Archive for April, 2009

7 April, 2009

Salute to Short Stories

All of you who are in the writing world have probably either (a) read this yourself or (b) had it recommended to you by a friend and intend to get to it soon. By “this” I mean A.O. Scott’s tribute to the short story in the NYT yesterday, entitled, fittingly, ‘Brevity’s Pull.’ Some of his praise, of Cheever and Barthelme, for instance, includes a rather grandiose swipe at the longer form:

Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose.

That’s okay. Everybody is allowed to take a swipe at us word-mongers now and then. So I am going to take up the chant and salute the art form of the well-written short story. To begin with, join me in checking out this e-review cum book club set to take us closet short-story lovers by storm: Andrew’s Book Club, the love-child of Andrew Scott, has a simple goal, described below.

Each month I will select two short story collections to be released that month, give or take a few weeks. One will be from a NYC publisher, while a second selection will spotlight a book from an indie or university press. Buy at least one of these books each month. 12 books a year (24 if you buy both selections) is not too much to ask. It would be great if you also supported your local independent bookstore. But you may prefer Borders or Barnes & Noble, or maybe you live in the middle of nowhere and rely upon Amazon or Powell’s. But buy the story collections. If your bookstore doesn’t have the book, order it. Talk to the owner about the book, and about how much you love to read (and buy) story collections. Put your mouth where your money is.

Furthermore, here’s a list honoring some of the best short-story writers I know:

Paul Yoon, whose collection Once The Shore came out this month from Sarabande. You can read a review and an interview with Paul on the Rhumpus site as part of their new Rhumpus Original Combo.

Lynn Freed, whose novels need to be recovered from and in the best way imaginable, also has a gem of a collection, The Curse of the Appropriate Man (Harcourt, 2004). Claire Messud wrote an insightful review of the collection in the NYT when it came out, describing Freed thus: “As these stories amply illustrate, she is…one whose style and preferred subject are eminently well matched, whose spare, classic prose exposes hidden acts while pointing obliquely at hidden thoughts.”

I heard Eric Puchner read from his collection, Music Through the Floor (Simon & Schuster, 2005), at Bread Loaf and was smitten. You can read an excerpt here.

Childhood & Other Neighborhoods(University of Chicago Press, 2003), is a collection by Stuart Dybek, one of those writers who carry off being brilliant, modest and present in lowly rooms crowded with future literati hopefuls with great panache. There’s an interview with Dybek in the SmokeLong Quarterly.

And, of course, a story-teller whom I love listening to, Tiphanie Yanique. You can read her award-winning short story, ‘How to Escape from a Leper Colony,’ in the Boston Review, and read an excerpt and purchase her, again, award-winning story ‘A Saving Work’, from Kore Press. A close-up-your-jaw-sister essay can be found on Persephone Speaks, the Kore Press blogspot. Tiphanie’s work when it becomes available in the bookstores will ignite the sales desk. I guarantee it. For now, catch her where you can.

Happy reading!

Signed: the sonata/symphony gal who loves all her étude-composing pals.

6 April, 2009

All the News Fit to Print

So everybody has heard, by now, that the Boston Globe was threatened with closure by its owner, the NYT Co. The demand is for the unions to agree to $20 million worth of concessions:

Executives from the Times Co. and Globe made the demands Thursday morning in an approximately 90- minute meeting with leaders of the newspaper’s 13 unions, union officials said. The possible concessions include pay cuts, the end of pension contributions by the company and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees now enjoyed by some veteran employees, said Daniel Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the Globe’s biggest union, which represents more than 700 editorial, advertising and business office employees.

I have to say that I have become completely disenchanted with the Boston Globe over the past several months. The high-handed, slanderous and untruthful coverage of the internal political issues of my country of birth, Sri Lanka, by the Globe’s editorial staff, its refusal to agree until today to carry any article critical of the pro-terrorist groups that have held the Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate community of Boston, the city and state’s elected officials and its newspaper in a death vice, and its refusal to acknowledge or in any way take seriously the very public death threats made against Sinhalese and moderate Tamil Sri Lankan Americans on its websites all combined to make me come to the conclusion that there are some newspapers we can all do without.

But there are some newspapers we all need and will continue to need: the local ones. These are, for the most part, staffed by a combination of younger and more seasoned reporters who, as they aim to achieve national recognition through the “pick up” for larger circulation of their hometown coverage, tend to work that much harder on the veracity of their stories. They also cover the here and now with greater frequency, placing our national and global woes in our neighborhood contexts. As I said in today’s article about American media , while we wait for the trickle-down effect of intelligence, there will be a slow but steady trickle-up, too, from local newspaper people, like Mercier, until we reach that happy mid-point where we are all well-informed and satiated by thoughtful, well-researched points of view about the world in which we co-exist.

3 April, 2009

Peter Rock: Off the Grid

I wasn’t able to write anything the last two days because I’ve been occupied with the business of countering misinformation on the political front. I won’t go into that in any great detail here, for now, since the day will soon be here when I must let that life seep through into this one. For now, I wanted to share a thought about a book I came across just now, by Peter Rock, that intrigued me. The title of the novel is My Abandonment, which already conjurs up the kind of intensely personal story that I love to read, and you can watch Peter talk about the inspiration for his book, below:

There’s a review of it at the Plain Dealer site. I stumbled upon Peter and his book while looking at possible locations for reading and going through the “best of the best” venues recommended to me by my West Coast writer-friends, so I would be remiss if I did not mention that I found this book on the website for Green Apple Books in San Francisco.

The story, about a father and daughter who live in Forest Park in Portland, OR, revolves around a Vietnam Vet suffering from PTSD and his 13 year old daughter, whom he raises to a superior brilliance while living in a dwelling they carve into the hills between the eight miles of trails in the park until the girl is discovered, unfortunately, by a jogger and life as they know it comes to an end. The way in which Peter continues to follow their imagined-true-life through his fiction is both interesting and recognizable to anybody who loves making up stories be they short, the length of novellas, novels or even door-stoppers.

In these times of over-involvement in each others every living moment, and where the kind of misinformation of which I spoke has the ability to turn peaceable people into blood-thirsty demons, the bittersweet tale of this parent and child who decided to purchase only what they need and tend to themselves in companionable solitude, feels like the correct antidote.

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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