Book Fever and Other Autumn Ruminations

If I saw the Hoarders tv show and one of their clients had nothing but books, I’d think: What’s wrong with that? Like the trundling out of sweaters and warmer socks, autumn sets my brain on fire with the compulsion to accrue books. My husband and daughter just roll their eyes at me and make jokes about my inability to leave the library or bookstores without a stack of acquisitions. I am happily surrounded by books and read incessantly. This is my childhood dream come true.

Unintentionally, I had prepared for a huge book bender. I updated my reading glasses, whittled down my schedule, and started to acquire books at an alarming rate. I’m looking forward to a winter of Oscar Wilde, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen Oyeyemi, James Baldwin, Louise Erdrich, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates, and any other writer who trips my fancy.

31522415The warmup to heavier tomes has been a lot of pithy reading. I read Austin Kleon’s trio of books (Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, Keep Going), Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, and story story collections. Lesley Nneka Arimah’s short story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky was full of thoughtful, if not disturbing, storytelling.

Blood CreekI also read another book sent to me by JKS Communications, Blood Creek by Kimberly Collins, an ambitious novel that wasn’t quite my taste, but will resonate with the historical romance crowd – those who like their vixens fiery and their men stoic and often criminal. It reminded me of the books I used to sneak out of my mother’s collection when I was 13 – like Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love, where the main character is selfish, but too waif-like with a cavernous decolletage to not get her own way, at the expense of everyone around her.

Writing is ramping up as well. I just finished the online Masterclass with Joyce Carol Oates. While her story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” is one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read, her prolific career is an inspiration and her low-key but dedicated approach to writing resonates with me. 2019 has been a year of nearly constant rejection, from publications and even a mentor program. One would think I’d want to call it a day. But Ms. Oates has some wise words for rejection which I’ll paraphrase here: it’s likely a blessing when one’s work is rejected. It’s not your best work and you don’t want it out there. It forces you back to revisions again and again and again, until what you have left really is good.

*****

So I soldier on. And at the mention of soldiers, I just want to leave this public service note: Flag-worshipping does not make you a hero or a saint. As a vet who served for a wide variety of reasons, including an adolescent sense of loyalty to my country, I’m finding that performative patriotism in this country has gone off the rails – in the old sense, like nutter-level.

canstockphoto6552217I was on a treadmill at the Y the other day. In front of me, an older man was wearing a t-shirt with an American flag that said If this flag offends you, I’ll help you pack. I know it’s not good to wish heart attacks on people peddling on stationary bikes, but it briefly crossed my mind. If you’re a flag worshipper, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t flail about screaming that everyone else is being disrespectful to the flag and then wear it as a crackled, worn decal on your sweaty carcass. I mean you can, but the paramedics are going to have to cut it away to attach the defibrillator pads. I’m sure they’ll be respectful, though.

*****

37941609Fall is often a season that brings about feelings of bittersweet melancholy, much like being in your fifties and still trying to get published. It is a season, though, that begs for poetry. I consider myself a blogger, novelist, and short story writer, but on occasion I hail back to my adolescence and write a poem. Now they are less about being ignored by the boy I liked or morbid poems about dying and more about just fading away. I’m reading Adam Zagajewski’s collection of poems, Asymmetry and they are the kind of poems that make you ache just a little.

*****

It’s been such a tough year, for me, for we humans out in the world. Some of us manage to remain unscathed. We keep our eyes forward, don’t get distracted, know what we’re about on the planet. Some of us have been buffeted by the winds of chance – medical emergencies, financial crises, devastating diagnoses of our health, our portfolios, our relationships. Some of us have internalized the existential dread of what the future holds – dictators, natural disasters, scarcity, randomized violence. We’re taking the news intravenously and it eats away at our sense of wellbeing.

I need hope and so do some of you. Where do we find it? Where is the solace, the palliative, the hospice for the walking wounded? I find it written by authors who apply poultices through words, in the faces of people who love me, in telling stories, in walking with the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. We fashion our own life preservers and hope that it’s enough.

