Month: March 2011

Bullet in the Brain

Bullet in the Brain is a short story written by Tobias Wolff and originally published in New Yorker magazine in the September 25, 1995 issue. At just under 2,000 words, it is really an amazing piece. But rather than blab on about it, I wanted to post links to the story for you, Dear Reader, to experience it yourself. Following are links to read, listen to, and watch the author read this great story.

  • Read (HTML version)
  • Read (PDF version)
  • Listen (read by T. Coraghessan Boyle, with a discussion beween Mr. Boyle and  the New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisma.)
  • Watch (read by the Tobias Wolff at City Arts and Lectures)
Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Fiction, 2 comments

Tolstoy on a Late Spring

“Spring was a long time unfolding. During the last weeks of Lent the weather was clear and frosty. In the daytime it thawed in the sun, but at night it went down to seven below; there was such a crust that carts could go over it where there was no road. There was still snow at Easter. Then suddenly, on Easter Monday, a warm wind began to blow, dark clouds gathered, and for three days and three nights warm, heavy rain poured down. On Thursday the wind dropped, and a think grey mist gathered, as if concealing the mysteries of the changes taking lace in nature. Under the mist waters flowed, ice blocks cracked and moved off, the muddy, foaming streams ran quicker, and on the eve of Krasnaya Gorga the mist scattered, the dark clouds broke up into fleecy white ones, the sky cleared, and real spring unfolded.

“In the morning the bright sun rose and quickly ate up the thin ice covering the water, and the warm air was all atremble, filled with the vapours of the reviving earth. The old grass and the sprouting needles of new grass greened, the buds on the guelder-rose, the currants and the sticky, spiritous birches swelled, and on the willow, all sprinkled with golden catkins, the flitting, newly-hatched bee buzzed. Invisible larks poured trills over the velvety green fields and the ice-covered stubble, the peewit wept over the hollows and marshes still filled with brown water; high up the cranes and geese flew with their spring honking. Cattle, patchy, moulted in all but a few places, lowed over the meadows, bow-legged lambs played around their bleating, shedding mothers, fleet-footed children ran over the drying paths covered with the prints of bare feet, the merry voices of women with their linen chattered by the pond, and from the yards came the knock of the peasants’ axes, repairing ploughs and harrows. The real spring had come.”

Anna Karenina, Part 2, Chapter XII
(Pevear and Volokhonsky trans.)
[Paragraph break added]

Just thinking, on this wet, story, early spring day – one of many wet, stormy days lately – that is will be nice when the California spring finally gets here.

And, for the curious, in Russian popular tradition Krasna Gorka is the Tuesday following St. Thomas’s Sunday (the first Sunday after Easter). It is a day to commemorate the dead.


Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Fiction, 0 comments

Fiction is Dead

Well, maybe not dead.  But according to Buce, picking up from Tyler at Marginal Revolution, it’s on the skids. That is, they both seem to feel that the quality of fiction is declining while the quality of non-fiction is ascending.  I’m not sure I agree with that. Part of me thinks it’s like saying rock used to be better than it is now. It may be, in an absolute sense. But I suspect that the real reason why I think 1972 was a banner year for albums (Barnstorm, Eat a Peach, Harvest, to name a few) has a lot more to do with where I was at that time than where music was.

At the the same time, there’s this incredible story I read yesterday about how Amanda Hawking, a 26-year old writer from Minnesota with nine self-published books (8 novels and 1 novella), has sold over 900,000 e-books in less than a year. Apparently, the subjects are Teen-oriented Twilight vampire romance variety. And to read some of the negative reviews, her writings do seem to lack things like originality, plot, character development, and grammar. Those seem like pretty basic elements of good fiction, and I’d like to think that’s something most people could generally agree on. But maybe that’s not true anymore. After all, how much music released now has pedal steel guitar?

Still, I’m wondering: The quality of fiction may be on the skids, but thanks to new media distribution, more of that crappy fiction can get out more cheaply and easily to more people, making it cheaper to buy and earning some writers more money than any publishing house could offer them. Is that good or bad news? I’d like to think that new media has given Ms. Hawking a chance she wouldn’t have had otherwise, that she sold what she could to whom she could, and that both parties, or all 900,000 anyway, are happy. I don’t see anything bad about that, so long as I don’t have to read her books.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in General, 1 comment