I’m teaching seminars at Goldsmiths this term on The Short Story. I think I’m going to have some fun with this course. We had our first class on Monday and I read them Arthur Bradford’s ‘Mollusks’ from the first issue of McSweeney’s as a taster for what I like and what one aspect of the ‘contemporary’ short story might be.
I asked my new students about their favourite writers, and if they made any distinction between novels and short stories in this regard. Turns out most of them did! There was a lot of mention of Bret Easton Ellis and Jack Kerouac from the guys, Angela Carter from the girls. Some other less common responses, too, like a Franzen fan and some Richard Brautigan and Lorrie Moore. I rambled about David Foster Wallace, as is my privilege/fatal flaw.
Next week’s class is still ostensibly an introduction to the short story, and we start in on the reading list proper the week after (we do Boccaccio and the medieval tale).
Which means I get to impose some of my own reading on them a bit before the reading list takes over. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do, and I think trying to push them in the direction of starting to make generalisations about short stories is best. I’ve been reading Richard Ford’s introduction to the Granta American short story anthology, and it’s less ornery than I remembered. I like Richard Ford but sometimes he can be a bit difficult to take. He says some good stuff:
I don’t know why people write stories. Raymond Carver said he wrote them because he was drunk a lot and his kids were driving him crazy, and a short story was all he had concentration for. Sometimes, he said, he wrote them in a parked car.
I think it would’ve been nice to have a beer with RF and RC.
Or maybe story writers–more so than novelists–are moralists at heart, and the form lends itself to acceptable expressions of caution: You! You’re not paying enough attention to your life, parcelled out as it is in increments smaller and more significant than you seem aware of.
I like his exclamation mark.
I’ve always liked stories that make proportionately ample rather than slender use of language, feeling as I do that exposure to a writer’s special language is a rare and consoling pleasure. I think of stories as objects made of language, not just as reports on or illustrations of life, and within that definition, a writer’s decision to represent life ‘realistically’ is only one of a number of possibilities for the use of his or her words.
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