Fearless Friday: Beginnings

I started this post series “Fearless Friday” several months ago as a way of sharing other bloggers’ and writers’ work, as I felt the need to be more generous with this space. I’d had the good fortune of a good-sized readership and wanted to spread the wealth. It landed with a thud in terms of contribution and required a great deal of work to put together. However, I can be a stubborn cuss and I think anything worth doing is not only worth doing well, but worth doing long term and with patience. So I start afresh…

It seems fitting to talk about beginnings. We often sabotage ourselves by measuring the present moment through the lens of the past or expectations of the future. Unwritten novels, blank canvases, and tunes only heard in one’s head – this is the outcome of not starting where you are and an inability to shut out the noise of a society that only recognizes endeavors in statistical outcomes. I’ve been thinking a lot more about beginnings and middles – which is essentially process, because that is where any creative person spends most of their time. It is that magical, invisible time when it’s just you and what you’re doing in the moment.

Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness or bravery, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

Debut Novels

Over the last few years, my reading has taken on a particular intention – to teach myself how to be a better writer. At first, I delved into the “classics”, never wandering too far afield for fear that my literary education would have gaps. I’m over that. After Joyce and Faulkner and Hemingway, I’m so over that. While my reading has always been eclectic and organic (one book referencing another and another until I’m reading about hissing cockroaches in Madagascar), it is now done with notebook and pen in hand. No matter what I’m reading, I learn something new about writing.

44011737Last week, I finished reading Clifford Garstang’s The Shaman of Turtle Valley, a debut novel that explores cultural and family conflicts (and similarities) when a soldier brings his Korean wife home to Appalachia. What I enjoyed, and learned from most, was the author’s use of first person POV from each of the main character’s perspectives. This can sometimes go awry in a novel, but Mr. Garstang did a good job of writing characters with distinct voices.

This is the second debut novel I’ve read over the last few months, the first being The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette. Both Garstang’s and Dragonette’s novels are by older authors with unique backgrounds – a fact that speaks to me for obvious reasons. The stories they wrote were engaging and kept me reading faster and faster in my anxiety to find out what happens.

Full disclosure: I was sent these books to read by publicists at JKS Communications who represented and were recommended by one of my favorite bloggers, Donna Cameron, with her book, A Year of Living Kindly. Also full disclosure – I’m a very critical reader and a working writer, so I do not write book reviews as a matter of practice. That people still send me books after I tell them this, just delights the hell out of me. I get to read books and talk about them and don’t feel compelled to pander. Yay me.

As a writer, debut novels are also wonderful learning tools. Most people don’t write a seamless novel out of the gate – it’s the nature of writing experience. The architecture of a debut novel tends to be more obvious than in a second or third novel. As a writer, I can nod my head knowingly when I see what the author was trying to do. I can see the inner workings of structure, the strengths and weaknesses, and discover solutions to problems in my own work.

Before the Debut Novel: Shitty First Drafts

First novels also make me think about courage and perseverance. The end piece of a creative work – the marketing and publicity, is the smallest sliver of the whole process. A novel that has been fomenting for decades, worked at for years, edited for months, is the crux of the writer’s life. That’s where the time is spent and the only way to spend that much time and love is to be invested in the process, not the outcome.

The surest route to halting all creative thought is to think about results – the one piece in the process over which a creator has very little control. When my head is full of those thoughts, it seems like a lot is riding on the opening sentence – a sentence that will now not be written because there’s too much pressure. I shut down. The birthplace of a writer’s block.

12543While I hope someday to have my own debut novel, I will forever reference Anne Lamott’s assertion in Bird by Bird that “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” I am learning to love my terrible first efforts – being in that space where I just sound stupid, like I’m writing a fifth grade essay about the Tower of London (it was dreadful and accompanied by even worse drawings). The willingness to be awful, in addition to reading with intent, has changed my writing for the better.

If you’re a creator, what thoughts stop you from beginning?

How do you counter that?

Any favorite debut novels?

