Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Kate Blackwell Guest-Blogging with Summer Reading

Who better to recommend some fiction than a crackerjack fiction writer herself? Apropos of the publication of her splendid new book of short stories, You Won't Remember This, (SMU Press), I invited Kate Blackwell to guest-blog here on Madam Mayo with a summer reading list. I have long admired her work. We were in a Washington DC writers group for a few years, and, back in 2003, I was honored to be able to reprint her short story, "Pepper Hunt" together with its first Spanish translation as "Caseria con pimienta" by Egla Morales Blouin, in Tameme. Kate reports that this summer she'll be reading away in her cottage on Maryland's Eastern Shore.--- Madam Mayo


“Summer reading” has become an oxymoron, as shown on the cover of the Summer Reading Issue of the Washington Post magazine recently, where a woman lies in a beach chair, hat over her face, arms dangling, either asleep or dead. There is no book in the picture. (Write your own story.) I have another picture of summer reading, and how it differs from winter reading or fall or spring reading. For me, a summer book is one I can’t easily put down, like Gone With the Wind the summer before I turned twelve. I didn’t want to do anything else but read that book and, unlike other times of year, I didn’t have anything else to do. Some of the best reads of my life were in those adolescent summers, long, sweaty un-air-conditioned days lying in a porch swing with The Count of Monte Cristo and Jane Eyre and Ivanhoe, meaty novels about worlds far from mine. I still look for those reading experiences, though now I find them in stories more often than novels. The following are “summer books” that keep me awake, and more importantly, alive.

Anton Chekhov’s longer stories for his clear-eyed, compassionate picture of the suffering and joy life brings to everyone. My favorites are “In the Ravine,” “Peasants,” “Gooseberries,” “A Boring Story,” and “Lady with a Pet Dog.”

William Trevor’s portrayals of Irish and English middle-class characters coping with a diminished present and a past that won’t leave them alone. Look for his two novellas in Two Lives and the haunting story “The News from Ireland.”

Alice Munro’s tales about plucky Canadians of all stripes, stories that give us entire lives in twenty pages. Her latest are The View from Castle Rock and Runaway.

Edward P. Jones’s stories, all set in a Washington, D.C. many Washingtonians have never seen. Read Lost in the City and this year’s All Aunt Hagar’s Children.

George Saunders’s collection Pastoralia, whose imaginative language shows us ourselves from disconcerting angles.

Lorrie Moore’s stories of young, disaffected Americans saved by their (or her) sardonic humor. See Birds of America.

If you want to sink into a longer work, a riveting read like those of my young summers, nothing can beat Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander novels or Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.

Enjoy Stay alive...---Kate Blackwell