Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Ann Tweedy reads Erin Pringle's Unexpected Weather Events

You've likely heard me read a number of poems by Ann Tweedy on Wake to Words. I happily met her work when we read together at a Hugo House reading, and the two of us later read at Last Word Books in Olympia, WA. Now she lives in the Dakotas, so I'll need to make a trek out there to read with her again. One of the best parts of our writership or frienwrit is the support we give each other's work. Although it's not typical for fiction writers to have poets blurb their books, I'm not typical and neither is Ann. So, when I asked if she'd read Unexpected Weather Events and blurb it, she said yes. I had no idea, of course, that she would write something as beautiful as this, and I'm absolutely honored and humbled. Because Ann Tweedy tells the truth, make no mistake.

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Ann Tweedy, on UNEXPECTED WEATHER EVENTS

In prose rich in metaphor, Pringle masterfully and hauntingly narrates the interior lives of children and adults facing life’s greatest struggles. Pringle’s characters are inspiring and courageous as they encounter unthinkable catastrophes. 

In these stories, we see from the eyes of children watching a parent die from cancer, witnessing a parent’s ongoing struggle with mental illness and the debilitating effects of medication, and experiencing a holocaust-like mass killing of residents in their town. We see adult characters who escaped horrific childhoods question the viability of their own happy lives to the point that everything begins to crumble. 

Pringle’s stories deftly and unsentimentally address heartbreaking and sometimes taboo topics like the grief of miscarriage and the destructive force of homophobia. Often, the lines between reality and delusion blur, and the reader becomes unnervingly ensnared in the protagonist’s confusion. 

Many of the stories are quintessentially Midwestern, infused with wide cornfields and an ethos of practicality and personal limitation that is brought into stark relief by Pringle’s uncritical presentation. Pringle’s many gifts as a writer are in full force here. Particularly striking is Pringle’s ability to powerfully and convincingly evoke a child’s point of view. As always, Pringle’s work will break you open and at the same time fortify you.

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Monday, August 7, 2023

Yes, you should read Lord of the Flies by William Golding (even if you've lived under a rock for the past 50 years)

Upon finishing Lord of the Flies,
barefooted
Lord of the Flies by William Golding came into the world in 1954, and while I am typically not a fan of the question regarding whether a book can live past its epoch, I repeatedly wondered this while reading. Is the book of its time, such that it can't fully reach us in our present? Or am I uniquely numbed to terror, listening nightly to true murder stories, such that I am not shocked to find a group of choir boys descend into chaos, murder, and tyranny?

A few years ago, I bought this copy of Lord of the Flies in one of those weak moments in a bookstore when you find yourself at a display shelf of new covers on old books, and decide that yes, you need this book, despite the fact that you can locate it in every library and used bookstore in the same city.

(I somehow missed every class and professor who assigned this book, yet found myself reading The Great Gatsby three or four times. This is neither here nor there but simply the power-ball situation that is syllabi book lists.) 

And this week, I finally read it. The book has saturated our culture to the point that nothing was surprising about the story or its pointed questioning of the world. When left to our own devices, child or adult, will some kind of internal, ethical compass save us from our human desire for power? What in us gravitates toward reasoning, democracy, and community? What external forces prevent us from descending into an irrational death spiral in which we take out anyone who seems weak as a way to solidify the group?

The answer in Lord of the Flies is that a few people will have an ethical, well-meaning compass and follow it, no matter the cost to themselves, but for the most part, everyone else will kill you first and worry about it later, if at all.

It was, of course, novel for Golding to situate such questions within the world of children; much of the story's horror comes from the collision of the murderous adult world with the idealized perception of children as innately good, prone to kindness, and perfectly innocent. 

Lord of the Flies begins with a plane crash on a remote island, with a couple dozen surviving children--perhaps members of a church or boys' choir. No adults survive the crash, and so the remaining children eventually gather, begin trying to create a livable situation and tend an ever-burning fire such that a nearby ship might see and come rescue them.