Acts of Reader Gratitude

Gratitude is one of those words that has become tainted and overused over the last few years. Gratitude journals ballooned into full-blown humble-bragging on social media, ad nauseum recitations of beautiful children or perfect autumn days or that special cup of coffee. I feel immense gratitude for the things and circumstances and people in my life, but also feel grateful that I can, for the most part, keep it to myself. The joy for me is not in the telling, rather in the being. But there is one form of gratitude that I prefer to share over all others. Saying thank you to others.

This week, I burrowed into my reading chair under a couple of blankets with the Virginia Quarterly Review. I read “Stepping Up” by Sylvia A. Harvey, who wrote about the children of imprisoned mothers and the grandmothers who raise their grandchildren. It was enlightening and painful and I sat for awhile after, my eyes welled up with tears. It made me think about the all the different perspectives – the children aching for mothers, the grandmothers struggling to do the right thing, the mothers, living claustrophobic lives of regret.

Empathy. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to writers who tell the difficult stories and help us see the world. Those who sit with strangers and coax the words out of them and arrange them in such a way as to touch me, hundreds of miles away in my cozy suburban life. To move me to tears, to want to do something, anything to right the ship of social and criminal justice. A single story as a way in to thinking about criminal and social justice reform. I have come into the practice of turning impotent frustration into action. One of my favorite organizations is The Women’s Prison Book Project, so I’m getting ready to send more books, but there is much more to be done.

canstockphoto1787242Criminal justice and social reform has been the fight of many social activists over the years. It’s true that so many things require our attention, our anger, our involvement. It can be overwhelming. But I’ve found that if I shut out the “shoulds” and focus on learning about one issue at a time, and pair action with that knowledge, I can be more useful as a citizen. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about voting rights and campaign finance reform. While I continue to work on those issues, I’ve found my attention captured by the prison system and incarceration rate in this country. Time to learn more.

This is the ultimate power of storytelling, fiction or nonfiction. It gives the reader a window into the lives of others. It gives us the opportunity to be better people. I remember many years ago that someone referred to the writer Anna Quindlen as a “monster of empathy”. It was meant to be an insult for the circumspect way she addressed social issues in her column for the New York Times. I think it’s okay to be a monster of empathy, as long as empathy is followed by an action, no matter how small.

canstockphoto6979194My other slight action was to tell the writer of that article, Sylvia Harvey, Thank you. One of the rare delights of Twitter is being able to contact writers and artists and musicians just to express gratitude. The unknowns, the knowns, it doesn’t matter. Saying thank you to people who touch you in some way, just to let them know that their work is appreciated. We’re so quick to critique and criticize, thinking everything we read and see needs our judgmental pronouncements. What about the work that takes us out of ourselves, teaches us empathy, gives us a new perspective, stops us, for just a moment, from being the self-centered, complacent creatures that we can be?

This is a practice I’ve decided to engage in as a regular thing. I’ve written notes, emails, and now Tweets to writers who have made my world a better place through their work. It’s not idol worship or fandom, it’s simple gratitude. This thing they did brought something to my life. Sometimes they write back and I squeal just a bit, so unaccustomed to all these direct methods of communication. Still, the simple act of saying thank you has added to my reading and writing experience – an act of solidarity with those who seek to translate the world into words.

What Writer or Artist are You Grateful for Today?

The Bibliophile Safari

My teenager rolled her eyes at me. You have a problem. I was leaving the bookstore with seven new books. Piles teeter haphazardly in my study. I read a lot and I read weirdly. I visit the library once a week and I can’t leave a bookstore without new books, even more so when it’s an independent bookseller. It might be a problem, but I don’t care. Today, apparently, is designated Book Lovers’ Day. Uh, isn’t that every single minute of every single day?

cropped-canstockphoto06702431.jpg

This morning my husband asked me why I was reading a university-bound paper on the inventor of the Hmong written language. I shrugged. I was just interested in it. It was too early in the morning to explain the journey. I’d read Mai Der Vang’s collection of poetry, Afterland, which made several references to the Hmong language. I started to look up translations, when I discovered that Hmong written language hadn’t even been invented until 1959 – by a self-proclaimed messiah named Shong Lue Yang, nicknamed “The Mother of Writing”.

