Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Slacking

It's true. We've been slacking off at the end of the semester. These things happen (and watching the first season of Mad Men hasn't helped...). You might want to catch up on your climate change news, adventures in Memphis, or even procrastinating. With the dissertation out of the way, though, I will have more time to return to the craft.

I highly recommend reading a review of Carol Slenicka's biography on Raymond Carver and a volume of his collected stories. I've been giving the NYT Book Review a bit of grief lately, for reasons that I hope to explain soon, but this piece really took me by surprise. To get the full experience, I recommend not looking at the author of the review, and when you get to page three, you are going to be pretty astounded. Most of the review focuses on how Gordon Lish edited the life out of many of Carver's stories, a sentiment that I have shared and ranted about to friends. So much that I would rather have people start with Cathedral rather than What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

I suppose all of us writers hate editing...but this is too much:
Sklenicka’s account of the changes in Carver’s third book of stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (1981), is meticulous and heartbreaking. There were, she says, three versions: A, B and C. Version A was the manuscript Car­ver submitted. It was titled “So Much Water So Close to Home.” B was the manuscript Lish initially sent back. He changed the name of the story “Beginners” to “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and that became the new title of the book. Although Carver was disturbed by this, he nonetheless signed a binding (and unagented) contract in 1980. Soon after, Version C — the version most readers know — arrived on Carver’s desk. The differences between B and C “astounded” him. “He had urged Lish to take a pencil to the stories,” Skle­nicka writes. “He had not expected . . . a meat cleaver.” Unsure of himself, Carver was only three years into sobriety after two decades of heavy drinking; his correspondence with Lish over the wholesale changes to his work alternated between groveling (“you are a wonder, a genius”) and outright begging for a return to Version B. It did no good. According to Tess Gallagher, Lish refused by telephone to restore the earlier version, and if Carver understood nothing else, he understood that Lish held the “power of publication access.”
Might I also suggest a few other pieces:
  • John Oakes on his new business, OR Books, which he founded with Colin Robinson, who has worked with New Press and my old favorite Verso. OR is responsible for Going Rouge, a collection of articles on that gov'nor of Alaska.
  • The illustrious Sean Moreland, victim of computer trouble and poet extraordinaire, (with a few of my other friends, Jamie Bradley and Christine McNair) has been recently published in experiment-o.

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