Monday, April 07, 2014

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Barthelme, 60 Stories

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories
Penguin, 1982
introduction by David Gates (2003)

When I was 20 I tried to read Nabokov, and couldn’t, and knew it was my problem, not his. When I was 25 I could read Nabokov. I couldn’t read Barthelme until I was 40. (There are real benefits, it turns out, to not dying young.) Maybe it helped that I had read Beckett, Lispector, Lydia Davis in the meantime. Probably it helped even more that I had suffered serious disappointments and intermittently drank too much. I had finally arrived on the wave-length. New to Barthelme? Read this one first. I’ve heard a few people say that Forty Stories is easier. I don’t see the truth in that. Some stories will grab you instantly, others will seem incomprehensible or opaque. (My favorites; “Me and Miss Mandible”, “City Life”, “A Manual for Sons”, above all: “At the End of the Mechanical Age”.) If you get stuck, bounce around. Read the stories out of sequence. Open the book at random and read sentences like fortunes: “There are twenty-two kinds of fathers, of which only nineteen are important.”

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