reading || The Believer & Carol Shields

I don’t even know how many books I have in different stages of Currently Reading–short story collections I’m taking in sips, novels I’ve decided to abandon for the time being. And then there are several books I sample all at the same time. Heh. Here are two to highlight–I’ve been spending more time between their pages, than others:

[#01] Kids, let me introduce you to The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, a series of interviews by writers of writers. Edited by Vendela Vida, it’s all kinds of amazing, and that title is pretty self-explanatory–it’s like eavesdropping on awesome people, haha. [I borrowed this from Kael, and I’m taking my sweet time with it.] One of my favorite interviews: Zadie Smith talks with Ian McEwan. Smith shares that at nineteen, she learned of McEwan’s write-fifteen-words-a-day habit at a time when she was “terribly susceptible to the power of example,” with disastrous results. I remember that, at twelve, learning that Jane Eyre was written by Bronte in two weeks, and that was a lot of pressure, haha. It’s stuck with me so long, and I daresay that it’s influenced my own momentum-driven writing. Harhar.

Here’s a sweet quote, McEwann on how his writing is influenced by the literature he reads:

But it’s about reading something while you’re working and your heart is just longing for your project, and the joy of reading this book by somebody else is actually what makes you turn up at the desk the next day in the broader sense, you see. If I can just generate the same feeling in the reader that this writer generated in me then I’ll have succeeded. And that is probably “the biggest influence.”

That sounds rather pertinent. :) I am liking McEwan a lot, his poetics, his sensibilities. And how he verbalizes all that.

The dream, surely, Zadie, that we all have to write this beautiful paragraph that actually is describing something but at the same time in another voice is writing a commentary on its own creation, without having to be a story about a writer.

With the book, I’ve hit a slow spot–I usually sit on three interviews at a time. I blame it all on Murakami (or his translator?), whose dry and lifeless responses in his interview just left me cold. Boo-hoo.

[#02] The one other book to highlight is The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, which I began last night. And I am completely charmed–I love stepping into Shields’ world. She is one of my favorite writers–her short stories hold a special place in my heart, and prime spots on my bookshelves. Her novels, on the other hand, I have had trouble getting into–with the exception of Unless, which just broke my heart. Anyhoo. I just took the plunge with this one. And am being greatly rewarded. I have barely made a dent re page quantity, but I have fallen in love with her characters–and, as usual, Shields’s language is breathtaking.

…the houses of the newly married, she senses, are under a kind of enchantment, the air more tender than in other households, the voices softer, the makeshift curtains and cheap mugs brave and bright in their accomodation.


[Clarentine Flett] is a woman whose desires stand at the bottom of a cracked pitcher, waiting.

And another:

This is an unlooked-for gift of happiness–to be awaited.

Man. Man. Shields is funny too. In an adorable kind of way:

[Mercy Goodwill] experiences scalding attacks of flatulence, especially at night, as she lies next to my father, who, out of love, out of delicacy, pretends deep sleep–she can tell from the way he keeps himself curled respectfully to his own side of the bed.

I’ve read a pinch of this book, and already Little Red Moley has bore the brunt of my QuoteWhore tendencies. I’ve got a good feeling about this. It’s been a while since I read Shields, and this is a good return.

9 thoughts on “reading || The Believer & Carol Shields

  1. Bah, I love the Believer. I’ll have to check out that book. I love the passages from Shields you shared as well. Great post!

    1. Hey, Ash. Thanks! This book’s so worth it. I’ve read a handful of the twenty-plus interviews, and, generally, they’re very very good. It’s a great dork out book. And Shields’ prose really awes me–love sharing her.

  2. I would love to read that first one! I’m a Zadie Smith devotee – something about her is so striking. And am surprisingly enticed by the McEwan interview. His name has been mentioned to me so many times lately that it’s making me want to give him another shot.

    1. The Believer Book is a fascinating collection. It’s making me list down a lot of authors I wouldn’t have read–some, I haven’t even heard of. The way they elaborate their poetics are just so awesome. I haven’t read either Smith or McEwan, in fact.

  3. Would love to read that The Believer! Haven’t read Zadie Smith yet but two books by her are on my shelves, waiting. Love McEwan.

    Also love Carol Shields but have only read Larry’s Party, which far surpassed my quite mediocre expectations. I thought it funny and clever and so well done. Equal amounts subtlety and punch. I should’ve already read The Stone Diaries by now but all the ones I see around have ugly covers, but am loving that one you have there. I’ll try to look for that in book fairs and secondhand shops (used Carol Shields copies abound here in Canada.. I got my Larry’s Party in mint condition for 50 cents and a hardcover copy of Unless, also mint, for a dollar).

    1. It’s a great book–I want a copy of my own now, haha. In the meantime, I’m still reading on. I haven’t read Smith either, McEwan as well–this is the best part of the book, I think, letting me discover new authors. My To-Check-Out list has been growing since I picked up this book.

      I’ll always love Shields’ stories more than her novels. Then again, I’ve only read Unless, and failed with all the others, haha (I’ll pick up Larry’s Party soon, though). This book is going well, the language is beautiful.

      This is one of the simpler covers, and I like yellow too much to pass it up. And I figured Shields would be everywhere there. I wonder if the Munros are too? I’d gleefully scour the secondhand shops there if I was guaranteed to bring home armloads of Shields and Munro. If I ever went to Canada, haha.


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