What was the point of tracking down any book I could find on the guy through inter-library loans? Curiosity. I’ve written that I’ve begun to see reading as part of my job as a writer. But this was reading without purpose – my absolute favorite kind. I just unraveled a story, sought out the threads, and now will know something I didn’t. It doesn’t end there, though. Like getting caught in endless link-hopping through Wikipedia, I now have more books I want to read. The Shong Lue biography weaves mythology into historical events, so I’ve requested books on Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

At some point, I’ll be done following the threads and pick up entirely different ones. This organic reading process gives me great joy. It combines my love of research and reading and surrounds me with a kaleidoscope of ideas.

So in honor of yet another made-up holiday, here’s a list of some of my all-time favorites:

Fiction

Nonfiction

I have eschewed all social media except for this blog, but have decided to become more active on Goodreads, because reading is so much my happy place. I’m trying to update my lists and will write only nice things about books I like, so I intend on being completely useless as a critic. That being said, I’m not sure how it all works, but if you send me a friend request, I’ll be happy to connect.

What are some of your all-time faves?

 

The Pitfalls and Promises of Self-Help

I’m a self-help scavenger. Over the course of a lifetime, I’ve read hundreds of self-help books. Like many people, I started life off on uneven footing and always had the sense that I had to make up for something that I was lacking – something that was preventing me from being the confident, self-actualized, happy person I thought I should be. It’s taken decades to understand how to make self-help advice useful and how to discard that which is not.

There is a wide variety of books out there, one for every phase or problem in one’s life. The approaches vary and as we all know, so do the results. Some are sweet aunties who love you and just want you to be happy. Others are drill sergeants who bellow in your face. And then there are the shills, who turn basic ideas into a secretive language of high wizardry.

Here are a few things that I’ve learned about self-help books:

The first half of the book usually covers all the concepts.

I will be the first to admit that it is a rare self-help guide that I finish. Unless the writing or the stories are compelling, repetition sets in and then it all starts to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher in my head. I also find that I need time for thoughts to marinate – once I catch an idea I like or that makes sense to me, I’m eager to put the book aside.

The harsher the tone of the writer, the less I trust their ability to understand human nature and therefore offer useful advice.

canstockphoto2656709This is the drill sergeant approach. Take someone who is feeling down and out, tell them what to do, and then suggest that they’re a failure if they can’t make it happen. This is, essentially, what many self-help books do. Throw in a little moralizing and finger-wagging and you get the idea. This is, to loot modern terminology, self-help shaming. What? We told you what to do. If you’re not happy now, there’s something wrong with you.

Some books have a narrator who talks as if they’re in the midst of a bar brawl or on the battlefield. The toughness approach generally makes me want to tear the book in half. I grew up with negative motivation. It means that fear drove most of my behavior. I’m a grownup now and won’t be yelled into compliance. Convince me with logic and reason. Use your indoor voice.

Most self-help books are missing major caveats.

I recently read a self-help book that is popular right now. The first chapter started out with the origin story. The second was a cheap remix of The Secret. The following chapters had a few actionable items. I finally quit at the chapter that characterized depression as some sort of defeatist laziness. The writer was a little older than I, so there was really no excuse for this type of ignorance.

This is not the first time a self-help writer characterized depression as something canstockphoto13041791besides a brain chemical imbalance. The positivity movement of the 1990s, in its self-congratulatory glee and smiley faces, runs roughshod over obstacles to good mental health.

It is likely no coincidence that, despite all of these friendly people telling us to get happy, depression is on the rise in this country. It turns out, willful ignorance and grinning determination is not actually an antidote to mental health issues.

Like most things, the sequels are rarely better.

This is about marketing, not self-help. It’s just squeezing an already-juiced orange.

*****

canstockphoto34597907So those are some of the pitfalls. The biggest one, of course, is believing that you are one constant DIY project. I’ve unraveled a lot of the thinking around that. I like self-improvement pursuits, but it’s very easy to focus so hard on trying to be better, that you fail to appreciate the things about yourself that are pretty good. And when pretty good is good enough.

