Site Loader

As I’m recovering from minor surgery, I’ve been reading a lot and writing a little. I’ve gone back and re-read some of the sermons in Debbie Blue’s first book, Sensual Orthodoxy (2003), as I had just finished From Stone to Living Word (2008) and craved more engagement with her unique voice and rich insights.

Also, since I have a debut novel on the way, I’m interested in following the progression of the careers of writers I admire. As I re-read parts of Sensual Orthodoxy, I found myself noting areas where the author had since grown and matured as a writer and a thinker. (I had a similar experience last summer when I read all of Richard Russo. Returning to his debut Mohawk (1986) was fascinating after having read later works like Nobody’s Fool (1993), The Whore’s Child and Other Stories (2002), and Bridge of Sighs (2007).)

On Kindle, I’m in the middle of Andy Crouch’s latest, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, a book I’d long been looking forward to (and I’ve not been disappointed so far). On the end table is Jessie Van Eerden’s novel Glorybound, which I’m working through slowly, savoring the language, the stark and wonderfully rendered landscape, and the sense of desperation hanging over the lives of the main characters.

In terms of writing, normally I have several short nonfiction pieces in the works (see Recent for examples). At the moment, however, I’m blissfully free from deadlines. A few nights ago, with pen in hand, I found myself completely immersed in a book called Biographical and Historical Record of Jay and Blackford Counties, Indiana (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1887). Fortunately a local library scanned it to create a free e-book available online. I’m a bit of a history buff, and am trying to learn more about the area where I make my home.

This book is a fascinating combination of the chronicles of ordinary people, history of the Midwest, and ethnocentric and racist/ Manifest Destiny propaganda. Some of the sentences are laborious and contrived; others are stunningly beautiful.

I started writing a series of found poems taken from the pages of this history. I have high hopes for several of them, and I think I’ll try to generate a total of a dozen or so. It would make a good section of a new book of poems set in my adopted home state of Indiana. This new poetry collection is at least a few years away for me, but it feels good to work on it by way of going down such an interesting and unexpected rabbit hole.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

What have you been reading? What have you been writing? I’d love to check it out. Share a link or two.


20 Replies to “Literary Link-Up”

  1. Hi Dan!

    I just reveled in Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, reviewed in ERB here: I think you would find yourself quoting it in your classes. Richard Rodriguez’ Darling is on my shelf for Christmas break, but I might need to start early!

    Have you read David Rhodes’ Driftless? I can’t wait to read everything he’s ever written– such a feel for the midwest.

    I’m working to pick up some of my daughter’s favorite books. I noticed NPR’s “top 100 YA novels” (as voted by readers, so there’s no accounting for taste). My daughter loves many of the more recent titles, and I just devoured “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green. I will be picking up more of his work from the library. Fun to be able to talk about themes with her– she was delighted that I liked the author’s humor.

    Can’t wait to read yours!!!

  2. Thank you, Denise! I will check out the Solnit by way of your ERB review for sure. I want to read the new Rodriguez as well, but there’s a case where I need to backtrack and read some more of the early work so I can better understand his oeuvre.

    I read Rhode’s DRIFTLESS last year–a very, very interesting novel of place. Although I found it uneven, the good was *really* good, and I, too, want to read more of his fiction.

    John Green’s name is heard a lot around these parts, as he lives in Indianapolis. I’m embarrassed to say that I still haven’t read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, but I think I’ll remedy that over Christmas. I saw it on sale for Kindle, but it seems like the kind of book I’d want in paperback. I’ll certainly take a look at the NPR YA list, as it’s a category that seems always to be bursting at the seems, and I don’t keep up with it very well.

    Thanks so much for these excellent suggestions. I’d love to know what you’re writing these days, too.

  3. Hey Professor Bowman! I am a student of yours from Houghton. I am not sure if you remember me but I took your poetry class and your film class over Mayterm. I am currently working my way through a collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, which I find to be stimulating philosophically as well as horror-wise. His ability to encapsulate existential terror in a physical form is incredible. The way all of his characters have been indelibly marked by some indescribable trauma is unparalleled as well, at least in works that I have run into personally.

    Writing-wise, I have been working on writing a longer narrative work (A young adult is seeking to learn the truth about his parents. It is set in an extension of modern reality in which corporations have slowly bought out the governments and are running things). It is going well, I am almost finished after three years of writing, editing, and re-writing. I am taking a break from my shorter poetic works for the moment. It is much more time-intensive and work-intensive than my usual stuff but I am learning so much about the craft of writing from it (mostly discipline, haha). Any suggestions from a fellow writer whose farther down the road than I am?

    1. Hi, Steve! Of *COURSE* I remember you! Our poetry class and our film class were two of my favorites at Houghton. If I’m remembering correctly, you read Peter Handke’s poem “Song of Childhood” that time we had the poetry reading at Java 101…and then a few weeks later, we watched WINGS OF DESIRE in film class. I was excited for that connection. (And wow, we watched a ton of great movies in just a few short weeks.)

