“I didn’t really understand what reading was for. If I wanted a story, the thing to do was to get my grandmother to read it to me. Then listening to her voice, her story-reading voice which always sounded a little incredulous, marvelling, yet full of faith, bravely insistent, and watching her face, its meaningful and utterly familiar expressions—lifted eyebrows, ominously sinking chin, brisk little nods of agreement when, as sometimes happened, a character said something sensible—then I would feel the story grow into life and exist by itself, so that it hardly seemed to me that she was reading it out of a book at all; it was something she had created herself, out of thin air… But one summer I had the whooping-cough, and afterwards I could not go swimming or jump off the beams in the barn or boss my little brother, because by that time he had the whooping-cough himself. My grandmother was off somewhere, visiting other cousins. So I swung on my swing until I got dizzy, and then for no reason in particular I took the Child’s History out of the bookcase in the front room, and sat down on the floor and started to read.” Alice Munro writes about A Child’s History of England, the first book she ever read.
A half-century ago, Thomas Berger published Little Big Man, a satire of Westerns that helped increase the stature of the Western genre as a whole. To mark the book’s 50th anniversary, Allen Barra reflects on its legacy, suggesting that it’s as good a candidate as any for the title of Great American Novel. Related: Daniel Kalder on the odd phenomenon of the Euro-Western.
Recommended reading: Ben Shattuck spends a night and a day aboard a New England whaling ship in an attempt to better understand Ishmael’s (and Melville‘s) experiences, and combines Moby-Dick excerpts with his own accounts of life onboard in a piece for The Atlantic.
Looking for someone to whip your writing into shape? Then tweet the new Gordon Lish bot, a Twitter account which offers unvarnished critiques of your tweets and fictional sentences. (Related: Frank Kovarik on the editor’s relationship with Raymond Carver.)
In 1946, George Orwell wrote that political prose was formed “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”