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WV Books Team: No time for books? Start with short collections

By By Dan Carlisle
WV Book Team

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — I’m going to go ahead and admit that I am not exactly an avid reader.

It’s possible that I might read more than the average 30-year-old American male, and I do love a great story, but I’m often embarrassed when a customer comes in and grabs a paperback and asks, “Have you read this?” and “How about this?”

It’s a bit of pressure to be constantly surrounded by so much writing.

Ann Saville, our owner at Taylor Books, consistently reads a novel every other day.

I, on the other hand, find myself reading “part” of many books but have difficulty going 400 pages cover to cover.

I suppose a full-time job and a kid are decent excuses for my literary lapse, but it’s more likely the television that’s to blame.

Not only does modern media suck up too much time, but it also diminishes my capacity to endure the pacing of a long, steadily paced piece of literature.

One way to eliminate the pressure of cracking open a thick volume is to go for the short story or essay, and a great place to find a diverse and enormous collection of these works are in the many literary journals carried in bookstores and newsstands around the world.

For me, it was the literary journal that initially sparked my interest in writers and reading.

At 20 years of age, I had made it through life without considering the fact that I didn’t read.

The art school students I found myself rooming with, however, were very interested in the written word. They talked about books and authors and poetry, and they were a good influence on me, but I needed to catch up.

(Parents, if your kid wants to go to art school, I would go ahead and support that notion. They’ll probably be poor, but at least they’ll be well-read).

At a thrift store in North Hollywood I came across a stack of something called Granta.

I didn’t know what I was buying. I just thought it was a regular book with some interesting photographs in it.

The first story I read was by Primo Levi and it was about why ammonium chloride ended up as one of the ingredients in paint manufactured somewhere in Italy.

I’ve since learned this was an excerpt from his book “The Periodic Table,” but then, I had no idea who Primo Levi was. Other writers included in that same issue were Oliver Sacks and Italo Calvino, who are now two of my all-time favorites.

That issue of Granta seriously did change my life. I went to the library. I checked out “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” by Sacks, and “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” by Calvino.

And, what do you know: The library carried current and back issues of Granta.

I read stories by Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Edmund White, Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson and on and on and on. That was it — I had started reading, and I haven’t stopped.

Literary journals typically come out quarterly, and many of them, like Granta, have a theme each issue centers on.

Other journals we love and carry at Taylor’s are Lapham’s Quarterly, Cabinet, The Believer, The Paris Review, Tin House, Three Penny Review and The Baffler.

These publications are great for folks who don’t know exactly what they’re looking for.

Each issue contains fiction, nonfiction, poetry, excerpts, photography and interviews from both well-established, renowned writers as well as new voices.

These short pieces run the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking. Journals also are a great place for writers to introduce and experiment with style and structure.

It’s not uncommon for local writers to have their stories published in a journal or review. Often we get family members coming in to buy a particular issue that their son or daughter has work published in.

In many cases, it’s the first step for an aspiring author.

A couple of Charleston natives that we know of are even involved in the creation and production of some very well reviewed quarterlies. Charleston natives Heather Hartley and Giancarlo DiTrapano are editors for Tin House and New York Tyrant respectively.

So, whether you’re headed out for a summer vacation or staying at home, if you’re looking for something new to read, stop in and stock up on some of these great publications. Some of them sell for as little as $5.

Taylor Books best-sellers

“M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man Before the Mahatma,” by Charles DiSalvo

“West Virginia Mountain Lions,” by Skip Johnson

“Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book,” by Diane Muldrow

“The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green

“A Song for West Virginia,” by Marc Harshman

What we’re reading

Ann: “The Silkworm: A Cormoran Strike Novel,” by Robert Galbraith; “Any Other Name: A Longmire Mystery,” by Craig Johnson

Raeshon: “The Girl With All the Gifts,” by M.R. Carey; “My Struggle: Book One” by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Rachel: “Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowak; “On Poetry and Craft,” by Theodore Roethke

Dan: “Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?” by Dave Eggers; “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,” by John Waters

Patriotic picks for kids

“America the Beautiful,” by Katharine Lee Bates

“Amazing Faces,” by Lee Bennett Hopkins

“Johnny Appleseed,” by Will Moses

“We Are America,” by Walter Dean Myers


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