      I’ve never read Lovecraft, as I’m generally under-read when it comes to any speculative fiction. That’s a deficit I’m earnestly hoping to overcome. Let me know if there are any particular stories I should start with, esp. if any of them are available in ebook form for Kindle, which tends to be my go-to at the moment.

      Very happy to hear about the narrative you’re writing. It sounds great. Feel free to send me something to read if you like (though I owe a few others some feedback, so it may take a while to get to it).

      Advice? Read John Gardner’s books ON BECOMING A NOVELIST and THE ART OF FICTION, for starters. They are two of the finest resources I know about. But also–and I’m sure you already do this–just read a ton of fiction that you admire. You’ll pick up elements of craft best that way. Write a lot, take risks, show your work to people you are sure can help, and revise, revise, revise. I realize I’m not saying anything new here. 🙂

      Hey, also, there is a brand new resource out there that is really cool–it’s called WONDERBOOK. I bought it when it first came out, and am finding it fascinating. I think you’d like it.

      Email me at if you want to stay in touch. Great to hear from you!

    1. Wow, Deborah, that Chicago Tribune review was incredible. Even seeing him in film roles when I was a kid, I always had the feeling that there was something entirely different about Pryor. I’m thinking I should make room for this book over Christmas–sounds like a quintessential story of 20th century American identity. Thank you so much for letting me know about it.

  4. I recently finished “The Three Marriages” by David Whyte, having consumed it slowly over the calendar year (mostly in the bath). I think his combination of philosophy, story, and poetry is quite unique and I look forward to reading more of his work (and am happily attending a workshop with him next weekend!)

    In the writing department, I am working on a short story for Sarah Selecky’s Story Intensive online class. The first time I’ve written a story (or anything this literary) in eight years and it’s kicking my ass. In a good way.

    All the best for your recovery.

    1. Thanks so much, Alison. The David Whyte looks excellent; as someone who earned an advanced degree in creative writing then worked in the business world for five years, I’m certainly interested in his perspective. In fact, I’ve been tapped to lecture in business classes several times in the past two years, on subjects like creativity and where good ideas come from. I’d love to hear how the workshop goes, and I’ll put this book on my wish list.

      Glad you’re writing short fiction again! I’ll look forward to following that journey. I’m betting the results will be satisfying to both writer and readers. 🙂

  5. Recent reading:
    The Case for the Psalms, N. T. Wright
    Life Together, Bonhoeffer
    The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor
    Nostromo, Joseph Conrad

    Current Reading:
    The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco
    The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires
    Enarrations on the Psalms, Augustine

    1. Thank you, Troy–that’s some intense reading! I am not familiar with Blamires, so I just looked him up. I’m grateful to be introduced to another theologian/writer, esp. one who was encouraged to write by his tutor CS Lewis (as Wikipedia informs me). Thanks again!


  6. Dan,
    I am always seem to be behind the times with my reading. Recently, I discovered Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant collection of short stories, “Interpreter of Maladies.” The book, now twenty years old, won a Pulitzer. I finished the stories and then immediately started over.

    Writing wise, I am working on a series of essay/ memoir pieces that focus on observing or making art and am also spending time doing short fiction (short shorts) pieces.

    I won’t be at Calvin this year as it conflicts with when Terry and I will be working in Guatemala–I am sad about that as it means not seeing many friends. Heal well friend. The biggest enemy of this surgery is you–trying to do too much too soon. Let others look after you–hard, I know.


    1. David, so good to hear your voice! I actually just read Lahiri for the first time last winter. She’s that special type of writer for whom I could dismiss my entire reading list until I’ve finished all her work.

      So cool that you’re working on some short shorts (or “flash fiction” or “sudden fiction”? Never sure what the going term is)…I just got into teaching short shorts in the last two years and am always looking for more examples that demonstrate a variety of approaches.

      One of my favorites is Ann Beattie’s “Snow,” a lovely atmospheric work filled with longing. I taught it alongside a sci-fi piece called “The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass” by Fredrik Pohl, which couldn’t be any more different in style and tone and scope. Made for some fun discussions about what short shorts can be and do.

      I was just thinking about Calvin and I’m sorry to hear you can’t make it. I enjoyed our Thomas Parker-style reading in 2012. I’m sure that your work in Guatemala will be amazing.

      And thanks for the words of advice on healing. I actually thought I’d be okay just lying around, but I finally got to the point yesterday where I was crawling out of my skin and just wanted do some housework! Beth and her sister have helped tremendously. And of course there’s an unending supply of books, and great friends are just a click away…

  7. Dan my friend! I am late to the party due to my Thanksgiving celebrations with some of your favourite people. You were missed, and glad to hear you are recovering well–and reading along the way. Only have time for a quick list, but here goes.

    Working my way. off on and on. through… Nan by Nathaniel Bellows, a collection of linked short stories (right now only 0.99 for Kindle edition on iTunes!)

