Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don Waters

Don Waters' story collection, Desert Gothic, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Stories from the collection have been anthologized in Pushcart Prize XXXIII and Best of the West 2009. He's the recipient of the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award (in fiction) and a Lannan Foundation writing fellowship, as well as other honors.

His essays and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin House, The Believer, High Country News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times Book Review.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The Night of the Gun, by David Carr

I recently spent time in a small town on the coast of Oregon, where my girlfriend and I were working on various writing projects. There was a library in town, just a two-room building, run by an all-volunteer group of dedicated people. I went there a lot. Not much to do in that town; plus, I love tiny libraries.

The Night of the Gun, a memoir by David Carr, was on the library’s shelves. Each time I walked through the door, the rolled up dollar bill on the book’s cover, resembling the barrel of a gun, seemed to be pointing at me. I finally checked it out, not knowing what to expect. What I read jolted and fascinated and, by the book’s end, amazed me.

Carr’s memoir tells of his journey – and it is a journey – out of cocaine and alcohol addiction to responsible parent and journalist with The New York Times. If you really think about that, that’s some transformation. Beyond the book’s sensational selling points—cocaine bum turned loving father—Carr’s memoir is an exploration of truth and memory. No one ever has the same memory of the same event. Carr illustrates this by turning his life’s story into reportage. He reports from front lines of old battlegrounds, returning to past haunts to interview friends and family. Out of this he achieves partial redemption (and understanding) for those past sins – and there are many. He also happens to create an interesting work of art.

The Ox-Bow Incident, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Mob justice isn’t justice at all, as Van Tilburg Clark shows in The Ox-Bow Incident, set in my home state of Nevada during its ranching and cattle rustling and early outlaw years. I picked this book up in that small Oregon town, too, purchased at an in-town bookstore. (I’m a fan of perusing libraries and bookstores in far-flung towns. They always carry authors from that region, which is a great way to discover new writers.)

Anyway, I’m always interested in other authors who write about Nevada, who write about Nevada well, and especially those who write about Nevada’s landscape in surprising ways. I’ve known about The Ox-Bow Incident for a long time, so I’m sheepish to admit that this was my first read. So far, two hundred pages in, it’s a wonderful literary Western. Published in 1940, it has slightly antiquated prose, but it’s full of almost pathologically precise character descriptions (and, like I mentioned, superb details about the environment: “…the crest of the Sierra showing faintly beyond like the rim of a day moon.”). The book is about law and order and how some men allow their feelings and prejudices to shoulder out common sense. A recommended read.

Ill Nature, by Joy Williams

I’m becoming a big fan of Williams’ nonfiction. I’m taking this book slowly; each essay requires contemplation (and a breather) before beginning with the next. It’s a gorgeously written book, and brash, and spot-on, nineteen polemical essays that address how we’re strangulating our environment. It can be hard to read, especially because her writing here is so in-your-face. More than once she addresses the reader, i.e. the perpetrator, as you, making you question your daily decisions and how these affect our environment.

Williams is a bit like Ed Abbey, one of my heroes, and it almost seems that if someone were to have a heated discussion with the personality behind this book, and disagreed, this personality would punch that questioning personality in the face. These are forceful essays, almost frantic, yet a highly controlled kind of frantic, which is what we need if we’re going to seriously undertake and solve these pressing issues. Because our planet is seriously sick. And Williams is simply holding up the mirror.

Beautiful Children, by Charles Bock

This is that book for me. I was over-excited when it was published: fellow Nevada writer, from Vegas, and what a back story! (Bock’s parents own and run pawnshops in Vegas.) Anyway, I read the first seventy pages of the book, started, stopped, started again, and for the past year I’ve been recommending the book to people even though I haven’t finished the thing. When Bock’s book was released he allowed folks to download it, for free, from his website. I have one of those versions on my computer. At first I was reading this huge PDF, but there’s something special about holding the actual book. So I went out and bought one. Now I’m on page one hundred, cruising quickly, and still enjoying it. I just need time, like we all need time, more time to sit down and read.
Visit Don Waters' website.

--Marshal Zeringue