Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Steven Church

Steven Church is the author of The Day After The Day After: My Atomic Angst, Theoretical Killings: Essays and Accidents, and The Guinness Book of Me: a Memoir of Record. His essays and stories have been published widely and he has new work forthcoming in Brevity and Fourth Genre. He’s a founding editor of the literary magazine, The Normal School and he teaches in the MFA Program at Fresno State.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
It’s probably easiest for me to talk about what I’m reading in terms of what I’ve just finished reading, what I’m actively reading, and what I’m looking forward to reading.

1. I recently read Eula Biss’s book Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, an ambitious, smart and sublime collection of essays on race and ethnicity that recently won the National Book Critic’s Circle award for criticism. Her style, like Joan Didion’s, is somewhat oblique and emotionally reserved, but rarely in a way that’s alienating or inappropriate. What drives these pieces is language, voice, and a kind of boiling moral tension that is hard to pinpoint. Her essay, “Time and Distance Overcome,” which I first read in Harper’s as “The War on Telephone Poles,” is a wrenchingly beautiful piece of writing that you feel in your body like a wave crashing over and pulling you under.

Ashley Butler’s slim but psychologically dense and haunting collection of essays, meditations and fragments, Dear Sound of Footsteps, was a book I picked up because it came out from Sarabande, a press I’ve admired for some time, mostly because I’m completely enraptured by one of their other books, On Looking, by Lia Purpura, a collection of essays on the ethics and aesthetics of looking that I come back to again and again, re-reading it at least once a year and falling in love with it not just as a text but as a way of seeing the world.

Two recent reads have stirred up some debate and discussion about the ethics and aesthetics of nonfiction as a genre, David Shield’s brilliantly rabblerousing, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto and John D’Agata’s book-length essay, About a Mountain, a lyrical meditation on Yucca Mountain, suicide, apocalypse, language, communication, and Las Vegas.

2. I’m actively reading a couple of books right now. Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, is a meticulously researched, deep and troubling book that also somehow manages to give hope in the face of things like the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. I was reading her accounts of the micro-utopias that arise in the aftermath of a natural disaster just as the accounts of the situation in Haiti began trickling over the airwaves and I felt as if I understood what was happening better thanks to this book.

I’m also reading Nick Flynn’s new book, The Ticking is the Bomb. I consider his first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, to be one of the best memoirs written in the last 20 years, so I’ve been excited to dive into this book. Though I’ve just begun, it hasn’t disappointed. Similar in form and movement to his first book, this one feels somehow more raw and painful. Admittedly, part of what interests me about it is that I’m dealing with some similar issues in my own writing—fatherhood in a world with terrorism and torture—and I want to see how Flynn navigates this territory.

3. Finally there are several books I’m looking forward to reading in the coming weeks and months. First up on the list is a collection of essays from a writer I like quite a lot, Patrick Madden. His book, Quotidiana: Essays, promises to be a delightfully essayistic celebration of the essay form. I’m also waiting on several books that haven’t been released--Joe Bonomo’s analysis of the AC/DC album Highway to Hell, Bonnie Rough’s Carrier: Untangling the Danger in my DNA, Steve Almond’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, and Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.
Visit Steven Church's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue