Day 26. Glen Chamberlain’s debut collection, Conjugations Of The Verb ‘To Be’, came out in September. Mary Clearman Blew said the book has an “otherworldly loveliness that is all the more lovely for being grounded in this world.” Chamberlain has won a Pushcart Prize, the first Gilcrease Prize for fiction and the Rona Jaffe Award for both fiction and nonfiction, which named her “one of the most promising women writers in the nation.” She teaches writing fulltime at Montana State University in Bozeman and says she tries to fit in writing whenever she can. “I separated myself from the normal—well, my normal—world in June, when I went to write for a month in Basin, Montana,” she says. “Basin has 250 residents and boasts a post office, a café, a pizzeria, a bar and a radon mine, so I got a lot of writing done—enough for a second collection, I hope, to follow.”
She writes: As it’s the day after Christmas, many of you are using the gift cards you received or returning books for titles more to your liking. Others of you continue shopping for Hannukah presents. Whatever my book transactions are, they take place at The Country Bookshelf, a cozy place right on Main Street in Bozeman. The Bookshelf’s staff is amazing; I can go in and say, “I’m looking for a book I heard about and it has ‘the’ in the title, and I think there’s something about an insect in it somewhere.” They’ll find it.
Mid-January is when classes start again, and here’s what’s on my list to read between now and then:Novel: Running The Rift by Naomi Benaron. This book, published by Algonquin, won’t be out till January, so if you received some titles you’re pleased with, read those while you wait for this! Benaron won the prestigious Bellwether Prize, started and funded by Barbara Kingsolver, who describes Benaron’s novel as passionate and beautiful. I’ve read Benaron’s collection of short stories, Love Letters From A Fat Man, and I can attest to the passion and beauty of her language. I am waiting!
Short stories: By all means, read Benaron’s! Others on my list are Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is The Only Way I Want It (for the title alone, it deserves reading). Meloy grew up in Montana, but she now lives in Los Angeles, and her stories often combine the bucolic setting of Montana with a gritty psychology, both coming together in these love stories. And I never pass up any of Alice Munro’s collections. I’m poised to start Runaway—not her newest collection, but who cares?
Nonfiction: The Swerve. Ever since I read Stephen Greenblatt’s Marvelous Possessions, I’ve been a Greenblatt junkie. He presents esoteric ideas through wonderful stories; in this case, Poggio Bracciolini rediscovering Lucretius’ On The Nature Of Things, and through this, kickstarting the Renaissance.
Poetry: The last act I perform every night before bed is to read a poem. I think poetry is lovely in and of itself, but it helps prose writers become better at their craft. You can’t go wrong with any of Mary Oliver’s collections. But then there’s Wendell Berry! In either case, these poets use nature to remind us of how we must go about informing ourselves not only of ourselves but of our world. For Oliver, I’d suggest New And Selected Poems, and for Berry, Given.