Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mary Gaitskill: "Secretary" and "A Romantic Weekend"

In an interview with Carri Anne Yager, Mary Gaitskill says: "Any time you write a piece of fiction it will be interpreted in ways that you don't intend. It's difficult, it's painful, but it's part of the turf. I would never change my writing based on my advance projection of other people's interpretations. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt."  For another pretty good interview, go to Bomb.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Amy Hempel: "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" and "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep"

Another "minimalist," T. C. Boyle calls Hempel, but I don't agree.  Her stories are spare, perhaps, but such richly associative work, banking on so metaphors, doesn't seem stripped to the essentials.  Unless indirection = minimalism.  See what you think.

Also note: "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" is a story that breaks my "rule" about first paragraphs.  How does Hempel get away with it?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  

These stories are going to test your synapses.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jamaica Kincaid: "Poor Visitor" and "Figures in the Distance"

Remember that these are novel excerpts and find your inspiration in voice, detail, perspective.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tim O'Brien: "The Things They Carried" and "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong"

At the 2009 National Book Festival, an interviewer from the NEA asked Tim O'Brien, "Why read?"  And he answered: I can't speak for everybody; I can tell you why I do. I have a need to enter other worlds that aren't entirely my own. And by other worlds, I mean other personalities and other mindsets and geographically other places where I might be living there's an otherness that beckons to me that- and the otherness shines light on what I'm living or going through. It is not- you get trapped in your own problems and your own intricacies of your own life so you don't see them beyond them much, as least I have trouble. And a book or a magazine article or any piece of art can shine a kind of light on my own situation and I'm seeing it through another lens. And it might be the lens of a history book or the lens of another novel or poem and there's a little sunlight there, explosion that goes on in my heart where the otherness is attached to my own life in some way or another. Sometimes it's just to draw a tear from my eye and feel that someone is sharing the kind of pain I might be sharing or has gone through it or someone has experienced a job that somehow validates my own joys.

Lydia Davis: "Almost No Memory" and "St. Martin"

I've been thinking about acquired tastes.  When I first encountered the work of Lydia Davis, I felt positively affected by a few things.  The word play of stories like "A Mown Lawn" and "Letter to a Funeral Parlor." The audacity of one-line stories such as "Certain Knowledge from Herotodus."  The striking poignancy when she writes about aging and death, as found in, for example, "Happy Memories."  However, I found just as many thing that distinctly didn't appeal.  Longer pieces that rambled, whose inner logic was unclear to me.  Stories that felt overly self-indulgent.  Stories that, well, didn't seem to have a point.

Have you ever tried a food, or a drink, or an activity that at first didn't appeal to you, but then, upon greater exposure, became the very thing that you craved?

My admiration for Lydia Davis has grown over the years until I now feel a strong desire to read her work.  When Davis read last spring at Susquehanna, I heard from more than one student how they found her reading from The Cows  intolerable.  In contrast, I loved it.  Unabashedly.  Listening to Davis describe our bovine neighbors felt like a view into a parallel university, one in which the etiquette, logic, and relationships are all alien and yet eerily familiar.  When I reread the stories chosen by T.C. Boyle for DoubleTakes, my brain echoes with other of Davis's worlds I've read, and I feel, like the protagonist of "Almost No Memory" that these books truly have a great deal to do with me, thought it is hard for me to understand, and troubles me to try to understand, just how they have to do with me, how much they are of me and how much they are outside me and not of me, as they sit there on the shelf, being what I have read but do not remember reading, being what I have thought but do not now think, or remember thinking...