Olive Kitteridge & The Good Thief=Oprah’s “Tantalizing Beach Reads”

In the July issue of the magazine, the writers of O, The Oprah Magazine recommend some great reads for the summer months–books you’ll want to have handy for trips to the shore and long days in the park.

One of O‘s selections, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, just earned the author the 2009 Pulitizer Prize for Fiction. Why is this especially exciting to One Story? Strout’s book is made up of 13 short stories. Author Pam Houston calls it, “[an] unforgettable novel in stories.” and notes that these stories are “relentlessly human” and “heart-stoppingly beautiful.”

Another of O‘s recommended reads is near and dear to our hearts–The Good Thief  by our very own, very talented editor Hannah Tinti! In her write up, Cathleen Medwick calls The Good Thief, “A 21st-century novel in 19th-century drag,” compares Hannah to John Barth, and claims that The Good Thief is “one of the freshest, most beguiling narratives this side of Oliver Twist.”

So break out the sunblock, the sunglasses, the large-rimmed hats, and try to save room for some fiction in your beach bag this summer!

Orange Prize Winner Announced!

marilynnerobinson_1416339cAs we’ve blogged about previously, the Orange Prize for Fiction is a prize sponsored by Orange, a mobile phone service in the UK. Each year a prize of £30,000 is awarded to the author who the all-women cast of judges feel has authored “the best novel of the year written by a woman in the English language.”  According to the prize’s website, the Orange Prize was established “to widen the net and to try to introduce a prize that would be less traditional and that would put readers at the centre.” 

This year’s prize-winner is Marilynne Robinson for her novel Home. She was chosen from a shortlist which included:

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

For the Guardian’s coverage of the announcement go here.

For an interview with Marilynne Robinson go here.

Alice Munro wins Man Booker International Prize!

alicemunroMore great news for the short story–Alice Munro has been awarded the 2009 Man Booker International Prize. Here’s what judges Jane Smiley, Amit Chaudhuri and Andrey Kurkov had to say:

“Alice Munro is mostly known as a short story writer and yet she brings as much depth, wisdom and precision to every story as most novelists bring to a lifetime of novels. To read Alice Munro is to learn something every time that you never thought of before.”

Laura Van Den Berg on why we submit to Literary Magazines

On The Review Review’s website, One Story author Laura Van Den Berg writes about rejection and discipline in the process of submitting to literary magazines.  Many of her points are helpful for any new writer to learn and helpful for any writer to remember.  The process of submitting stories to literary magazines is frustrating at best, mud-and-fist-throwing maddening at worst.  It’s important for writers to remember we’re not alone.  Up a creek in the same boat, yes, and none of us have paddles, maybe, but not alone.

Happy Birthday, Jack Kerouac. Your writing made me quit my job.

Today is March 12th. Jack Kerouac is 87 today. But, he is also dead.

Here is a brief history of Jack Kerouac’s life:

Born, drove around, drank, died.

Here is a less brief history of Jack Kerouac’s life:

Jack Kerouac (Jean Louis Kerouac) was born March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell, Massachusetts is famous for him, and not famous for its area called “Spaghetti Town,” where you cannot find a decent plate of ravioli. His father was a red and white striped barbershop poll and his mother was a wooden roller coaster. People called him “Ti Jean” which means “Little Jean” in French because he was French-Canadian, which is kind of like being French. He went to Columbia University on a football scholarship but was told to take a hike after a prank he and Allen Ginsberg pulled. He took a hike, all the hell around America, and wrote a book about it you may have read, and a pamphlet about it you definitely did not read called “Suggestions for Improving Safety at Roadside Gas-ups in America.” He was married 7 times. He had the first wife beheaded, the second electrocuted, the third he annulled after forming The Church of Lowell. Here is an easy anagram to remember Jack Kerouac’s wives:

B: Beheaded

E: Electrocuted

A: Annulled

T: Took a midnight train going anywhere

N: Non-fiction writer (divorce)

I: Irreconcilable Differences

K: Killed

Here is something that is actually true: Jack Kerouac’s grave is extremely hard to find, and his is the only framed picture of a person in my house. As you can imagine, this has not gone over well with exes. But if you want your picture framed, write a book I like as much as “On the Road.”

“On the Road,” typed on the scroll and the whole bit, was published by Viking Press in 1957, launching Jack Kerouac into cataclysmic success and threatening his privacy for the rest of his life. Jack Kerouac didn’t seem to like being famous, didn’t seem to like that his word “beatific” inspired a following of beatniks, after a while he didn’t seem to like his old pals or writing very much.

Upon reading “A Book of Verse,” Ed Sander’s colossal story about a Midwest boy’s catharsis triggered by Ginsberg’s “Howl,” I knew the Beat Movement’s defining characteristic was that it encouraged exactly that: movement. In the first short story I ever wrote, I borrowed the main character’s last words to his friend: “So long,” he said. “I’m off to New York City!” His best friend’s response, the last line of the story, has loitered in my head since I was 13. “Don’t do anything I would do.”

The Beat Movement’s writers and those influenced by its writers weren’t sedentary about it. The movement filled cripplingly shy kids up so much they had to start talking. They took to their cars, their town square soapboxes, boxcars, trains, they talked and they talked and they talked. What was it about the writing that held so much kinetic energy?

