Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Pursuit of the Short Story

Because you can't be in front of the computer all day I took a brisk hike yesterday, under overcast skies, through bracing, sea-scented air, up the crooked, wooden staircases set into the bright green, boulder-strewn hills of Glen Park.

Lately, all I want to do is sweat in the woods.

The eucalyptus here aren't real woods, true, and they do seem to monopolize all the sunshine. But really, just to stand sore, muddy, even scraped and spun on endorphins on the top of some steep, misty place is a good thing. I miss nature oftener than I used to.

Glen Park offers gorgeous views. And intriguing, muddy ravines below. Clover-patches glistening from old rain. I imagine a body laying in the clover: a strong image for something worth writing down.

I find gorges that enclose tree-canopied corridors to someone's version of an underworld. Intestinal, mildewed tunnels leading into the depths. Nature as Gothic. A word for that I remember out of the blue: chthonic.

Seth introduced me last week to this simple, but invigorating place. On my hike yesterday, I thought mostly about how to achieve unity in my prospective short story collection. I thought about how I think so much clearer when I'm pursuing some semblance of a healthy life too.

When I got home, I figured out a curriculum, in counterpoint to Seth's own short-story curriculum. If I read a rotating variety of short stories, perhaps I'll get better at writing them? And then I can put together story compilations like mix-tapes.

So far, stories from the following are on my present list, but I've hardly started reading them:

1. Blow-Up and Other Stories by Cortazar: so far, very interesting. I enjoy weird stories where you're not sure exactly what happens but yet you can't forget the story. Or where exquisite vagaries abound in nonchalant harmony. It's all in the details. Same thing with his novel, Hopscotch: not much happens except for verbal mazes and interior deliberations and uncanny images, but a lot of it is pretty unforgettable.

2. Scrub-Station by Julia Solis: Actually, re-reading this. A brilliant photographer, adventurer, chronicler of decay, urban ruins, etc., she's also a great fiction writer. Solis' stories tells what happens when the sinister magnetism of ruined landscapes conspires with our own appalling desires (which just so happens to be an obsession of mine too!) "Elizabeth of Factories" might very well be one of my favorite short stories. Her website is Dark Passage, and she is the author of the equally amazing: New York Underground.

3. The Invention Of Morel by Aldolfo Bioy Casares: Apparently, this novella has been getting lots of pop-cultural street-cred because it's featured in Lost. Borges also calls it "perfect" and its heavily alluded to in the art-film fashion-fest Last Year At Marienbad.

4. The Collected Stories of Grace Paley: Don't know much about this yet, but many, many writers think she's brilliant. Look forward to it.

5. The Delicate Prey by Paul Bowles: Bought this years ago, never really got to it. If Tobias Wolff says it's "one of the most profound, beautifully wrought, and haunting collections in our literature" than I bet it's pretty damn good. Interesting guy too, who lived most of his life in Tangier, Morocco, played music with Aaron Copland and wrote the novel The Sheltering Sky, which Katy read and loved and is on a distant reading list of mine.

6. Sanatorium Under The Sign Of The Hourglass by Bruno Schulz. Reading this now for a potential essay I'm writing about it. Strange stuff that takes a while to get used to. Incredibly lyrical, complex evocations of the writer's own young manhood in the small Polish town he lived right when Hitler came to power. Fascinating for his emphasis on mythologizing his own upbringing in prose that isn't afraid to read like poetry. Also features the artist's own drawings which are wonderful. Will probably be commenting on this book later.

Also: many of the usual suspects of short stories: Kafka, Joyce and Flannery O'Connor.

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