Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rhonda Riley

Rhonda Riley is a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Florida.

Her recently released debut novel is The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.

Last month I asked Riley about what she was reading.  Her reply:
Except when I am researching, I am a very random reader. Lately, research for my next work (one completely unrelated to Adam Hope, the other a sequel) has soaked up my reading time. And my fiction reading since my book has been published, has been a reaction to who I am meeting. When I know I will be meeting authors, I try to read their books. I once had the privilege of squiring Michael Ondaatje around my hometown when he was a visiting writer. At the time I had not read any of his work. Turns out he is one of my favorite writers (I cannot get over In the Skin of a Lion). I blew my chance to thank him in person and to ask him questions about his work. I don’t want to make that mistake again! A couple weeks ago, I was at the Jr. League’s Annual Book & Author Dinner in Richmond (a very fancy literary fundraiser and lots of fun) where I met Leigh Newman. Her memoir, Still Points North, is an unflinching and engaging book about an incredible childhood and how much a breakup in a family can affect a child well into adulthood. I recommend it. Very well-written. Amazing stuff about Alaska and fishing with her father.

I love being engrossed in a good novel. I prefer fiction that makes me think and I’m okay if all the dots are not connected. I recently finished reading Beautiful Ruins. I’d been seeing the book everywhere. Then a reader who came to one of my signings and loved my book recommended it to me and said she thought I would like it. I do. It is well-written, funny and touching, a sweet journey through the edges of Hollywood and Italy, from the early 60s up to the present. It has multiple points of view. I like it when stories and novels do that. In life and in most families, the really juicy stories have to be gathered from many points of views and are best considered across a span of time.

Last night, I finished Caroline Leavitt’s Pictures of You. I’ll be meeting her at Booktopia in Bellingham, WA next month. She starts with a single accident and follows it through the lives of the survivors. She’s very good at taking a reader through a tight web of overlapping characters’ motivations and reactions. I loved the fact that in this story she did not tie everything up in a tidy bow. I prefer stories that end by opening out instead of narrowing down to a point. I also like reading short stories because they are short and a different animal from the novel. Every year I read the series, Best American Short Stories. The year Stephen King edited it, it was particularly good. But back to what I am reading now. My last short story collection was Frank Conroy’s Midair. I picked it up at the local Friends of the Library sale when I limited myself to short stories, a necessary limitation if I wanted to avoid being completely overwhelmed by the massive number of good books and putting my back out trying to lug them to my car. It was an interesting read. The first story was an amazing tale about a man’s memory of a deranged father who once took him out on a window ledge when he was a boy. But in the rest of the stories, Conroy’s writing style didn’t seem to support the stories as well. I’m keeping the book for that first story.

I also read poetry, though lately, I almost prefer to hear it. I recently went to a reading at my local library and was mesmerized by Sidney Wade reading her poetry. Very clean images that are dense and at the same time simple. Her book Straits and Narrows is on my night stand. If you love poetry, nature or birds, get it.

Now, back to my research. But first, I can’t help but ask: anybody read any nonfiction from the point of view of a Catholic priest? Any recent travel books that cover rural northwest India, Nepal or southern China? If so let me know.
Visit Rhonda Riley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.

--Marshal Zeringue