Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Typical - Padgett Powell

Picking up BASS again and attempting to inject some life into this project and doing so with encountering Padgett Powell for the first time almost killed the desire in the first several minutes of reading Typical.

You see, I think my mind has lost a great deal of tolerance for literature.

I started my entries on the BASS 1990 on September 11, 2013  and read my first story from that collection and posted my thoughts on the 16th of that month.

Here it is now November 22, 2016 and I’m still carrying around this book and still writing about how I’m struggling to get through it.

3 years 2 months 11 days later.

I had a pretty good run with the BASS series up until now but my lack of reading…these stories…has caused damage to my lit-mind.

I’ve read plenty over these past three years – but these short stories kept me flexible – nimble. That’s all gone now and was doubly reinforced when reading Typical.

You see, I think I would have consumed and digested the story differently with my old mind. But – we read the stories when we read them – and that too lends to their interpretation.

I enjoyed this story.


I’m glad I pushed forward past my desire to toss the book aside once again.

This story was the right story to pull me back in and to (at least I feel it has) reignite this project. I wrote a couple of entries ago back in May that I thought the story I had just read would be the one to pull me back in – obviously it wasn’t.

One last thing – I really enjoyed reading Powell’s Contributors’ Notes. He wrote at length on the Molecular Theory of Fiction – basically his thoughts of how a story comes is created and he used Typical as the example detailing 12 origins of certain parts of his short story Typical.  A quick Google search failed to turn a discussion of the "Theory"  in any subsequent interviews or writings or its application on any other pieces of his work. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wigtime – Alice Munro

Of all the stories I read by Munro, this has to be my favorite.

When I lived in Negresti there were students from the town and students from the surrounding villages. At that time there weren’t buses or an organized transportation option for the students in the villages to travel to the school. Some students lived in the dorm (where I lived) and some walked over hills, some hitchhiked, and some jumped on the train that arrived in the town crazy early in the morning. I could always tell the commuter students by their shoes. The town students had cleaner shoes and the girls would wear shoes that could only be used for walking on pavement. I felt sorry for the commuter students. I knew that they came from poorer communities…water from a well – limited electricity. Their pants were spattered with dried mud from walking over the hills. I admired their dedication.

I can’t begin to imagine the other difficulties and situations they faced as they walked to and from school. Animals, cars nearly killing them, the elements and of course other people.   

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Differently – Alice Munro

Alice Munro, at the age of two or three, in her home town of Wingham, Ontario. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY ALICE MUNRO

My sixth encounter with Munro in the BASS. Below are links to my entries on her earlier stories in the anthology.

I had a little trouble with this story ( As I always seem to have with Munro). Perhaps because I’m still a little rusty. Initially I felt a connection to the story and it stirred feelings about our recent move across town and the frequent visits we make to our old neighborhood and the feelings that surface during these visits.

Midway through though I felt the story shift a bit and I felt a bit like I was reading Updike.

From the Contributor’s Notes section:

“Differently” is an attempt to deal with a place and time in the lives of thirtyish people. Victoria. The period 1968-1974 (?). A peculiar hecticness, destructiveness, happiness, wildness, open play-acting about those years, intensity of friendships and love affairs. Almost a late outbreak of adolescence. Not necessarily to be regretted or deplored or hankered after, just described.

I had a great comment from “Anonymousafter struggling through another Munro story “Circle of Prayer” –

Maybe you just don't fully appreciate Alice Munro's writings---their beauty, grace, and subtlety. The strength of her stories lies in their quiet messages and nuanced meanings. She rarely makes her stories conspicuously understood on initial reading, and sometimes a second and much careful reading is necessary to get down to what she intends primarily to convey in the scenes and situations she writes about.

I love this comment. I agree that at times I do have difficulty seeing the “quiet messages and nuanced meanings” – I do need to look deeper – and I appreciate a reader out there defending Munro and helping me figure this whole thing out. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

You're Ugly, Too - Lorrie Moore

This is a great story to help pull me back into this project.

