A frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, he’s also written for the New York Times Book Review, Outside, The Believer, and Slate, among other magazines. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow.
A couple of weeks ago I asked Waters about what he was reading. His reply:
Lately I’ve been reading an equal amount of nonfiction and fiction. Usually when I’m writing a short story, or a longer piece, I try to limit my fiction reading because, as nearly every writer always says, it can tinker with your own voice—but really, I just prefer spending time in one fictional universe at a time. I’ve been steadily working on a longer nonfiction piece, so these days I find I’m reading more short stories, and novels.Visit Don Waters' website.
One of those novels is Beautiful Fools, written by my pal R. Clifton Spargo. Clifton manages to bring to life the last adventures of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a reimagining of a real event—the couple’s final trip to Cuba. And the novel is such a wondrous surprise. Not only does he give Scott and Zelda a pulse, he shows us their love, anxieties, thoughts, dreams, and fears. Beautiful Fools is also a great way to travel to Cuba alongside two mesmerizing companions.
Another novel I recently read, and loved, is The Dinner by Herman Koch, which walloped me. Two couples sit down at a restaurant for dinner. Simple enough, right? But slowly, mischievously, Koch teases out a story of family tragedy, and mistrust, and scheming. Underneath the subtext is more subtext, and when you’re in, you’re in until the final page. You actually wait for and want the digressions in the text, because each digression adds more layers. It’s a skillfully plotted novel and a guilty pleasure.
Of the nonfiction books on my plate right now are The Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber and The World in the Curl by Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul. I’m reading both for the book I’m currently writing, and thankfully both are informative and entertaining. The Pulp Jungle is Gruber’s memoir as a writer through the pulp circuit of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. It’s an older book, published in 1967, and I found it at Reading Frenzy, a boutique indie bookstore in downtown Portland. Gruber details the rise and fall of the early pulp magazine industry and his experience breaking in. He relates countless anecdotes about his ups and downs as a pulp operator. What’s most fascinating are the tales about writers who appeared in pulps and who would later become cultural cornerstones—like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. And there are many others like them on the list. Tennessee Williams’s first story, for example, first appeared in the pulp Weird Tales. I love coming across information like that.
The World in the Curl, the other nonfiction book on my bed stand, tracks the history of the surfing movement, from the Polynesians and Hawaiians to today’s corporate boardrooms. It’s a fascinating read, especially the book’s first-hand accounts of Jack London and Mark Twain. I know the story—and stories—about the rise of surfing in the modern era, so I’m enjoying the book for the early history, and also as a way to keep my toes in the water, even though I’m reading the book late at night, in bed.
Writers Read: Don Waters (October 2009).