age. There was a ton to ponder on how the urban landscape could change, and I found the entire section to be a refreshing look at how our cities and neighborhoods could adapt to the coming climate shifts. Anderson has a voluminous amount of works cited that sum up many of the influences of this book.
As a reader who is abominable when it comes to understanding poetry I am very glad I picked up this book. Poetry forces one to think in a much different way, and the way the sequence built into the multi-layered essays (as well as the definitions running along the bottom of each page) offered a viewpoint on a new way of being and thinking toward nature and the environment. I would recommend this collection for anyone interested in the future of humanity and how it might reincorporate with the planet.
Thank you for joining me on another reading adventure as we navigated this horrendous year. As promised I will continue the varied genres into the new year, starting with a collection my wife has wanted me to read for years: Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology. Thanks as always for reading, and here’s hoping 2021 is (slightly?) better.
Hello readers and welcome to this special installment of the 2020 Reading List. As I mentioned in the last post I am pivoting to other literary genres through the end of the year and beyond. This is a route I have taken before with dramas and a graphic novel, but have not yet expanded. For now I wanted to start off the genre escapades with another “detour” as before, looking at some of the best regarded plays from the twentieth century: The Glass Menagerie and Waiting for Godot
The Glass Menagerie. This was Tennessee Williams’s first stage work, produced in 1944. While it seems simple by his later standards, the thematic elements that would garner him major fame are all here, albeit with a bit smaller cast and setting. This was the author’s most autobiographical play, pulling from his own life as he struggled with desires to leave home and his later realizations about his sister’s lobotomy. This comes across as the narrator Tom discusses his needs with the audience and then demonstrates them in the brief scenes. Williams decided to leave in the screen instructions from the original production to give some visual clues at various interludes. While my wife and I have seen his better known works performed at the Guthrie over the years, having never read this play I found it to be just as compelling and thoughtful about the vagaries of life.
Waiting for Godot. I decided to temper the angst of Williams with the absurdity of Beckett, reading his masterwork that premiered in 1953. This was without a doubt one of the most hilarious pieces I have read in a long while, and made me ponder the throughlines to the century’s later humorists, from Christopher Guest to Ricky Gervais. While you might be familiar with the overall thematic elements, if like me you have not encountered this work yet I would recommend it, as there is so much to interpret and enjoy. The dialogue alone rings with multiple meanings and concerns and elements that it’s hard to believe this is another work that accomplishes so much with just a few main characters. It was a true benchmark of comedic timing that has led to countless other references I have probably missed over my lifetime.
While I would recommend either of these works, I would like to state that mixing up genres is becoming an essential part of my reading. As promised, I will be diverting more in the coming months. Up next will be a book of poetry, Scott Edward Anderson’s 2018 collection Dwelling. Thanks as always for joining me on this reading adventure, and have a good holiday.
Hello readers and welcome to this installment of the 2020 Reading List. I am finishing another journey with contemporary female authors, last time poring through an interesting tale that threaded storytelling and magic. For my final book in this vein I decided to read a science fiction classic that I have wanted to get to for years: Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred. Given all that has occurred in my city this year I felt it was an important choice.
In a year of amazing reads, Kindred was the best one I have encountered. Described by some scholars as a “neo-slave narrative” this book is far more than just a science fiction or historical novel, but a deep examination of the country and its shape over the course of two centuries. The main character, a Black woman from 1976 California named Dana is sent back to 19th century east coast plantation country over the course of weeks that in fact take place over years in her actual life. She figures out she is meant to go back to save the life of the plantation owner’s son who will wind up being related to Dana in some pernicious ways over the years. This is just one paradox at the heart of this crucial examination of race relations and its hold over the national consciousness.
While a lot of science fiction is driven by Butler’s kind of spare prose, I found her particular style conveyed this narrative in a powerful fashion. We get an up-close look at Dana’s interior thoughts as she experiences these trips back in time alone and with her white husband, who (*spoiler*) ends up getting trapped back in that time period for a portion of the novel. We get to see her inner anguish as a 20th century Black woman interrogating her own ancestry and the many ways slaves showed resistance to a horrendous, cruel and racist system of oppression. The larger stunner for me was continuing to set this book aside as I read it to think: just how much has changed in two hundred years?
This was quite possibly the best science fiction novel I have read, and continues the preponderance of evidence that women own this genre just as much as (if not more than) the white men that are considered part of its founding. I would recommend this book in leaps and bounds over any other science fiction author of the era, as it will make you think about history and race in a lot of profound ways.
Up next I will be winding down the 2020 Reading List with some genre detours the likes of which haven’t been seen here since (*checks archives*) the bad old days of 2018. First up will be two dramatic works, then I hope to hit one poetry collection and possibly a few others. Thanks for enduring this year along with me and reading my work.
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.