Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pam Houston

Pam Houston divides her time between her ranch in Colorado and the University of California at Davis, where she is director of the Creative Writing Program. She has been a frequent contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, and her writing appears regularly in More and other publications. She in the author of the best-selling Cowboys Are My Weakness.

Houston's new novel is Contents May Have Shifted.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading.  Her reply:
Bear Down, Bear North, by Melinda Moustakis, a collection of short stories all set in Alaska, full of the things you would expect as such: salmon fisherman, rifles, moose in the back yard, kids running wild, too much alcohol and not enough good sense. The quality of the writing here is the real draw, however you feel about Alaska (I happen to love it). Melinda is deeply in love with the place and with language, and her voice will get inside your head and stay there in all the best ways.

The Empty Family, by Colm Toibin, a collection of short stories about loneliness and the world’s bright beauty and how those two things push against each other over the course of our lives. My favorite stories were the two first person, autobiographical ones, and also the novella that ends the book, which might be one of the great love stories ever told. This is the kind of book that has gotten better and better in my mind the longer I am away from it, which is to say that I loved it while I read it, and it has grown on me still in my memory.

Wild, a memoir, by Cheryl Strayed, forthcoming in March. Cheryl was twenty-two when her mom died quickly, from cancer. Her world turned upside down by the loss; she went on a drug and sex bender that was getting darker and more risky every day. In an effort to pull herself back into the light, she decided to hike almost the entire Pacific Crest Trail, the Mohave Desert to Washington State, alone with a backpack so big she named it monster, even though she had never even worn a backpack in her life. I was not so sure I would like this book. The subject matter was a little close to home, and memoirs aren’t my favorite form. But I read it on a long airplane flight, and by the time I was done the people all around me were seriously afraid of me. I was laughing so hard I was shaking the whole row of seats, and when I wasn’t laughing I was crying.

When Women Were Birds, another memoir, out in April by Terry Tempest Williams. A week before Terry’s mom died, she told Terry she wanted her to have the 30 plus journals she had kept her whole life, but she made Terry promise not to open them until after she was gone. Terry complied, and weeks later she went to her father’s house to begin to read the journals. She opened the first one. It was blank. She opened the next one and it too was blank. They were all blank. This book is a stunningly wise meditation on what it means to speak and what it means to stay silent.

Preliminary Report, poems by Jon Davis. This is the best book of poems that came out in 2010, in my opinion, and Jon Davis might be the most underrated poet in America. Razor sharp, super intelligent, but never at the expense of the heart-stopping images, or the serious emotional punch they pack. Look for the poem "Loving Horses" on line and see if you don’t want more.
Visit Pam Houston's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Pam Houston and Fenton Johnson.

The Page 69 Test: Contents May Have Shifted.

My Book, The Movie: Contents May Have Shifted.

--Marshal Zeringue