This is the first story of Moore’s to appear in BASS and we will see her again in ’91, ‘92, ‘93,’98 and 99. 
This story was selected for inclusion in the BASS after appearing in the July 3, 1989 New Yorker. The story had that New Yorker vibe…one that people sometimes turn their nose up at – but it rekindled my interest in the magazine. The story took me back to the days when I’d pull the magazine from our apartment’s mailbox, flip right to the contents and see what lucky author’s short story was selected for inclusion.

The story also drove me upstairs to pull two books from the stacks – The World through a Monocle  and  Cast of Characters – both about the magazine.

There are elements of the story that I time peg and I can easily see why Updike picked it for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

I also feel that there is a little Joyce Carol Oates in there (more for the characteristics of the female character) – both previous authors gracing the pages of the New Yorker and BASS quite frequently. I feel Updike in dialogue between the main character and the man her sister introduces her to at the Halloween party.

The story doesn’t give me the feeling of having been written in the late 1980s – It has that late 1970s feel to me. I'm still working on developing the ability to put into words this feeling and perhaps that skill will emerge with more reading and writing. 

Moore was in her early 30s and I had just graduated from high school – enjoying a summer of freedom…getting ready to head up to Vermont in August. 

Eisenheim the Illusionist - Steven Millhauser

“All agreed it was a sign of the times; and as precise memories faded, and the everyday world of coffee cups, doctor’s visits, and war rumors returned, a secret relief penetrated the souls of the faithful, who knew that the Master had passed safely out of the crumbling world order of history into the indestructible realm of mystery and dream”.

I loved this sentence. I didn’t find its beauty until returning to the story after putting it down for several months. I wonder how long Millhauser thought over the words in the sentence. You often hear about authors that have the ability to spit sentences out onto the page almost effortlessly….and then there are others that labor through revision after revision after revision.

I was happy to find this sentence because I had a difficult time with this story. It just never grabbed me. I see that Millhauser is quite accomplished (the whole Pulitzer thing and the movie made out of this story) and his Facebook page is filled with beautiful passages from his work.

I am still suffering through the transitions of stages of my life. I use the word suffering not in a negative way.

We are well beyond the “interruptions that last June brought and we have settled into our lives with a familiar routine.

And the routine is what gives us comfort.

It’s funny…I look over some of my older posts and sometimes I can’t recognize my writing. I remember the stories but my commentary on my life or on the story and the author seem so unlike me.  

I need to set these readings and writings up as assignments. I’ll have to schedule them on my calendar.

I started BASS 1990 back on September 11, 2013 – that was 2 years 8 months and 17 days ago.
I posted my last entry "Nothing to Ask For" 1 year and 9 days ago.

On some mornings I stand in the shower- joints and bones aching, muscles sore from the run and think about these stories and me not reading them. Such a simple exercise.


I’ve ramped up my running now it’s time to ramp up my reading. My body needs it and more importantly my mind needs it.

And as I learned from reading Proust, readings of books and stories take on different meanings depending on when and where they are read. 

So Mr. Millhauser – apologies for not diving into your story deeper – perhaps your story will be the one that pushes me back into this game. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dennis McFarland – Nothing to Ask For

I’m being honest when I say that a week doesn’t pass where this project isn’t in my head. I think about this project at its height – posting a thought about a story almost daily. I think about the comments I’ve received on certain posts. I think about the connections I’ve made the authors I’ve come to love and I believe most importantly, the explorations into my mind the stories have generated.

There was a bit of fear opening this page and writing again. But, I think I am ready.
You see, it’s been 1 year 8 months and 3 days or 610 days since I started the BASS 1990. This has to be- by far the longest it has taken me to get though a volume and I’ve only read half the stories.
I sat here before I started writing this thinking about these last 610 days wondering what within these days has kept me away from the book(s).

So much has happened. My life out of the house – at work, specifically at the paper (or should I call it the “media company” now?) has been tough psychologically. Work at the university has been fine – actually it’s only been difficult physically – testing my ability to function without sleep. Work at the paper has just been tough because of all the transformations we are moving through and wondering if I will survive them. I have – and my position there seems secure – but we’ve taken so many hits and so many people have left and so many people have encouraged me to leave…I can only feel that it could be a matter of time before my number comes up.

