Jul 3, 2009


Above: Rocky the Reader

Here are the numbers of Blogspot bloggers, including me, who include these works or authors as their favorites.

The Great Gatsby 358,000
King Lear 7,700
Raymond Carver’s stories 5,700
Tobias Wolff’s stories 265 (or does that include his book-length work as well?)
Alice Munro’s stories 4

These numbers have a kind of logic, except for one item: why so few for Munro? At least in Canada, she’s become well-known and highly awarded in the last decade or two.

I suspect the problem is that her stories aren’t page-turners in the usual sense of the word. But if you want multidimensional, thoroughly developed characters, who find themselves in intriguing, troubling, believable situations in remote small towns or country settings, she is your writer.

My favorite Munro stories tend to be set somewhere in the past (1950s backward to the nineteenth century) in the villages or wilderness of Ontario. Munro makes me care deeply about people and places that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with me. The only exceptions for me are occasional tilts toward soap opera in a few of the stories with modern settings.

If you’ll allow yourself to slow down to Munro’s dignified, but never turgid style, you’ll learn about distant places and their humans; I have found page-by-page satisfactions and surprises (including beauties of phrasing and leaps in plot or characterization).

Try “Meneseteung,” “Carried Away,” “Wilderness Station” and “Vandals”—all four of which are placed toward the end of her Selected Stories 1996).

I’d also be interested in your responses to the stories of Aimee Bender and two poets I’m getting know somewhat, though they seem to inhabit different universes: Bob Hicok and Karen Volkman.

I almost added to my favorites Edward P. Jones’s magnificent The Known World, but I’ve only read it once, and, in case there's a quiz, I decided to include only works I’ve known really well at one time or another.


Anonymous said...

Had anyone asked, I would have answered that of course I've read Alice Munro. But I look at the titles and don't recognize any. Does this mean I just always intended to read Alice Munro?

So I will. But you must read Kundera. Though perhaps, you already have.

Anonymous said...

Just curious -- why do blog approval? Do you get many unsavory comments? Hope not. I've found blog life to be very sweet. Sometimes too sweet. I don't mind wrestling and I don't mind criticism. (Except when it comes to my spelling -- I know that's hopeless.)

Banjo52 said...

I think I know the psychological game you're talking about--have often played variations on it. Mine tend to go in this direction: sure, I know that author. Then I can't remember, much less speak, a single specific detail. Or I can cite one or two specifics and assume (pretend?) they represent the entire body of work.
I meant to have checked out Kundera by now, but the weekend got busy. Unbearable Lightness . . . is the only title I recognize, and I've heard a rave here and there, over the years, so I will get to it. Thanks for suggestion and thanks for stopping by.
- Show quoted text -

Banjo52 said...

So far, no unsavory comments--in fact, not enough comments of any kind. So I'm probably being paranoid. But:

1. I'm new at this. Like you, I welcome criticism and suggestions--in fact, I wish there were more commentary from visitors, whether negative or positive. But I don't want visitors thinking they can say anything they want, in any way they want, and expect to be taken seriously--or published. (That sounds pompous. Harrumph. Sorry. Maybe number 3 below explains my tone?).

2. I've seen a couple of other bloggers do some variation on my warning about legality, and it seems that some gesture is better than nothing at all. CYA, or at least try to.

3. As a long-time teacher, I've learned over and over how much one stinko student or parent or boss or colleague can screw up a class or the teacher's mental health for a day, week, or more. So I'm trying to invite stinko blog readers to go elsewhere. They can deposit their methane in my email, but I don't want to imply that I'll always publish it or be responsible for it in any way.

Too much response? Overreaction to the whole question?

Let me repeat that I'm very pleased with the constructive attitude I see in most blogs, from both the blogger and the visitors. In fact, as you say, maybe too sweet. But in my experience, the old adage about an ounce of prevention is right far more often than not.

Hey, maybe your Hiker-mind has some reckless Biker-mind built into it? (Hope your sense of humor is turned on . . . ).

By the way, if you've written about Hiker-mind, I'd like to read it, if you care to direct me to which blog post(s). I think the topic of Bikers, Hikers, Runners compared to Walkers, Amblers, and Sitters might be interesting.

Again, thanks for the comment. Looks like you pushed a button at this end?

slowmo said...

Maybe folks just don't KNOW about Alice Monroe. I only heard of her through my partner, a former English teacher. Munro is an acquired taste, but when she's good, she's good. Often her title stories are extraordinary.

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