Friday, April 1, 2016

Soup and Salad: RIP Jim Harrison, Emily St. John Mandel and Laura van den Berg Talk Dystopia, “Difficult” Women Puzzle Margaret Dilloway, Susan Perabo Marvels at Tobias Wolff, Ghosts Haunt Elizabeth Brundage, What Novelists Should Worry About, Jodi Paloni Comes to Terms with “Too Many Books,” Glen Chamberlain’s Funny Valentine

On today’s menu:

1.  The death of author Jim Harrison (The Ancient Minstrel, Legends of the Fall, etc.) a week ago touched nearly all of us in ways great and small. I was stunned but not surprised by his passing. He’d worked hard and played hard and it showed in recent photos of the 78-year-old. You could hear the Grim Reaper sharpening his scythe every time you looked at that face. Nonetheless, the passing of a legend is always a sad, regretful thing. Speaking of coulda-shoulda-wouldas, the Barnes & Noble Review was kind enough to publish my essay about a late encounter with the legend. It begins like this: I met Jim Harrison on a flight from Bozeman, Montana to Chicago three years ago. I say “met,” but as we soared over the wheaty heartland, not a word passed between us. It remains one of the greatest regrets of my life.  Click here to read the rest.

2.  “An idea I’ve been thinking about lately is that perhaps we’re drawn to these (dystopian) stories because we long for less distracted lives. We’re tethered to, distracted by, and addicted to our technology, and maybe there’s a certain longing for a world where our phones no longer work and we have to talk to people face to face again and spend more time alone with our thoughts.”
      ~Emily St. John Mandel in conversation with Laura van den Berg at FSG’s Work in Progress

3.  “Difficult” women? Novelist Margaret Dilloway (Sisters of Heart and Snow) pins ’em to the page over at Read Her Like an Open Book:
This whole concept of “difficult” women still puzzles me. Sometimes, the word “difficult” is a code word for “bitchy.” Someone you don’t want to deal with. To me, to be “difficult” means to be human—imperfect, struggling with baggage from the past, responsibilities, aging, expectations, dreams. In real life, every woman I know would be classified as “difficult” the way my characters are. The women I know are fierce and mercurial. Everyone’s got some kind of problem they’re trying to overcome. They complain and they struggle even while they love. And women mess up their lives just as forcefully and thoroughly as men ever have, thank you very much.

4.  At Beatrice, Susan Perabo (Why They Run the Way They Do) talks about why Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet in the Brain” is a prime example of how much can be contained in just three short pages:
I’ve decided that the only single word that can possibly define this short story is “audacious.” I’ve read the story maybe forty times in the last twenty years, and I still can’t believe Wolff pulls it off. The tightrope Wolff walks, bridging the gaping canyon of sentimentality that this story should be, is so thin as to be invisible. Only through sheer audacity could a writer take this character, and this plot, and create something this good.
Related:  My own take on “Bullet in the Brain” (a mini-review that consistently ranks as the #1 most-read Quivering Pen post of all time)

5.  Head Butler reminds me to levitate Elizabeth Brundage’s novel All Things Cease to Appear closer to the top of the To-Be-Read Stack. If nothing else, for the haunting story-behind-the-story. As Brundage explains:
      It was the late 90’s and my husband had just joined a medical practice in Troy, New York. For Mother’s Day the year before, he took me to a beautiful inn in Columbia County – the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company – and over the course of that weekend I decided that Old Chatham, New York was one of the most beautiful places on earth and I wanted to live there. We decided to rent a house in nearby Malden Bridge, a historic hamlet that had been settled in the late eighteenth century. One afternoon, with my girls in the car (our son was just a twinkle in my eye back then) we drove past this old house with a For Rent sign hanging from a tree. It was a lovely white clapboard cape with a small front porch. I pulled over and we got out. There was nobody around; the place looked empty. We roamed around to the back yard, smelling sage and wild onion, and discovered a Dutch door. On impulse I tried the knob, but of course the door was locked. And then the strangest thing happened. The bottom half of the door eased open all on its own.
      We ended up signing a lease and moving in. Shortly thereafter, we discovered that we were not alone. Every morning on the way to school the girls told me stories about the ghosts, three little girls who had died in a fire and whose mother and father were up in heaven. They knew details that seemed beyond their ability to fabricate, including the names of the ghosts, and historic details about an old mill down the road with tainted water...

6.  Worry. We’ve all got it, we all learn to seamlessly incorporate it into our routines, our personalities, the very fibers of our bodies. Creative types, I think, are especially prone to anxiety. At Lit Hub, Susannah Felts delivers a nail-chewing list for writers:
I worry that I’ll never finish. I worry that I’ll finish a draft and never revise it. I worry that I’ll finish the book and no agent will pick it up. I worry that an agent will pick it up and fail to sell it and then dump me. I worry that it will sell and get bad reviews. I worry that it will sell and get no reviews. I worry about the attention I’ll get when it’s reviewed. I worry what people in my hometown will think of it. I worry that I’ll fail at bringing the ideas to life the way they are in my head.
Click here to finger the rest of the worry beads.

7.  One of the things I tend to worry about (needlessly, as all worries are at heart) is the fact that I’ll never live long enough to read ALL THE BOOKS. At Read Her Like an Open Book, Jodi Paloni (They Could Live With Themselves) says she, too, has ”more books than a person could ever possibly read.” But she’s come to comfortable terms with it:
      It doesn’t matter how many books. Books are not just for reading. They’re for viewing, touching, dusting, sorting, stacking, arranging, re-sorting, shelving, un-shelving. They’re a source of pleasure.
      My husband has twenty-two screwdrivers, thirteen wrenches, and sixteen wood files.
      My goat cheese-making friend keeps a couple of bucks around for kicks and, out of compassion, nurtures elder chickens that are all done laying eggs.
      My daughter has 2,178 songs on her iPod.
      That we are a species of excess is another topic. My point here is to say that we pay attention (and dollars) to what sparks passion, nourishes obsession, furnishes joy, soothes.
Click here to read the rest.

8.  Your Friday is about to get a whole lot better. A new issue of High Desert Journal is now online and chief among its contributors is Glen Chamberlain. I suggest you take time this afternoon to do two things: 1) Read the short story “Her Funny Valentine” and 2) Go buy Glen’s new collection All I Want Is What You’ve Got. There’s a very good reason I call her “the Alice Munro of our American West.” Here’s how “Her Funny Valentine” begins:
Cash Gunn was born in Pocket, Montana, at the tail end of the Depression, and he never got out of it. It wasn’t that he didn’t try: when he was 18, he was going to go to college, but the Korean War came along. When he survived, all he wanted was something familiar, so he returned to Pocket and married Agnes.
Click here to read the rest at High Desert Journal.

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