Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder is the author of a novel, Nickel, and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both optioned for television and film.

A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition.

Recently I asked Wilder about what he was reading. His reply:
Every summer I teach (and reread) Gregory Martin’s Stories for Boys. It’s a smart and moving memoir about Greg’s roles as son, father, and husband in the wake of a family eruption. Teacher and writer Greg Martin believes he had a terrific childhood with two loving and committed parents until his mother calls to say that his historically affable father attempted suicide. When Greg needs to know why, his mother replies, “You better come ask him yourself.” Greg visits his father in the hospital and a big secret is revealed: his father has had gay anonymous sex secretly his entire life. The rest of the memoir wrestles with how Greg can forgive (and accept) his father, comfort his mother, and tell his two young sons about suicide, abuse, divorce, and homosexuality. Ultimately, Greg needs to redefine his identity in the face of all these new truths. The story alone is amazing but Greg, an expert memoirist, tells it with a keen eye toward both honesty and art.

There are so many wonderful books coming out of small and university presses and Kathleen Lee’s All Things Tending towards the Eternal is one of the best. Lee takes an unlikely cast of characters and gets them into a taxi to travel across China in 1989, just after the Tiananmen Square massacre. There is so much to love about this novel. Lee is a veteran traveler who can capture the real complexities of being a stranger in a strange land. I marveled at the way she evenhandedly examined the glory and ugliness of these so-called exotic locales set in a China that is changing and unchanging at the same time. Moreover, her deep compassion for her characters makes them come alive and stay with you well after you finish the last pages. And the sentences! Line by line, this is one of the most beautiful novels around.

In terms of poetry, I am an avid reader of Tony Hoagland. His latest collection, Application for Release from the Dream, shows the sharp wit and deep wisdom of one of our great American poets as he grows older. His insights on our culture today make me stop and consider the underlying meaning (and consequences) of the shopping mall or reality television, as well as the eternal solace of the natural world. Hoagland has a way to grab you with a funny or poignant image then move you through narrative toward a vulnerable and/or insightful ending. He proves over and over, in his poems and essays, that poetry might be the only thing that will make America great again.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place known for its visual art in addition to its literary works. Naturally, painters, photographers , and filmmakers have all been drawn to The Land of Enchantment for hundreds of years. If you count Native artists (and you should), thousands. A few years ago I attended a landscape photography show by William Clift at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Clift (nephew of actor Montgomery Clift) is well known in the photography world as a master of landscape, but he has also taken iconic images of Georgia O’Keefe as well as classic Polaroids. His show centered around two stunning landscapes: Shiprock, New Mexico, and Mont St. Michel in France. The photos were simply stunning, so I purchased his book Mont St. Michel and Shiprock. Turns out that Clift has been shooting these dramatic places for decades and will labor for years over one single print. The book stays open on my coffee table for those moments when I need a break from words or desire something inarguably enchanting to fill my eyes.

Finally, I love to cook. So do my three brothers and daughter Poppy. The jury is still out on my son London. Even with the plethora of “foodie” websites, cookbook sales are still booming and that makes me happy. I own about forty cookbooks including some of my father’s I (stole) inherited after he died a few years ago, and Life is Meals, a lovely memoir of hosting dinners by James and Kay Salter. My friend Edie recently gave me The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, and I love it. Not only does MIT grad J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and his team explain the science of brining and basting, the book also provides a general how-to for basic sauces, roasts, stocks, and salads. For the modern cook, The Food Lab should replace any general cookbook you own (sorry, The Joy of Cooking). I also think this would be a great gift for young people (hipsters) just starting out in their own kitchens.
Visit Robert Wilder's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Daddy Needs A Drink.

My Book, The Movie: Nickel by Robert Wilder.

--Marshal Zeringue