    Reading and discussing … Becoming Married by Herbert Anderson & Robert Cotton Fite, a beautiful book given to me (and my intended) 🙂 by the pastors who will officiating our NYE ceremony. Honest, pratical, well-written, and contemplative. My kind of marriage prep. resource.

    Revisiting … New and Collected Poems by Mary Oliver, just because.

    The only writing going on right now is a review of The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s by Jeanne Murray Walker. BUT I have dusted off two short story drafts recently and have plans to finish them up (yes actually finish them up to a final stage!) in the new year, when all of the seasonal hullaballoooo has passed.

    Thanks for asking! And excited to talk reading and writing over the holidays as well.

  8. Adele! Thanks for chiming in here amidst this season of busyness. Super glad you’re in the borderland of two Thanksgivings. And I, for one, cannot wait to spend New Year’s Eve in Canada for the joyous occasion.

    The linked stories sound good, and you can’t go wrong with Mary Oliver. I have Jeanne’s new book but haven’t started it yet.

    Tell Josh he needs to do the cooking and cleaning in the backstretch of the winter so that you can finish those short stories–looking forward to reading them!

  9. I am in the strangest period of reading that I’ve experienced to date, and that is saying a lot because I read Richard Brautigan’s IN WATERMELON SUGAR (which I loved). In the course of the average day, I read about 20 children’s books to my nine-month old daughter and many of the books I read multiple times, from titles as inane as, CAT THE CAT, WHO IS THAT? to titles as intriguing as DOOBY DOOBY MOO. Then, while my daughter sleeps in my arms (she won’t sleep on her own for long), I read books for an adult audience such as, THE HUMANURE HANDBOOK: A GUIDE TO COMPOSTING HUMAN MANURE, which turns out to be a hilarious and serious read. That can be followed by a helping of Bill Plotkin’s NATURE AND THE HUMAN SOUL: CULTIVATING WHOLENESS IN A FRAGMENTED WORLD. Plotkin created a model of human development based on natural cycles that is beautiful and so powerful that it is blinding in large doses. The best part is that, while he might not tell the truth slant as Emily Dickinson suggests, he uses poetry that to give us images to carry the weight of the message such as: Thomas Stearns E.’s “East Coker,” or Rilke’s, “On a Vast Plain,”

    Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s EVERYDAY BLESSINGS: THE INNER WORLD OF MINDFUL PARENTING, is an excellent book to be reading at the same time as Plotkin because Plotkin is not a parent, and they pick up where he leaves off in how to develop as a parent and a human. The great thing is that I get to do the work of finding ways that integrate the nature aspect of Plotkin with mindful parenting.

    Not surprisingly, what I have been reading leads to what I write. That latest was some personal stories I shared with my mentor and then some friends, on bearing witness to my daughter as she becomes aware of beings in nature–geese, the moon, and wind–and how these moments of awareness and communion form her, form me, and form our relationship.

    Everything I write is a letter, usually to the same person, my old professor, Jud. I am not a writer by trade, but I am a writer by necessity and love. Jud and I have been corresponding for years now, and the collection of our letters is nearing 1000 pages. What began as one letter transformed over the years to be a journal, a spiritual meditation, and strangest of all, an autobiography written by two separate people that is not the story of our separate lives, but a new life that is created in our correspondence. It is that unabashedly naked, honest, and raw. While it takes a page out of Plotkin’s technique of “tell the truth, but tell it” blindingly, there is an undercurrent of metaphor, voice, and narrative that makes it read like a novel, a really rough one. It is the strangest piece of writing I’ve ever read, and remember, I’ve read IN WATERMELON SUGAR. The even stranger thing is that I haven’t seen this professor since 10 years before we even started writing to each other.

  10. NIIICK! How happy it makes me to hear your voice and get a little slice of life update. It’s funny, I read this a few times, and when I went to approve it, WordPress asked: “Are you sure you want to do this?” And I thought, how many times have you and I asked ourselves and each other that question before a Muckdogs game or a Brennan Manning talk or a dip into any number of bodies of water…

    So good to hear the reading list. The only Plotkin book I have is Soulcraft, and I haven’t finished it yet. I always go to you for my children’s books recs, so we’ll have to talk more about that. Just got Casey STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN, which he loves. It’s by the author of GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE, a classic in our house.

    And the collected correspondence between you and Jud, parts of which I’ve been privileged to glimpse, is destined to become a classic.

    Can’t wait to see you over the holidays. Give the girls our love.

    PS – IN WATERMELON SUGAR is super weird, but have you read TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA?

  11. I have read TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA, but I opted for IN WATERMELON SUGAR because you were the one who suggested that I read it. I also thought about Samuel Beckett’s ENDGAME as an example of strangeness, but I hated it. Dreams and bedtime combined with heavy machinery, I love the stories that Casey grooves on. They seem spot on for him! Did you ever read the children’s book, HOW GEORGIE RADBOURN SAVED BASEBALL, by David Shannon? By the way, does Una have THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA? Looks like we have some celebrating to do in the near future, and as you like to quote, “Rejoice, and again I say rejoice!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *