Exhibit 24.17

Reading List Review

Writers on Literature
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum – Ms. Hempel Chronicles
Jean Thompson – Who Do You Love
Edward Jones – Lost in the City
Christopher McIlroy – All My Relations
Elizabeth Strout – Olive Kitteridge
Alice Munro – Selected Stories

In case it’s not clear, this is a class on American short fiction. Well, there’s Munro, but I think American means North American. Or maybe it doesn’t and Canada can deal with it. I don’t care as long as I can link to my favorite Wikipedia entry for something that isn’t a real thing.

I have to admit, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, these are all great books written by obviously talented writers. Our instructor’s genuine affection and belief in these books makes them impossible to ignore. On the other, they’re books I’d likely never read on my own (and nothing about reading them changed my mind). That situation is, I suppose, the great thing about taking such a class, but it’s also left me feeling confused about American short fiction and what it should do. Despite all the talent on display here, there’s little that grabs me about these texts, at least as books (all had at least one story I could stick up for more strongly).

Take Olive Kitteridge, likely the best of the books (aside from Munro) and more than deserving of its Pulitzer. It’s really quite phenomenal from story to story and is possibly the first “novel in stories” I’ve read that wears that label as more than marketing. It’s the ideal book for a graduate school fiction class, rich in description and character, full of the supposedly genuine. It’s also mostly uninspiring, at least to this writer. Each story seems to me a perfect example of what one is told to write in graduate school, the sort of stories I ignorantly associate with Iowa or whatever else I want to insult at the moment. It’s heartfelt and reflective and graceful and boring. It’s exactly the book I’m going to give my grandmother for Christmas (which is a compliment).

None of this is to say I didn’t enjoy it or learn from it–or any of the work here–just that I don’t feel it’s a conversation I’m presently capable of adding to. I can’t out character Thompson, or out setting Jones, etc. Each of these books does the things we are told are important and they do those things remarkably well. Those just aren’t the things that brought me to fiction. Though now that I think of it, I doubt very much it was short fiction that brought me to fiction either.

And so it’s good to read this stuff rather than only chasing the new. Munro is obviously a different case. I hadn’t read much of her that wasn’t in recent magazines. Certainly not my writing hero, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who claimed her as such. “Our Chekov” as the blurb says sounds about right. I’m just more of a Dostoyevsky guy.

Overall verdict: Eyes Opened/Shut

1 Comment / Posted in Books, Fiction, School

Comments

  1. julee says:

    FYI, on the latest census, “American Indian” counts North and South America. So if you are a US citizen from Mexico, Central or South America with native heritage, you mark the box “American Indian”. This panel has clearly adopted the 2010 Census rules of Americanism, which I prefer to call Vespuccism.

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