What's on Your Nightstand, Jim Magnuson?

Since 1993, James Magnuson has directed UT’s Michener Center for Writers, an interdisciplinary MFA program now ranked among the top five creative writing programs in the country.

A playwright and novelist (“Money Mountain,” “Ghost Dancing,” “Windfall,” “Hounds of Winter”), Magnuson also has written for ABC and NBC series television.

Reading could become an occupational hazard for someone faced with plowing through 700-plus manuscripts for MFA admissions each spring, not to mention staying current on dozens of authors who visit the center annually, and the work-in-progress of his own graduate students.

Check out a few selections from Magnuson’s crowded nightstand, and what he had to say about them,¬†after the jump.

“On Chesil Beach” (Nan Talese, 2007) by Ian McEwan

This is a writer at the top of his game. The last four or five books have been magnificent. The fumblings and misunderstandings of a repressed young couple on their wedding night could have become material for farce. In “Chesil Beach,” McEwan turns it into something both tragic and resonant.

“True History of the Kelly Gang” (Vintage, 2001) by Peter Carey, two-time Booker Award winner

Not just one of the greatest novels written without a comma, but one of the greatest novels of our time. Someone has said of Ned Kelly that he was not so much Australia’s Jesse James as he was its Thomas Jefferson. The book purports to be Kelly’s autobiography and the voice that Carey creates for his illiterate narrator is a wonder. The book reads like the wind. Charles Dickens, say hello to Cormac McCarthy.

“How Fiction Works” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) by James Wood

A small gem of a book by a leading critic on the art of fiction. I read it in a night. A couple of things I walked away with that I will now use as my own opinions: first person isn’t as different from third as you think and metaphor is always mixed; that’s the point. Wood seems to have read everything and I loved the quotes he takes from other writers.

“The Savage Detectives” (Picador, 2008) by Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer

Who could have guessed that a slangy novel about young, pretentious avant-garde poets in Mexico City could be so moving? But Bolano captures the world of youthful artistic ambition beautifully. These teen-age poets tear into one another’s work, hit on girls, steal books, have grand thoughts, but the author makes us care for them. The book keeps opening up, turning eventually into the search for a lost surrealist poet in the Sonoran Desert. This book is able to wed the detective novel with post-modern fracturing of identities in a remarkable, mind-bending way.

3 thoughts on “What's on Your Nightstand, Jim Magnuson?

  1. Thanks Jim, I can’t wait to spend the next year reading these 2000 pages




Comments are closed.