My three favorites: 1. Housekeeping, by Marilynn Robinson. This novel is a lush and lyrically written story, which is haunting, witty, and remarkable in its technical feats, and a plot that challenges preconceived ideas regarding our understanding of a "normal" life.
2. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. These rich, profound stories are literary art at its finest, work meant for anyone who cares about life, history, and complex characters that confound and intrigue. Every Texan should be required to read the book, simply because Porter is one of our state's finest products.
3. To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. This classic should be required reading because of its landmark status as a literary work. Like James Joyce's Ulysses, the novel lingers within a character's subconscious, giving expression to the flickering thoughts and images that are universally familiar. This is the story of a family, but an equally important character is time, its passage recorded as though it were living, breathing, a creature of passing beauty and ruthless intent.
I'm currently reading a collection of poems called Lush (Four Way Books, 2001). The poet is a New York writer, Frazier Russell, who recently taught a Gemini Ink class.
Dagoberto Gilb is the author of The Magic of Blood — winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist — and the novel The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña. He has also won a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Award for his fiction, and his stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, and The Texas Observer. A union construction worker for over 12 years, Gilb lives in Austin.
My most recent discovery was while I was walking the asphalt maze around the complex where all the PT Cruisers and VW whatevers and coupe and sedan Toyotas and Accords, DXs and LXs, are parked and parked in slots and slots. Next to the stinky trash dumpster was a box, and in that box — besides the way-old fuzzy bear doll which attracted my sentimental attention for several seconds, and something too disgusting to mention — was The Body Language of Horses. I responded as any of us would, clutching it furtively. (Chapters: "The Sharp Horse." "The Ready Horse." "The Dull Horse." "The Frightened Horse." "The Angry Horse." "The Cold Horse." You see?)
My favorite book of Chicano poetry is Chuang Tzu by Chuang Tze. If you want to know the secret of our mystical Chicano nature, why our people understand (eg, el espiritu del caballo and books about horsies), andale pues, vatos.
Oh yeah, two others (I am a cheater, I was told three, but I get four — haha): Sofia's Saints by Diana Lopez, a first novel set in Corpus that displays a break-out new voice, quiet as it is; and Crazy Loco by David Rice, which is published in the young adult category but should not be limited by it — one of the best story collections by a Chicano writer, honest and funny, too.
Bryce Milligan is the author of a dozen books, and the editor of a dozen more. A novelist, poet, critic, playwright, singer/songwriter, and author of children's books, he is also the publisher of Wings Press. Milligan's latest book, an Irish Christmas story for children, Brigid's Cloak (Eerdmans Publishing) just received a starred review in Publishers Weekly (meaning it's highly recommended, and will be in all the libraries). He is currently writing a book about Eneduanna (ca. 2,600 BCE), the first poet known by name to have written in the first person.
I think everyone with a taste for fantasy must read The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) before they see the movies. One owes it to one's own imagination to form the images before having them thrust indelibly into one's consciousness.
I find myself re-reading Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Not all of it, just the river passages. If there ever was a great American novel, this is it.
There are far too many good poets to name one, but I would urge readers not to avoid contemporary poetry. Eliot and Pound, great as they were (and I love them both), succeeded in scaring off a lot of readers. But poetry is one of those things I think we must read, and it must be read as a global art form. To understand the mind of a poet from another culture will go a long way toward keeping us from bombing his or her children into illiteracy.
Milligan is currently reading Francine Prose's The Lives of the Muses.
Wendy Barker is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches creative writing (poetry), American literature, modern and contemporary poetry, literature by women, and feminist theory. A 1986 winner of an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, she is a widely published poet, and the author of Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and The Experience of Metaphor and Winter Chickens and Other Poems.
The Invention of Clouds by Richard Hamblyn. With its horizontal, elegant covers enclosing its leisurely tracing of meterology's origins in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, this history of Luke Howard's nomenclature for clouds is so fascinating it has even spawned several of my recent poems.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This brilliant, gripping narrative of a boy on a raft with a Bengal tiger ultimately causes us to reconsider the relation of survival to stories, art, and faith. It is the most original novel I have read in years.
The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. I could not put down this haunting novel of an Odyssean quest for art and the unknown, whose modest but engaging main character leaves the dreary streets of middle-class Victorian London for the Burmese jungle. Not a book for the reader who wants a tidy ending, the story leaves us questioning everything we had thought might be "real."
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