Encino Man writes in about reading lists...
As a part of the application, some schools want a list of books that have influenced me. I do not know how to respond. Does this mean books I like? I must confess that I read for pleasure, and any influence on my work that may occur is on a subconscious level. Am I doing myself a disservice by only reading for pleasure? Do I need to start reading books with a thief's eye, trying to steal methods and styles from other writers?
When listing a reading list, is it best to try and impress admissions people with a certain genre of books? Should my reading list seem cohesive?
Lots of questions here. My overall answer is, yes, you should be reading books with a thief's eye, taking note of styles, methods, tricks of the trade etc. A good place to start, fiction-wise, is Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction, which will give you an idea of what to look for.
As far as the MFA list goes, don't out guess yourself, seeking particular genres or cohesiveness. You should be honest about what you read. On the other hand, if your current list isn't too impressive, well, you've got the summer to get a lot of reading done. And by the way, the best reading is both: reading to learn and reading for pleasure. It's summertime. Read works that flip both tricks for you.
My last two reads are Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Tobias Wolff's In Pharoah's Army. Both were awesome.
Okay, the real question. Where to find good books:
1. The Gotham Writers Workshop has a terrific list in a variety of genres.
2. At the restaurant, you ask the waiter what's the best choice tonight. At the video store, you check out the employee picks. So, when looking for books, ask the people behind the counter at your local independent bookstore. They love to talk about this kind of stuff. Get a list of five or six, spend a half hour looking them over, then take home something literary and something interesting to you.
Okay Encino, rock on. And everyone else: If you've got book recommendations, old and new, in any genre, here's a good place to leave them. Thanks.