All I Want For Christmas ~ Books I Will Buy For Myself If I Have To

My Christmas gift exchange list gets shorter every year, but still I dream of the presents I would like to receive. (I am a bit of a present baby, truth be told.) So below I am making a short list of the books I would like for Christmas–and if I don’t receive them from anyone, I will buy them for myself. Because I am an adult. I can do that.

So, in no particular order:

A VISIT FROM THE GOOD SQUAD by Jennifer Egan (Yes, I am the only person in America–in the world maybe–who has not yet read this book.)

EVERYONE REMAIN CALM by Megan Stielstra (I know I should already own this one, too, but I don’t yet have a convenient electronic reading device.)


THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta (I had my name in for a book giveaway, and I was unrealistically hopeful like I am when I buy a lottery ticket; I didn’t win.)




THIS BURNS MY HEART  by Samuel Park (Sam teaches at Columbia College Chicago where I teach, and I have heard nothing but great things about this book.)


PORTRAITS OF A FEW PEOPLE I’VE MADE CRY by Christine Sneed (A Chicago writer who has won all sorts of praise with this book; I get to share the stage with her at Story Week Festival of Writers in March 2012.)



ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE by DW Wilson (Winner of BBC Short Story Award, DW has a way with words, sentences, stories.)


DROWNING IN GRUEL by George Singleton (because how could you not want to read a book with this title?)



And I am certain there are many, many more titles I would like to add to my collection, but this will get me through January, at least.

2011 brought a number of good new(ish) books my way as well, some I have released into the world with love (passed on to friends), some I have kept on my bedside table, some I am still savoring. Among these: As If We Were Prey by Michael Delp; Volt by Alan Heathcock; Small as a Mustard Seed by Shelli Johnson; Carry Each His Burden by James Goertel; Birch Hills at World’s End by Geoff Hyatt; The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie; Windy City Queer, edited by Kathie Bergquist; many poetry books from Fleda Brown; The Whale Chaser by Tony Ardizzone; What You Don’t Know About Men by Michael Burke; and and and…..

Looking forward to new books in 2012 from Michael Downs (The Greatest Show), and Stacy Bierlein (A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends), and Bill Roorbach (Life Among Giants). 

So many books, so little time.

Happiest of holidays to you all. May you spend them on the couch with a book in hand and a cat on your knee. Thanks for reading! -PMc←

Everyone Remain Calm! ~ Megan Stielstra’s View From the Keyboard

Megan Stielstra was a pretty blond girl in a Fiction Writing 2 class I taught some years ago. A bright and eager undergraduate student totally dedicated to her writing, Megan was someone I could tell would go somewhere. And so she has. Today Megan Stielstra is a lovely blond woman who was a founder of one of the coolest literary series in Chicago: 2nd Story. She also is about to release her debut story collection. You probably want to check it out: Everyone Remain Calm!  You really should. In the meantime, though, you can get a taste of the book here, and the view from Megan’s keyboard.

Megan: At this point in my life, writing is more about time than space. I have three jobs and a three-year-old. I’m trying to market one book that I love more than anything, and finish another one that’s got me so distracted I keep missing train stops and getting off the elevator on the wrong floor. I think this is the case for most working writers–how do you balance all this life? Time is my most precious commodity, and I use it whenever I can: writing in coffee shops, 2nd Story’s studio space between rehearsals, in the car in front of my son’s school, or my secret haunt on Columbia College’s campus (no, I will not say where! Took me ten years to find this place and I’ll guard it like a Brink’s truck). But in those lovely, rare times when everything slows down, before Caleb wakes up or after he goes to sleep and I can sit calmly with some coffee or wine (depending on the hour), there’s nowhere like my porch. It’s my room of one’s own in the middle everything, all the noise and movement of this city. We’re on the third floor, high above it alI, a stone’s throw from the Aragon and when I sit out there I can hear the shows (and also when the shows let out; rowdy, wild affairs. This porch has seen some shit, I’ll tell you what). We’re gearing up to move somewhere a little bigger, where my husband and I can have actual rooms of one’s own, but my heart will still be sitting here on this porch, listening to the Rob Zombie fans screaming his name.

An excerpt from “Shot to the Lungs and No Breath Left,” the first story in Everyone Remain Calm!:

It’s a scene straight outta some Vin Diesel movie: that big, six-foot pretty-boy is hard at work at the petrol plant, loading Exxon barrels onto the back of some truck. Suddenly—a hard, fast whack to the chest, so fast he’s not sure at first if it actually happened. He opens his mouth to speak but his breath is locked so he can’t get out the words, just two hollow gulps of air before his lungs soak red like a wet sponge and slowly, slowly, blood seeps through the canvas of his coveralls. In one fatal, horrible second everything connects: the dark red-brown staining his chest. The airless gasping like some cancer patient with a cigarette. The punch above his heart like a shotgun with too much pull and then, after he’s too empty of blood and air to keep on his feet, my dad walks right into his line of vision, that H&H Magnum pointed barrel to the ground. “Hey, there, Wade, how you doing?” Dad says, and Wade’s stupid blue eyes go glassy and there’s more blood on his uniform than there is in his body and in the last single second of life left in him my dad squats down and whispers: “She’s my girl, Wade. My one and only girl.”

My dad—he loves me like crazy. You can’t hate that hard if you don’t have love.


Oh yeah, and Megan said this, too: “I happily and fully agree to let Patricia McNair edit this submission for publication on her website/blog. I think Patricia Ann McNair and her website/blog are awesome things and being a part of the community she is building there would make me dance with joy. Also: someone should give her a million dollars.” (Thanks, Meg. If someone does give me a million, I’ll share. Promise.)

→For more from Megan Stielstra, go to her website: To find out about 2nd Story, go to theirs: Thanks again, Megan. And thanks for reading. -PMc←