My Writing

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some of my favorite short prose writers

Some of my favorite short prose writers are Julio Cortázar, J.D. Salinger, Lydia Davis, Djuna Barnes, and Samuel Beckett.

Cortázar seems like an inimitable master of the short story to me. He has an interesting imagination, his language is idiosyncratic, and he often creates spring-loaded stories that "burst" in certain parts and surprise me. Some of my favorites are "A Yellow Flower," which was the inspiration for "Son of Sky-god"; "Continuity of Parks," which is a good example of the spring-loaded ending; "Blow-Up," the inspiration for the movie of the same name; "Bestiary"; "End of the Game."

Cortázar also wrote the novel Hopscotch, which is one of my all-time favorites, and he wrote the hard-to-classify book Cronopios and Famas, which I also enjoyed a lot. Cortázar is one of my favorite writers, overall, and is one of a number of Spanish-language authors that I have gotten into in the last couple years, along with Roberto Bolaño, Clarice Lispector, and Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.

J.D. Salinger wrote some short stories that I like a lot. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is one of those short stories that seem perfect to me, which is interesting, because perfection seems impossible, and yet I honestly don't know what could be added to, removed from, or changed about the story to make it feel better. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" also seems spring-loaded and well-formed as Cortázar's stories are, in a way analogous to a finely composed pop song with nice verses, a very memorable chorus, and a sweet bridge. Sometimes I feel unsure how I feel re well-formed short stories, not Salinger's and Cortázar's, but other people's, because I have read plenty of well-formed short stories that don't make me feel anything, because they seem more concerned with being well-formed than with whatever emotions or thoughts/kernels might inspire a writer to write something, which is what I am "about"/like as a writer, I feel--I have an emotion or a kernel of a thought from somewhere, life or other art--and then I write, shape, rewrite some thing. However, I aspire sometimes to write a well-formed short story that feels personal and/or moving/interesting in the manner of some of Salinger's and Cortázar's stories, or at least to "improve" re the shape, form, and effect(s) of my stories/prose pieces.

Getting back to "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," it feels like a koan, in addition to being a well-done short story, which I like because I am interested in Zen.

I also like "For Esmé--with Love and Squalor" and "Teddy" by Salinger. But my favorite things by him are The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and Seymour: An Introduction. I love J.D. Salinger. He is probably my favorite author and one of my biggest inspirations, along with James Joyce and Tao Lin, which is a weird trio of inspirations, I'd say. I wrote about J.D. Salinger for The Fanzine, and some associate editor published it while the main editor was attending the birth of his child, and then it was pulled, because it was too [something] and was not supposed to be published, but there was miscommunication between the editors, all of which I completely understood, but it's cached here somehow. Anyways...

I finally read Lydia Davis' Break It Down, and I loved it, especially "Story" (interesting; nice); "Break It Down" (idk, I like it); "The Letter" (bleak, nice); "Extracts from a Life" (love this one, Zen,sweet, moving); "Mothers" (said "damn" to myself after reading this one); "Two Sisters" (sweet fable); "The Mother" (brutal, extremely bleak); "Once a Very Stupid Man" (sweet); "Five Signs of Disturbance" (sweet). I look forward to reading more Lydia Davis.

Djuna Barnes wrote Spillway and Other Stories and I am a fan of it. I loaned it to Mary Chen, so I don't have it in front of me right now, but it is strange and menacing and sweet, in my opinion.

I read The Complete Short Prose (1929-1989) by Samuel Beckett and liked it a lot. Beckett is also a big inspiration for me. Before reading Beckett, I thought I might not like him or that I'd appreciate him but be bored. Turns out he is very funny, he writes beautiful sentences, and I feel absorbed while reading him no matter how much he rubs my face in shit. One of the standout qualities re Beckett for me is his ability to write memorable-seeming lines. He seems to really excel at writing lines that I feel the urge to underline. My Beckett books are underlined all to hell. My favorites from the short prose include "First Love" (funny, impressive, moving, bleak); "Texts for Nothing" (a little difficult to read but sweet, bleak); "All Strange Away" (sweet, another one in that The Unnameable/How It Is, etc. stream-of-words Beckett style that has been copied many times and never equaled, imho); "Ping" (bleak, intense); the "Fizzles" (interesting, "poetic," bleak); "Stirrings Still" (moving).

I highly recommend Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable, Watt, How It Is, and The Complete Short Prose by Beckett. If you have only read his plays, I feel like you are missing out big time.

OK, that'll be all for now. Thank you for reading. Some other stories I dig: "Good People" by David Foster Wallace, story 34 from AM/PM by Amelia Gray, "Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself As If Reciting Poetry" by Haruki Murakami, "Inner Compulsion" by Thomas Bernhard, "Gusev" by Anton Chekhov, "The Dead" by James Joyce, "No Matter How Many Times I Read Your Confession, There's One Thing I Just Don't Understand: Why Didn't You Kill the Woman?" by Ryu Murakami, and "A Historical Breakfast" by Russell Edson.


  1. Couldn't agree with you more re Sammy B.

  2. my gf has a copy of nightwood by djuna barnes but neither of us has read it yet...

    have you read it/is it good

    should i read nightwood by djuna barnes...

    oh and nice post btw

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. @giles cool, yeah, love beckett

    @zach thank you. yes, idk why i didn't mention nightwood. i liked that book a lot. if you like "lyrical"/"poetic" prose there might be a better chance of you liking it. seemed intense and unique to me. one of those books that seems to deal with real experiences in maybe an abstract or indirect way. idk, i really enjoyed it. there's an interesting character in it named dr. matthew o'connor who shows up occasionally and delivers these great speeches.

  5. sweet

    where can i read "No Matter How Many Times I Read Your Confession, There's One Thing I Just Don't Understand: Why Didn't You Kill the Woman?" by Ryu Murakami

  6. thank you, Tao

    that Ryu Murakami story is in the new issue of Zoetrope All-Story, i believe. i saw it at the bookstore. i liked the style a lot and it made me laugh

  7. Cool post. My girlfriend always seems to know every short story ever written and at times I feel intimidated or impotent or something because of it. Then I found out she hadn't heard of A Perfect Day for Bananafish and I was like, "Oh you should read it. It's so good. It's like the best short story there is or something." and I loaned her my copy of For Esmee... After she read it, she told me she didn't like it that much. I felt really sorry for myself eh.