All manner of books and stories have since explored the same theme and questions. Most popularly, the Hunger Games series, any number of Stephen King books (e.g., The Running Man or The Long Walk), the well-known story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower, and innumerable others. 

This isn't to say that writers should stop exploring the human heart, its drive to be all-powerful and revered, or how murder and war are a terrifying cycle from which no one can seemingly save us, child or adult. Unlike fire putting out fire, war does not seem to put out war. 

What I do think is that Lord of the Flies is a well-told story, but it will not shake anyone to the core now that we live in a world where children shoot each other in schools, roadsides, and homes. Where children bully each other online until the bullied child dies by suicide. Where children haze each other until someone accidently dies, and everyone feigns surprise. Where adults with guns barge through schools, malls, concerts, parades, and movie theaters. Where we can daily find images, should we choose to search--of dead immigrant children washed onto beaches, drowned with their parents, or if by luck, starving into a slow death. Children left in pieces in bombed cities or left to live, blind and torn apart by landmines left over from old wars.  

In Lord of the Flies, the children elect one of the older children, Ralph, to be the leader. The children talk about themselves as tribes and savages. There's another kid who wanted to be leader, and eventually, that desire for power leads to the mayhem and murder that come toward the end of the book. Early on, the children go about the business of creating a mirror of what they know: shelter, food-finding, a democracy in which every child is allowed to speak as long as he's holding the beautiful conch shell. Later, once the child who yearned to be leader successfully kills a wild pig with the help of others, the monstrosity of the killing starts the slow plunge toward anyone now being seen as nothing more than a wild pig--or less than, since the children who later die serve no purpose other than to terrify the others into following the new leader/tyrant.

Here are some reasons to read it:

  1. Everyone else has read it, so you ought to read it in order to understand how deeply the book has permeated the culture;
  2. It will shed some light on the era of its publication, and the concerns that come out of WWII and the Holocaust; 
  3. You'll be reminded of how saturated our lives are with murder and death, such that this book does not feel full of terror as it must have many decades ago;
  4. Should the book-banners remember this book exists, it will be banned again, and one ought to know what others find worth censoring (I just learned that it's one of the top ten most challenged/censored books);
  5. To have an uninterrupted time dwelling on why people form groups and how that can go terribly wrong with the leader who takes power;
  6. The scene wherein you learn why the book has its title and then dwelling on that and its implications regarding the children;
  7. Perhaps you are a teacher and need to assign a book like Hunger Games that will not be immediately challenged by parents. I'd think that this seventy-year old book will have slipped off the radar of the well-meaning censors. (But, if it's still in the top ten challenged, I clearly know little about any of that.) You will need to deal with the book's savage/civilized duality and the writer's implications that native people are representative of destruction while white people are inherently "civilized." That the story exists without girls, except for the off-stage mothers that the children yearn for, should be factored in when selecting it and be a topic of discussion. "The Lottery" would be a well-chosen companion reading.
Overall, I'm glad to have read it, to meet the character Piggy beyond what I've picked up here and there, and to read how it ends. I did not expect to become endeared to Ralph but here we are. There were a a handful of images so vivid and shattering that the book is probably worth reading simply for those. One, for example, is the corpse of a parachuter that gets caught in the trees. 

Note: The edition I bought came sandwiched between introductions, notes, and theory, but I think you'll be fine reading an edition that contains only the story. But if you like the extra pages to expand your own illuminating thoughts, then go for a newer edition.

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Sunday, August 6, 2023

A Game of Telephone on Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (August 6, 2023)

Today is a departure from the usual poetry of Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee. I'll be reading the story "A Game of Telephone" from my forthcoming story collection Unexpected Weather Events. Reserve your copy now from Awst Press: https://awst-press.com/shop/unexpected-weather-events

This was recorded for a live Facebook event.  