It’s part culture and part related to whatever messages we get as kids. We get pulled into the advertising of better selves through possession of better things and it can attach itself to that part of our psyche that says whatever we have, whatever we are, it’s not enough.

Using Self-Help to Your Advantage

Self-help advice is like a buffet.

You pick what you like, what resonates, what seems like a possibility. You don’t make yourself eat the beets just because they are next to the chocolate pudding (or vice-versa, depending on your intentions and tastes).

There’s no failure. There’s what works for you and what doesn’t.

If you don’t implement every step the author suggests, you’re not a failure. Has the step you’ve chosen helped improve your life in some way? That’s the only thing that matters.

Sometimes good ideas come from odd places.

canstockphoto24077627Many years ago, I read L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” – the tome associated with Scientology. The one thing I learned was to think about my reactions to situations and whether or not I was reacting to what was in front of me or to other memories and connections related to the situation. That’s pretty much all I got out of a 600+ page book, but it was something.

Change is not a television show. There is no big reveal.

I used to love watching This Old House on PBS. Usually it was a kitchen or basement that got transformed in the course of an hour. Of course, ginned-up versions of this now come in weight, house, and fashion makeover shows. Buses are moved, curtains pulled aside, and suddenly, there’s the after, dramatic and “improved”. Real change takes time and perspective. I’ll read something today that I may not try for years, but it’s a tool in the back of my mind that might come in handy someday. You just never know what might be useful when the time is right.

canstockphoto12917145My Abbreviated History of Self-Help Books

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

I learned that I hate any self-help books divided by gender – and this guy’s books in particular. It’s loaded with stereotypes and unimaginative solutions. This smarmy trad-dude is from Uranus.

Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim G. Ginott

I learned some good communication skills, not just with my child, but with humans in general. Kept it as a reference book.

Women and Self-Esteem by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan

I read this back in the 1990s when I was spending a lot of time on public transportation. It had a chapter about women in public spaces that made me not only function differently in public, but also improved my observation skills of others around me.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Don’t quip corporate terminology, show me what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation, or encourage me to buy your extensive line of products. Sigh. I bought one of those stupid planners. I needed to schedule time in my day to fill in the damned thing. Not effective and carries a whiff of corporate bro-ness.

Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality by Pema Chödrön

This was my first encounter with this American Buddhist nun and I’ve been hooked ever since. Most of the time I listen to her audiobooks, but I will sometimes pull When Things Fall Apart off the shelf. The thing that always sticks in my mind is the idea of “leaning into the sharp edges” – this idea that instead of seeking distraction and avoidance of unpleasant feelings, to look at them with a clear and present eye. It’s much less destructive.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I really wanted to like this book, but it was a bit of a clunky read, with anecdotes that were too lengthy and perhaps intended for people who routinely miss the point.

Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold

I read this book last fall and set about immediately making changes (microresolutions). I’m still in the enthusiastic phase. I’ve made changes that are, 8 months later, habits. I read another book at the time that was similar in nature: Mini-habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise. It was a good starter book, but Ms. Arnold’s book included an important piece often missed in goal-setting – teaching you how to pick the right goal for yourself.

The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle

I tried, I really tried. There’s no way around it – the condescension just irritated the hell out of me.

Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore

This book stays on my reference shelf. I like writing that makes me feel just a bit smarter. The narrator, a former monk, does not limit himself in sources, drawing analogies from religion, mythology, and culture. His book embraces complex feelings, instead of trying, like so many others, to deny or simplify them.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

I learned how to change my internal dialogue with this book. There are a lot of ways to go about this, but this particular book resonated with me. I learned how to challenge my irrational thoughts. Not permanently, of course – that’s an ongoing challenge.

*****

I’m going to stop there – the list is getting too long. The books that I have actively disliked (and passive-aggressively not provided links to), might just be the thing that does it for you. And some of my aha book moments may completely elude anybody else.

