Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Today's Menu

Today's Menu: "what the world will look like when all the water leaves us," stories by Laura van den Berg

Drinking: said water that will someday leave us

Thinking: why is it that some books snag our hearts the very first time we glimpse them? I first saw this book a year ago while browsing on-line, and without having read a word, wanted it. Needed it. Kept thinking about it. Added it to every book wish list I scribbled in random places. I loved the cover photo, and the searing intensity of the title. But what else was it? How did I know it was the one I needed to read?

Here's what Benjamin Percy says on the back cover: "There is a special magic in the writing of Laura van den Berg, a damp-eyed sorceress who blends the mythological with the everyday, bouyant playfulness with lacerating sadness. Each sentence reads like a beautiful bruise smeared across pages as pale as the bodies that so often strip off their clothes and tangle together in these tender, elegant stories." I couldn't have said any of that better. The key words: mythological, lacerating, sadness, beautiful, bruise, pale, tangle, tender.

And because I read these stories between the bookends of The Best American Short Stories of 2011, it brought me additional insight. There were many stories in that collection I did not love. These ones? I loved. Continue to love. And when we find the things we love, shouldn't we try our damndest to to learn from them? Here is the list I scrawled in pencil on the inside of the back cover of Laura's astonishing book while reading:

What I want in a story:

mystery
lyricism
place
flora/fauna
breath
silence
things unsaid
animals/birds/bugs
things unknown
history
layers
myth
questions that sprout
political relevance
tenderness
dirt
grit
love

7 comments:

  1. Sounds lovely, Robin. I could use a strong story collection right now. I love your list--what a great idea. It occurred to me after reading it that I've never articulated exactly what I want in a story (or an essay or a poem.) And why not? ?? I'm gonna! When I get around to it I'll share it w/ you.

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  2. Look forward to reading those lists, Jen!

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  3. PS to all: my list keeps changing. I would love to hear what's on yours...Share with us?

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  4. My list for stories...

    sounds
    decay
    a half moon
    vintage relics
    gossip
    birds
    foibles of skin
    sidewalks (literal and metaphoric)
    breath
    flecks of food as details
    uneven white space

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  5. Hmmm... sounds like a book I need to add to my many lists.

    Do you ever walk into a library/book store and feel in some small way crushed because you'll just never have enough time to read everything you'd like to? Stegner's "Angle of Repose" is fabulous, but it's been on my nightstand for too long, what with all these other ways I fill the minutes. Ah well. A smirk and a sigh!

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  6. Been thinking: it's incomplete:

    Kindness where it's not expected
    humor
    tenderness
    fields
    echos
    negative space
    unraveling
    intelligence
    grace
    warm things: fabric, thread, fire, wine
    honesty
    snow
    time (stopped, expanded, experienced)
    wrinkled skin

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  7. What lovely lists! I think I'll have to go stealing, in particular: sounds, decay, intelligence, grace, time, humor & wrinkled skin.

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