If you live in the Spokane area, I hope you can attend the book release EXTRAVAGANZA on October 1st, Shadle Park Library, 2-4 PM. You're absolutely invited. 

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🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: https://www.facebook.com/erintpringle 

Friday, August 4, 2023

Read a Book in the Park: August 5, 2023

Read a Book in the Park

READ A BOOK IN THE PARK

I realized that as a writer, I can hardly fret over people buying but not reading my books if I myself have a difficult time reading books. Social media, true-crime podcasts, animals behaving hilariously on reels--all of these not only suck my time into the black hole of a quickly passing present, but also make it difficult for me to focus or transition to a concentrated activity that requires mental participation.

An idea was then born that seems silly when you first think about it: Read a book in the park. Together.

And so here we are. I'm officially inviting you to join me in Audubon Park tomorrow morning (Saturday, August 5) from 8-9 AM. We will read our books together--but silently, alone, and from our own blankets, hammocks, or other reading apparatus.

Bring the book you're reading or have been meaning to read.

Leave your cellphone in the car or at home. (Audio-bookers are encouraged to read a print book for this event.)

No book? No blanket? No worries. I will have both for borrowing--for all readers: infants to teens to those who crave Cormac McCarthy on a bright Saturday morning. Ha!

At the end of our hour of reading, we share what book we're reading or we don't. We pack up and move into the rest of our day, or we read for longer. The first time we gathered (and we've so far only gathered once), a reader remarked on the revolutionary nature of the event--how it felt like she was participating in a silent protest. 

Yes. I want my brain back. I want books back. If you feel the same way, join us. 

Then maybe we'll wind up reading in a park near you, and if you're not near us, I hope you read in your park.

Read a Book in the Park

  • Saturday, August 5
  • Audubon Park (Southeast side, closer to Northwest Blvd. than to Finch Elementary)
  • 8:00-9:00 AM
  • Free

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NOTE: More reading-in-a-park sessions have been scheduled. Our next one is Saturday, August 19 (same place and time). For updates, new reading meetups, or to share and enjoy pictures of books and parks, join the FB group Read a Book in the Park: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fusediversity

Erin Pringle talks writing with Spokane Public Library's THE HIVE

A few years ago when I had a writing residency at The Hive in Spokane, they interviewed me on the good old camera and microphone. I talk a little about my creation process, thoughts, and goals. Here's the result!


At the time I was working on a novel that I continue to draft. Since then, my newest book, UNEXPECTED WEATHER EVENTS is to be published. In fact, at the filming of this interview (winter 2021), I didn't have a publisher for it yet, and it's saved on the desktop of that computer.

UNEXPECTED WEATHER EVENTS
strange, sad, and beautiful stories
October 1, 2023
AWST Press

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Thursday, August 3, 2023

October 19: UNEXPECTED WEATHER EVENTS in Missoula, Montana

Meet me in Missoula 
Unexpected Weather Events by Erin Pringle
from AWST Press
 (cover art by L.K. James)

I'll be reading from my new book of stories, Unexpected Weather Events, at my favorite Montana bookstore, Fact and Fiction Books. I had a reading there for Hezada! I Miss You, and first met their acquaintance at a Montana Book Festival in 2017 for my last book of stories The Whole World at Once. I've always appreciated the friendliness and warmth of the staff, and have been extra pleased since the store was bought by Mara, who seemed to be the unofficial coordinator of the festival--if coordinating means knowing everything, answering every question, selling all the books, and directing confused writers to their events.

October 19

7 PM

220 N. Higgins Avenue



Have a BOOK-READING FRIEND in Montana? 

Send them my way!