Do you read self-help books? What have you read that has been useful?

 

 

Reading is in the Job Description

It’s a rainy day and the last day of school. My hours of solitude will soon be a distant memory, until the crispness of autumn air returns. Soon, I will be sharing endless space and time with a teenage changeling. I’m anxious about that, about how rattled and on edge I can get when someone is always there.

And thus the argument begins, should I read or get some things taken care of today? Whereas I’ve begun to write regularly and have elevated the task to the top of the to-do list, reading seems to fall lower on the list than it should.

canstockphoto23557237I have a life coach friend who often thwarts my litany of excuses. She was blunt and said, “Reading is part of your job.” This rolled over my brain in an aha! moment. Despite the fact that I’m a voracious reader, it is always with a whiff of indolence and apology.

I’ve approached reading as an activity you do when all your work is done. This was a hold over from my own mother, I suppose, who pushed herself through the day of raising four children in less-than-desirable circumstances. Reading was a luxury – time where nothing was left to be done. And you interrupted her at your peril.

Reading is part of your job. I’m a writer. An unpublished, not particularly intense writer, but a writer nonetheless. I wanted to write when I was younger, because words on a page seemed more real and important than the life around me. I wanted to write to live in a world where I could make anything happen, where I could express what I seemed wholly incapable of saying out loud. Without reading, I would have been someone else entirely.

canstockphoto411034This idea that if you write every day for hours on end, your writing will magically improve, is endemic of a lot of writing advice. But if you’re not challenging yourself beyond your own style, your own perspective, your own circular world, your writing is likely to only improve in quantity. I don’t believe in magic, at least not for myself.

I believe in feeding the muse. Much like success is preparedness meeting luck, good writing is the result of reading meeting the pen.

This means reading a lot. It means reading outside of genres, it means reading people you can’t at all relate to. It means struggling with text. If you’re a genre writer, perhaps it makes sense to read heavily in that particular form, but that becomes a recursive world as well. Breakthroughs are made when form and genre are mixed.

I am about to embark on a forced summer march through Austen and the Bronte Sisters. Period pieces tend to bore and irritate me, especially when it comes to the state of women characters in these books. My brief dalliances with Jane Austen made me run off and read Dorothy Parker right quick, just to cleanse my pallet of simpering coquettes.

Now before all the Austen-philes give me what-for, I’m taking another run at them with the eye of a writer. Perhaps they will read differently. Or perhaps I will need to keep a literary extinguisher of Alice Munro at the ready, lest I find myself wishing to self-immolate during yet another pianoforte/garden stroll/tea party scene.

The idea of reading as luxury is one I can ill afford to maintain. My life is more than half over. If my desire is to become a better writer, I can’t keep putzing about with old ideas about how I spend my time. Happiness, like luxury, are things I’ve never learned to take well and it seems rather unlikely that I will change at this point in time.

canstockphoto30462740My subconscious mind is always one step ahead of me, though. It plans and leads me down an intentional path, even when I’m still wrestling with the remnants of dysfunction. My study is full of books – on shelves, in piles next to my reading chair. Bookmarks peek out of every other one. My resistance to this luxury, this desire, has been entirely futile.

I have changed how I read in pursuit of better writing, reading with a notebook and pen at the ready. I write down questions, phrases, quotes, anything that catches me. I want to develop writing skills that are not, innately, my own. Part of this is surely a sneaky way to excuse keeping my nose stuck in books when there is laundry to be done.

When I heard reading is part of your job, my mind lit up. It was the desperate grasp for rationalization. If I can call it work, I can dive in with the intensity I save for real work. I have permission. I have validation. And goodness knows, I’ve got the books.

So, on this rainy day, I’m getting to down to business. I’m rolling up my sleeves. I’m putting my nose to the grindstone and cracking open a book.

TGS Writers’ Book Club Reminder: The June Selection is a collection of poetry, Afterland by Mai Der Vang. Follow the blog for updated selections, writer-reader guidelines, and discussions. The July selection is There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry (Short Stories).