I’ve heard people say that “On the Road” is what you like when you’re young, before you “grow out of it.” That might be true. “On the Road” does seem to embody ideals few people can sustain into adulthood: sense of adventure, spontaneous travel, kinetic friendship, optimism and expression of true feelings. Old passages, especially the thick paragraphs describing jazz and, more specifically, Sal Paradise’s reactions to it in dusty ol’ Denver, can read slightly dated. Caricatures of themselves, perhaps. Yet, sometimes I wonder if those passages seem familiar because they became used so widely as examples. Imitators sprung up and bastardized the good and true elements of the style. In the way bitter tasting things stay in our mouths more than sweet, we begin to hear the imitators in our heads more than we hear the originals. So, when we go back and read the originals we think: Jesus, how derivative. We forget that everything derived from them, that they were the first ones to do it.

Plainly, it’s not Jack Kerouac’s fault that he inspired a bunch of crappy writers.

Or, maybe we’re all a little fucking jaded.

“On the Road” has inarguably beautiful sentences, some of which I will leave at the end of this post. Sentences that became a part of the American literary landscape, and cut right through the literary bullshit: farmers liked his books, academics liked his books, mothers liked his books, teenagers liked his books. You think it’s easy to write a book that inspires an entire generation to do something?

Until someone else does it, he stays in my frame, with a small inset of Cormac MacCarthy.

Happy birthday, Jack-ero.

“They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn…”

“Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it… and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”

“This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.”

Patrick Somerville’s The Cradle

Congratulations to One Story author Patrick Somerville (issue # 28, “Trouble and the Shadowy Deathblow”) for the rave review by Janet Maslin in yesterday’s New York Times for his new novel, The Cradle.

The Cradle weaves together two tightly drawn tales of family history. One story moves forward, as an expectant father goes on a journey across America on a quest for a stolen cradle. The other travels backward, while a middle-aged woman reminisces about her long-lost son. Slowly, these two narratives begin cross, until they are interlocked like fingers—two hands reaching for each other until, there it is—the connection.

As Maslin says in her review: “It would be better to recommend The Cradle, a deeply gratifying modern fable, than to reveal too much about its plot. Leave it at this: Matt does find the cradle eventually, but he makes other discoveries that count for much more. In the course of his wanderings, Matt comes to grip with a malaise that has been with him since childhood. As a result, he is more profoundly ready for fatherhood than he would have been without this voyage of self-discovery. And all of this sleight of hand is executed with the light, graceful touch that makes Mr. Somerville, also the author of a short-story collection (Trouble), someone to watch.”

Stop by Patrick’s website to find out where he’ll be touring!
Buy the book!

Darin Strauss on John Updike

We asked One Story author Darin Strauss (One Story issue #15, Smoking Inside) to reflect on the loss of John Updike. His thoughts are below. We hope that readers will add their own comments and reflections about this literary (and short story) giant.

In this week after John Updike’s death, you’ll hear a hundred writers who didn’t measure up to the guy’s groin complain that “Updike never reached his potential.” One jackass–you can find his book in the remainders bin, if you can find it at all–wrote that “Updike was the greatest American writer never to have written a great book.”


John Updike was the best writer–the best sentence maker–of his generation.

It’s odd and sad, what happened to our bard of suburbia. Not too long ago, Nicholson Baker came out with U and I, a book about Updike’s “omnipresence and best-selling popularity.” The challenge, Baker told us, would be “to write about Updike while people could still conceivably sneer at him simply for being at the top of the heap, before any false valedictory grand-old-man reverence crept in, as it inevitably would.” Well, Nicholson, it hasn’t. John Updike never got the G.O.M.R.T (Grand Old Man Reverence Treatment); he got ignored. Writers had turned their noses up at him.

I.e., look at Terrorist. That 2006 novel was Updike’s best, most ambitious novel in fifteen years–and the most disparaged of all our decade’s big books. Was it flawed? Sure. (Find me a book that isn’t.) But who could write a sentence as Updike could? (“Blue plastic barrettes pull her glistening hair back as straight as it will go; the plump edge of her right ear holds along its crimp a row of little silver rings.”) And who but the bravest of WASP novelists would be bold enough to try showing American readers the psyche of an Islamicist suicide bomber?

But–as they often bafflingly do these days–reviewers docked the novelist for his ambition. Even the esteemed David Gates, in the pages of Newsweek, took Updike to task merely for the attempt. “Updike, unfortunately, does take us inside the mind of a would-be suicide bomber,” Gates wrote about this “lame-brained, improbable” book. Updike may have been many things–even his best writing may have real defects–but the man was never “lame-brained.” He did what all writers are supposed to do, and that so few can: he saw things; he saw and he saw. Updike caught the truths hidden in everyday life, with the hyperclarity of a singular talent. Check out, for instance, Terorrist’s dissection of TV today:

“It’s slop…But the commercials, they are fantastic. They’re like Fabergé eggs. When somebody in this country wants to sell you something, they really buckle down. They get intense. You watch a commercial twenty times, you see how every second has been weighed out in gold. They’re full of what physicists call information. Would you know, for example, that Americans were as sick as they are, full of indigestion and impotence and baldness, always wetting their pants and having sore assholes, if you didn’t watch commercials?”

It’s weird to feel the need to defend a guy whose career saw the abundant successes and lotto-size returns that Updike’s had. Another weird thing is that his death comes so soon after that of another American generation’s greatest writer: David Foster Wallace.

DFW claimed not to have cared much for the older novelist. (Sometimes you have to clear the stage to make your own bravura entrance.) But the fact that America lost its best younger writer and its best older writer in the same season–this season of American loss, American decline–seems another curse, another vicious chill in our unlucky air.


Another reason to celebrate: The Rumpus

Today is the official launch of The Rumpus, a new online magazine edited by Stephen Elliott. The site features original and aggregated content (about books, music, movies, art, sex and politics–everything that matters, really) and will be updated 10-15 times a day. One Story author Andrew Foster Altschul is the Books Editor.