The Corey Vilhauer Book of the Month Club: February 2006

February 3, 2006 | 3 books mentioned 3 min read

coverOne of the most harrowing things about reading is having to finish a book in order to start another. It’s a necessary evil, to use a cliche, because in order to start a book we have already perceived as being worthy of reading we must first finish the one we are currently on. Bittersweet is the word that comes to mind, as in “yes, they are sweet things, the book I’m reading and the book I’m looking forward to reading, but it’s so incredibly bitter that I can’t read both at once.”

Do other people think like this?

So please imagine my situation. Here I am, enjoying and nearly finished with The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs, a book that I’m very impressed with in the way that I was impressed with the newest Coldplay album. By saying that, I mean I’m fascinated and incredibly pleased with a book that is marketed to the public, a book that would rarely make anyone’s short-lists simply because it’s not an act of literary genius, but it’s still very good all the same, as Coldplay’s X&Y was not an act of musical genius but was still a very good album and surprised many who thought the band would be resting on its laurels.

But I digress; back to the situation. I’m enjoying this book very much etc., but looming on my bookshelf is Lorrie Moore’s Like Life, a collection of short stories that I’ve been meaning to read ever since my personal hero Nick Hornby admitted to stealing her style for the first few stories he ever wrote. Considering I had stolen Hornby’s idea for a book column on my blog earlier in the year, I felt a little closer to him – as if we were both caught doing something incredibly naughty and now can look back on it and laugh (and laugh and laugh.)

So (and I hate to admit this) I actually rushed through the end of The Know-It-All, the book I was initially planning on choosing for the Book of the Month. I did it in the guise of squeezing Moore’s book into my column, but in reality I was doing it because the anticipation of Like Life was greater than the enjoyment of The Know-It-All. I sacrificed a pleasant and though-provoking post-completion period by opening Like Life mere minutes after finishing Jacobs’ book.

Sorry, A.J. Your feat of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica was impressive, but Lorrie Moore pushed it out of the way like a bully in the lunch line.

Here’s what I think about Lorrie Moore: she’s brilliant. She’s a great writer. She’s supplanted NPR-whore David Sedaris as my favorite short-story author.

It’s all because of how she writes, I think. It’s simple. She uses words that aren’t usually put together, but should be. She writes as if she was thinking for the people, as if each of the relationships in question would be better off if they would listen to reason but would never bow to those conventions. Each of her characters exudes a complicated set of characteristics that are all brought to the surface in the confining space of a few pages.

This is the real test of a great short story author. How much can you describe a situation – the entire scope of an era – in the few pages allotted? The talent of Lorrie Moore is that she can get us all to appreciate the history and the emotions of a relationship in just the first few pages, and can get us to continue on with the story in our heads even after the final sentence.

Additionally, Moore captures the spirit of New York City. In every story I feel as though I’ve just traveled through the seedier parts of Brooklyn – a feeling I usually get only after watching Law and Order – and it heightens my desire to visit. Moore, while not as widely known as she should be, could do well writing for the New York City tourism board. Well, as long as the tourism board was looking to cater to the despondent women who love men that they shouldn’t because they don’t know any better; the women who, in order to stop thinking about these men, wander through the streets of New York City to keep their mind off of their mistakes. Or something like that.

I could continue gushing, but I’ll stop with this: God, I love Lorrie Moore. Hornby picked a good one to focus on, I’d say, and quite possibly some of it could trickle down to me. Rarely does an author make me rethink the way I want to write, but Moore did that. She helped me see the light of the short story, the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being short and concise. Hell, even Steinbeck, he of the 700 page epic, wrote short stories every once in a while. Thanks, Lorrie.

And if I steal your style, blame Nick.

Corey Vilhauer
Black Marks on Wood Pulp
January 2006 CVBoMC

is a writer based in South Dakota