Opposing these feelings/situations, life on the home front has been wonderful- if not filled with its own set of distractions. 610 days ago the boy and I were on a pretty regular running schedule with me hitting 10K runs at least 3 times a week and moving into 2014, almost a year ago- on May 31-June 8 I ran a 10K each day with my best time at 49:42 – averaging 8:00/mile.

In late 2013 we went on a trip back to Romania. It was great. And then later in 2013 we decided to have another child…and well, that worked!

The months of the pregnancy before the second son arrived were filled with all the psychic baggage you could expect – and then in the summer of 2014 #2 arrived.

I had no problem downshifting my life to be a father/dad. It’s what I’m supposed to do. Work remained the stress that it had been all along – (now with added work and responsibilities!) and running was completely out of the picture. So from the middle of the summer 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014, I ran once…on the 31st. In 2015, I’ve made it out the door 27 times. A coooold winter kept me indoors at 0600 when it was below freezing and I just couldn’t drag my carcass out the door.  
I’ve made it out 7 days in May with 3 of those back-to-back.

I have also accepted the fact that I’m not recovering as fast as I did back in my 30s. Joints and muscles are sore for a bit longer.

There is a huge distraction coming down the line in June and it’s anyone’s guess to how long that will pull me away.

As I reflected back to those days of reading and writing I realized that I had something in my life that held me firm. I had my runs and these books.

I need that again. I need to join my life now – everything that I have in it…with these steadying elements.

So – as I’ve written so many times before – Let’s try this again.

Dennis McFarland – Nothing to Ask For 

 A difficult story for me to write about as I try to get back into this project. I cannot relate to the subject matter – but I can relate to the love, devotion and friendship the main character expresses towards his friend. 
I’ve been spared the burden of taking care of someone with a terminal disease.
I had a very brief, mild view as to what that might feel like during one of the last visits my father made to our house. 

I had to monitor everything he did. Monitor his meal times; monitor his bathroom breaks, his showering. I had to sleep in the same room as him to prevent him from getting up during the night and injuring himself. 

And the whole time – he too had Nothing to Ask For. 

The years ahead of me are going to require an incredible amount of patience love and understanding. Not just as my boys grow and learn about the world…but as I grow old, M grows old and my mother and father grow old. 

It’s going to be difficult. 

And I just need to remember to love.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Denis Johnson – Car Crash While Hitchhiking

I've written before – several posts back – not quite sure at all how many, of a nice tight, what I feel to be an almost perfect – no – perfect story.  Perhaps it was Carver or Updike…yes, I suppose it was one of those two – and so, I think I've found another one to line up with the others.

This little story still has the taste of the late 80s (whatever that means to you) but I can feel it moving towards the 90s where my personal appreciation of literature begins to develop and mature.
I’ll note that it is through multiple readings of certain novels or stories that I understand and gain a deeper appreciation for the work.  This is the case here.
The multiple readings began not intentionally, as a way to understand the story – but because I've sat so long on this exercise and I was forced to refresh my memory as to what I had last read.

And as things seem to line up in my life, and the life of this project, I seem to be reinvigorated – ready to push forward again.  With this exercise beginning in the last days of May 2008, 6.6 years ago – or 2410 days and 321 posts I was a little burned out – I couldn't seem to find the words to string together anymore.
I had/have a lot on my plate now considering the free and easy days of 2008.  Two children later and I've passed through several incarnations of who I am today. I have issues with time management – as I written about so many times and the exercise suffered for it.
Perhaps, I can continue for another 2410 days and finish this little thing off.  I can only hope that the BASS continues to publish.
So – Car Crash While Hitchhiking.  There are so many passages that stand out and pulled me through the story.  Johnson in describing this story in the Contributor’s Notes section labels this as a sad story and I can agree with it and perhaps this is why I am drawn to it.
A beautiful nurse was touching my skin. “These are vitamins,” she said and drove the needle in.

It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks.

And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.

As touched on above, it reminds me of Carver and this is ultimately why I think I’m drawn to it.  Denis Johnson appears again in the BASS 1992 for a story that was published in the New Yorker.  I look forward to encountering him again.
Author Anthony Marra touches on Johnson’s story and the line I extracted above and offers a wonderful piece for The Atlantic. If you have the time I really encourage you to read it and then…read Johnson’s story.
You can read it here - The Atlantic