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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (July 16, 2023)

 

Poems:

  • Waking at Night
  • Cherishing What Isn’t 

(Both by Jack Gilbert from his Collected Poems)

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🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: https://www.facebook.com/erintpringle 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Liz Rognes on Unexpected Weather Events: "These stories visit the tender space between the living and the dead"

 “Erin Pringle crafts an immersive, vivid world where time can linger, sit down, or turn itself inside out as characters survive the beautiful complications and layers of their lives. These stories visit the tender space between the living and the dead, between right now and memory, between reality and dreams. There are ghosts and shadows and memories and forewarnings as the people inside these stories face the hardest parts of being human—climate change, cancer, suicide, war—while finding love and meaning in the sweet impermanence of safety.”

Liz Rognes, singer/songwriter RED FLAGS and TOPOGRAPHIES



Order Unexpected Weather Events from AWST Press, the publisher:

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Monday, July 10, 2023

Yes, You Should Read A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib

Yes, You Should Read A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib: A Book Review

After I read In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib, I located her contact information and messaged her how much I loved her book. Later, she would write a special post for this website about her childhood library ("The Missing Library") and a book recommendation for the somewhat annual series Book Your Stocking. Later, she not only read Hezada! I Miss You but also found it worthwhile. 

As soon as I learned of her next novel, A Pure Heart I pre-ordered it. But it wasn't until this summer that I finally began reading it. First, at the park over the July 4th weekend--on the grass beneath the hammock where my son rocked, reading his own book. (What joy to read your own book while your child reads his own!) And then, this past weekend, I packed it up to Umatilla National Forest with the intention to finish it. And I did, this time reading it in the hammock alongside my son, later on the porch, and finally finishing it by headlamp in my bunk--dogs snoring around me, child dreaming in his bunk beside me, and through the window the stars blinked fully visible in the dark, perfect sky. 

How nice to read a book.

And even better that it was a good one. 

And this one.

What I most appreciate about Hassib's writing is her careful precision in making her sentences, and in this way, unwinding the story. There's no rush and no waste. She writes purposefully and with a sure hand. It's easy to trust that she's taking you exactly where you need to be. Of course, I'm not one to skip pages, skim paragraphs to the dialogue, or start a book by reading the last page (my mother does this), so perhaps the most curious/impatient reader will continue such habits--even with Hassib. But her writing is so strong, like that of a sturdy dance partner, that it seems that one couldn't skip about and find any enjoyment in doing so. 

A Pure Heart follows the lives of primarily three people: Rose and Gameela, two sisters who grew up in Cairo, Egypt and Mark, a white journalist from the United States who marries Rose. Early in the novel, we learn that the younger sister Gameela (in her mid-twenties) has died in Egypt, having been near a suicide bomber when he exploded. The rest of the novel is, then, the retracing of how Gameela came to be there. Rose is the one trying to retrace all of this, but it is the reader who will finally learn how everything came to be.  

Rose, the older sister, is an archaeologist now living in New York where she's pursuing a doctorate in Egyptian history; when Gameela dies, Rose returns to Egypt briefly for the funeral and to console their parents; while there, she collects her sister's belongings from their once-shared room. She takes the items back to New York and studies them as she does artifacts, in order to discover a narrative or solution to the mystery of how her sister came to be at the site of the attack.

Rose knows her journalist husband has played a part in her sister's death, as he had travelled there in the past few years to write an article about life in Egypt after the Egyptian Revolution. While there, he asks Gameela for help locating a source to profile. 

I really appreciated Gameela as a character. I found her the most interesting, perhaps because we learn about her from multiple perspectives--including her own--or perhaps because, as it is her death that's the source of the mystery, the narrative revolves around her such that she is inherently interesting. She is the most dynamic of the characters--not only because she is constantly negotiating between who she is and how she allows herself to be perceived, but also because she is developing her own personality and beliefs informed by, but separate from, her parents' and sister's beliefs.

Early in the book, when Rose and Mark first become engaged, Gameela disapproves of the marriage, does not understand why her sister would leave Egypt, and distrusts Mark's genuineness in converting to Islam in order marry Rose--which Rose sees more as a gesture toward custom than she does a religious or legal requirement. But Gameela has recently dedicated herself to being a strict Muslim, wearing her hajib outside and around her throat, praying and speaking scripture. This way of being makes her family feel awkward around her, and Gameela feels hurt by this.

