In general, if a person were to watch me work—which I am grateful no one ever has—I suspect it might look like a lot of cutting and pasting of notes, stopping, starting, staring, intermittent flurries (as the weatherpeople say), sudden visitations (by invisible forces), the contemplation of the spines of various dictionaries and reference books stacked behind the computer, and much reheating of cold coffee (a metaphor and not a metaphor). But what it feels like is running as far as I can with a voice, a tuneful patch of a long, nagging idea. It is a daily struggle that doesn’t even always occur daily. From the time I first started writing, the trick for me has always been to construct a life in which writing could occur. I have never been blocked, never lost faith (or never lost it for longer than necessary, shall we say) never not had ideas and scraps sitting around in notebooks or on Post-its adhered to the desk edge, but I have always been slow and have never had a protracted run of free time. I have always had to hold down a paying job of some sort and now I’m the mother of a small child as well, and the ability to make a literary life while teaching and parenting (to say nothing of housework) is sometimes beyond me. I don’t feel completely outwitted by it but it is increasingly a struggle. If I had a staff of even one person, or could tolerate a small amphetamine habit, or entertain the possibility of weekly blood transfusions, or had been married to Vera Nabokov, or had a housespouse of even minimal abilities, a literary life would be easier to bring about. (In my mind I see all your male readers rolling their eyes. But your female ones—what is that? Are they nodding in agreement? Are their fists in the air?) It’s hardly news that it is difficult to keep the intellectual and artistic hum of your brain going when one is mired in housewifery. This is, I realize, an old complaint from women, but for working women everywhere it continues to have great currency.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore was one of those names I kept hearing around the book blogosphere, so when I saw this in fave used bookstore (I know, getting a little repetitive in the “where I got this book” department…) I picked it up.
Birds of America is a collection of short stories. What is there to say? Moore’s writing is really, really good. And the stories are really, really sad. So, you might think that this wouldn’t be the best choice for late-night-when-you-can’t-sleep reading (which is what I found myself doing a few times), and yet… somehow it was okay, because they are funny (witty, clever, biting, sarcastic) as well as sad.
Not having read any of Moore’s work before, I kept waiting for her to veer into slit-your-wrists territory, but she always pulled back before she got there (now that’s talent). The negative reviews at Amazon (I do so love reading those after I finish a book! hee!) call the book depressing, but I disagree. It’s sad, but not depressing.
Since BoA was published in 1998, I couldn’t resist a trip back to the early days of the interwebs:
- NY Times Featured Author: Lorrie Moore (from September 20, 1998).
- Dave Eggers reviews Birds of America — “funny and mean” — in Salon (from October 2, 1998).
- Interview with Lorrie Moore in Salon (from October 27, 1998).
One of the best things I’ve read this year!