"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Joyce Carol Oates

curiosity . . .

Congratulations to Alice Munro, Nobel Prize winner for Literature!

Congratulations to Alice Munro, Nobel Prize winner for Literature!

So, Alice Munro, a Canadian woman writing short stories, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This award is especially interesting because it seems to actually be for literary achievement, rather than some political gesture towards some obscure unknown writer from a foreign country. It’s also a relief that they didn’t give it to Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates, American writers who have been at bat the last couple of years. [And forgive me if I don’t go into reasons why I’m glad about that.] No Literature Nobel has been awarded to an American writer since Toni Morrison in 1993, I’m told.

I confess that I have tried to read Alice Munro’s short stories many times. In my bookshelf, I found a used copy of “Alice Munro’s Best” with a Foreword written by her Canadian writing compatriot, Margaret Atwood, the yang to Alice Munro’s yin personality. Truth be told, I had as hard a time getting through Atwood’s piece as I did the first couple of Munro’s short stories. The one about working in a slaughterhouse cleaning out turkeys by hand almost did me in, although I did marvel at the astringency of Munro’s descriptions.

I mean, I’m going to keep on reading through that volume beside me on the couch because I earnestly want to understand what all the fuss is about. Sometimes I find myself engaged in the beginning of the story, only to have my mind wander off when things get so convoluted I don’t care about the character anymore. I also want to say that I find myself LIKING Alice Munro because she writes about women and the situations we find ourselves in, looking for “distant pieces of ourselves” while taking care of children and minding the hearth. She carefully avoids describing herself as feminist, which I also understand and applaud. Because what she writes about that we women handle everyday in our lives over time goes way beyond feminism. Feminism has been a useful political tool and something around which frustrated women rally around, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what it’s like to be a woman, if you know what I mean. And many of you do, I think. So good for Munro for avoiding that easy trap.

Two articles about Munro’s Nobel appeared in the NYTimes today. One, carefully crafted by Michiko Kakutani, a literary critic who is respected and also vilified for her acerbic critiques of writers and writing. She gave a brutal review of work by Jonathan Franzen who retorted with something like, “She’s the stupidest person in New York City,” but hey, that’s the literary world we live in now. In any case, even Michiko is on Munro’s side this time.

What I found interesting is that this Nobel prize for literature comes to Munro at the age of 82 and a few months after her second husband passed away in April of this year. What a pity he’s not around to see her win this accolade. She has three daughters, though, who must be excited about this award. She’s also been or being treated for cancer and has had bypass surgery. In the other article today, she’s quoted as saying as a response to the Nobel:

“In a brief interview with, Ms. Munro explained that she had decided to stop writing because she had been working since she was about 20 years old. ‘That’s a long time to be working, and I thought, maybe it’s time to take it easy,’ she said, ‘But this may change my mind.”

One of Munro’s most frequently quoted sentences is: “The constant happiness is curiosity.” I second that for sure.

Kudos to Alice Munro for having written short stories her way, establishing along the path, a “new art form” that is even hailed by novelists, those most difficult of writers. She said she was just practicing writing in the shorter form, getting ready for writing novels someday, but never did. That’s a good thing for us readers, I guess, although I’m still working my way through a volume of her short stories today.

“epilogue” . . .

The other day at the local library, I picked up a book by Anne Roiphe entitled “Epilogue.” Although I had not read her other books, her name rang a distant bell and so I checked it out. It turned out to be a memoir of her life after the sudden death of her husband of forty years.

I’ve read other memoirs about widowhood, notably Joan Didion’s book, “Magical Thinking” and Joyce Carol Oates whose title I can’t even remember because it seemed to be an excuse to publish another book when she had already remarried someone else by the time her widow memoir about her first husband was published.

That’s actually a lot of what these books are about: husbands, and marriage. In Anne Roiphe’s book, she misses her husband because he did everything for her: paid the taxes, did the cooking, earned a good living, provided homes in New York and in the Hamptons, hosted and cooked for their annual Seder, celebrated with their grown children and grandchildren. Lots of marriages are like that and that’s not what bothers me about Roiphe’s book. It’s her slightly unappreciative tone towards him (he didn’t leave me any life insurance and I can’t afford to keep the house in the Hamptons,) her daughters and especially sons-in-law that make her appear to be a miser emotionally at the same time that she is desperate to find a new man for companionship, or at least to provide her with what’s now missing.

I’m writing about a book which I laid down many times, picking it up to read more parts of it and finally finishing it last night because the unintentional take-home message for me was so loud and clear:

CHERISH, revel in and appreciate the life we still have with our partners now before one of us dies. Don’t look back with annoying regrets that you could have been kinder, nicer, more accepting, less critical. Hug each other now. Let the small stuff really go. Really. Stop worrying about what you can’t do anything about.

Treasure the present moment for all the days you have left, no matter whether it’s for just a short time or for a longer one than we might expect.

I guess that’s a great gift to receive from a book that was so annoying to read.