Later in the novel, as she grows up, graduates from university, takes a job, and starts to fall in love, she finds herself becoming more moderate in her adherence to religious rule-following. This is both an interesting shift in character, and Hassib writes about it beautifully:

"[Gameela's] religiousness had followed a curve that reminded her of the sensation of jumping into a pool feetfirst: a deep and speedy plunge in, followed by a slower, gentler journey up, until she finally reached the surface and, gasping for air, trod water with unexpected comfort. Her dive into the hijab followed a similar curve: rapid, at first, rigid in her eagerness to be fully submerged in obeying God, followed by a gentler bobbing up, not away from God but toward a more lenient devotion to His commands. She would never, ever abandon her head cover; but she had grown to see her hijab more as a sign of her acquiescence to a loving God than as a measure of avoiding His wrath" (223).

The man Gameela falls in love with does not fit the cultural expectations of who she should fall in love with. This, too, Hassib writes about with an intimate kindness and interest--how Gameela must tiptoe around to learn how he feels about her, how she accepts gifts from him but--unable to ask him how he feels--tries studying the objects for answers (as her sister will later examine Gameela's belongings as though they will explain her death). Gameela finds herself in a terrible predicament--wanting both to honor her culture and parents and to find love with a man her parents would reject. In order to please everyone, and it is her impulse to please, to assure, to prevent any tension or conflict for others, she begins to lead a double life--to do so, she must lie by omission to her parents, sister, and best friend and repeatedly disappoint the man who is waiting for her to sew her lives into one life. 

Affecting all of the characters, their lives, and relationships are questions about the relationships between identity and culture, tradition, stereotypes, religion, beliefs, place. The novel asks us to wonder what it is that makes us who we are, and what are we when only our objects remain. The novel deftly moves from Egypt to New York to West Virginia--the metropolises of New York City and Cairo versus the less populated places of Rasheed and Charleston. In the same way that Hasib wonders about the similarities across religions, she notes the same tensions between urban wealth and urban poverty--what a society prefers to hide or ignore and the repercussions this has on everyone--both those who are made to hide and feel ashamed and those who do the shaming--often by creating laws that enforce shaming. 

How can we be so entrenched in our own perspectives that we can't understand another's? The novel deftly deals with this question, in raising it and answering it, in how carefully every character is treated in an attempt to reveal the person beneath the stereotype. It's all far more complicated than we lead each other to believe, the novel suggests, but not impossible to fathom. 

A Pure Heart is a beautifully executed novel of people, place, and the inner turmoil we find ourselves in both because of and in spite of our culture, upbringing, and experiences. Yes, you should read it.

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You can find A Pure Heart via 

P.S. I do not profit from links you click. Click them all. I'm not a capitalist. I just want you to know about this book, and I think writing about it is the best way to tell you. 

Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee (Monday Edition, July 10, 2023)

Over the weekend, my son and I spent our days in the Umatilla National Forest, which was fantastic for all the reasons one might imagine--trees, ground squirrels, wildflowers, stars, mountain streams--and the added bonus of no internet access. So, like a holiday delaying garbage pick-up by one day, this week's session of Wake to Words and Brew Some Coffee arrives at your doorstep on a Monday rather than our usual Sunday. I hope it finds you there, regardless, and that you'll find one of these poems to have the right words for your current moment.

Poems!

  • Space & Time by Ann Tweedy (from her book A Registry of Survival)
  • Two Laments by Daniel Halpern (from his book Traveling on Credit)
  • Choice by Susan Bright (from her book Atomic Basket)
  • Immortality by AI (from her book Sin)

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🠊 Catch the live show Sunday mornings at some time-ish: https://www.facebook.com/erintpringle