Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

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The Millions Top Ten: April 2013

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for April.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever
4 months

2.
2.

Tenth of December
4 months

3.
3.

An Arrangement of Light
5 months

4.
4.

The Middlesteins
2 month

5.
7.

Stand on Zanzibar
2 months

6.
5.

Building Stories
4 months

7.
8.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
2 months

8.
9.

Arcadia
4 months

9.
10.

Both Flesh and Not
5 months

10.


Vampires in the Lemon Grove
1 month

 

In September 2012, we interviewed Sadie Stein, one of the Paris Review editors behind Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story, a book that seems tailor-made to appeal to Millions readers. In it, a handful of accomplished short story writers — Ann Beattie, Jeffrey Eugenides, Joy Williams, and so on — were asked to pick a favorite story from the journal’s archive, then write a brief introduction explaining how the story spoke to them. After a six-month run, the book has now graduated to our Hall of Fame.
Otherwise, our list doesn’t see a whole lot of movement, with the top four positions unchanged, including Millions ebook Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever at number one.
Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove is our one debut this month. We’ve interviewed Russell twice, in 2011 and again early this year. Vampires was also featured in our big 2013 book preview.
Near Misses: The Round House, The Orphan Master’s Son, Fox 8, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, and Dear Life. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: March 2013

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever
3 months

2.
3.

Tenth of December
3 months

3.
4.

An Arrangement of Light
4 months

4.


The Middlesteins
1 month

5.
5.

Building Stories
3 months

6.
6.

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story
6 months

7.


Stand on Zanzibar
1 month

8.


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
1 month

9.
8.

Arcadia
3 months

10.
7.

Both Flesh and Not
4 months

 

Last fall saw the arrival of three hotly anticpated titles from a trio of the most popular literary writers working today. Now those three titles are ending their run in our Top Ten by graduating to our Hall of Fame: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz, NW by Zadie Smith, and Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.

Those graduations made room for three debuts. Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins pops up at number four. Attenberg made an appearance in our Year in Reading in December. The most popular piece on The Millions last month, by a wide margin, was Ted Gioia’s unearthing of John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and the remarkably prescient predictions contained within. The essay sent readers running to check out the book. Finally, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain completed its long, stead ascent onto our list. Fountain also appeared in our Year in Reading, and Edan Lepucki interviewed him in these pages last June.

Our first ebook original, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever by staff writer Mark O’Connell, stayed atop our list and continues to win praise from readers and critics. An exerpt is available here and you can learn more about the book here.

Near Misses: The Round House, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Dear Life, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, and Sweet Tooth. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: February 2013

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever
2 months

2.
2.

This Is How You Lose Her
6 months

3.
3.

Tenth of December
2 months

4.
4.

An Arrangement of Light
3 months

5.
5.

Building Stories
2 months

6.
8.

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story
5 months

7.
9.

NW
6 months

8.


Arcadia
2 months

9.
10.

Telegraph Avenue
6 months

10.
7.

Both Flesh and Not
3 months

 

With our top five remaining unchanged, the big action in February was the graduation of a pair of books to our Hall of Fame. Gillian Flynn’s juggernaut Gone Girl won over Millions readers with help from Edan Lepucki and Janet Potter’s entertaining tag-team reading of the book in September, though copies were already flying off the shelves in the months prior. Meanwhile, D.T. Max’s Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace was hotly anticipated by Millions readers from the moment the book was announced. We ran an excerpt and interviewed Max.
Those graduations made room for the return of Lauren Groff’s Arcadia (recently interviewed in our pages) and, appropriately enough, David Foster Wallace’s Both Flesh and Not.
Our first ebook original, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever by staff writer Mark O’Connell, stayed atop our list and continues to win praise from readers and critics. An exerpt is available here and you can learn more about the book here.

Near Misses: Dear Life, Sweet Tooth, The Round House, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: January 2013

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for January.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.


Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever
1 month

2.
1.

This Is How You Lose Her
5 months

3.


Tenth of December
1 month

4.
5.

An Arrangement of Light
2 months

5.


Building Stories
1 month

6.
4.

Gone Girl
6 months

7.
2.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
6 months

8.
3.

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story
4 months

9.
6.

NW
5 months

10.
7.

Telegraph Avenue
5 months

 

To kick off a new year of our Top Ten lists at The Millions, we made a slight adjustment to our calculations. The change has to do with how we account for lower-priced, shorter-form ebook originals that have become popular with our readers and effectively gives a modest penalty to the cheaper ebooks and recognizes that a purchase of a $1.99 ebook is different from buying a hardcover costing $20 or more.
Despite this change, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response from our readers, our first ebook original, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever by staff writer Mark O’Connell, lands atop our list. So far, the feedback from readers has been great, and we hope more will be inspired to pick it up. An exerpt is available here and you can learn more about the book here.
Also debuting is Tenth of December by George Saunders, one of our Most Anticipated books and a title that has gotten a ton of positive press. Finally, also debuting is Chris Ware’s Building Stories, reviewed in these pages by none other than Mark O’Connell. Ware also participated in our Year in Reading in December.
Dropping from the list were David Foster Wallace’s Both Flesh and Not, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Other Near Misses: Dear Life and The Round House. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: December 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
2.

This Is How You Lose Her
4 months

2.
3.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
5 months

3.
4.

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story
3 months

4.
8.

Gone Girl
5 months

5.


An Arrangement of Light
1 month

6.
5.

NW
4 months

7.
6.

Telegraph Avenue
4 months

8.
7.

Both Flesh and Not
2 months

9.


Arcadia
1 month

10.


Sweet Tooth
1 month

 

After an impressive run, A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava graduates to our Hall of Fame (check out Garth Hallberg’s profile of De La Pava that introduced many of our readers to this unusual book). This makes room for Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (our review) to be crowned our new number one. Also joining our Hall of Fame is The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn (see our review of the last book in the series).
Debuting on our list is Nicole Krauss’s An Arrangement of Light, a bite-sized ebook original. And Krauss is joined on our list by Lauren Groff’s Arcadia (selected by Alexander CheeEmily St. John Mandel, and Janet Potter in our recent Year in Reading series; Groff was also a participant) and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (which we recently reviewed).
Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King slipped off the list. Other Near Misses: Dear Life, Building Stories, The Round House, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: November 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

A Naked Singularity
6 months

2.
3.

This Is How You Lose Her
3 months

3.
2.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
4 months

4.
6.

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story
2 months

5.
4.

NW
3 months

6.
5.

Telegraph Avenue
3 months

7.


Both Flesh and Not
1 month

8.
7.

Gone Girl
4 months

9.
10.

A Hologram for the King
4 months

10.
9.

The Patrick Melrose Novels
6 months

 

With our November list, A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava is enjoying the final month of its miracle run at the top before graduating to our Hall of Fame next month (don’t miss Garth Hallberg’s profile of De La Pava before it goes). A Naked Singularity will join Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, as the Booker winner, which has just been inducted Mantel’s first Thomas Cromwell book, Wolf Hall, is now also a Hall of Famer.

Moving up to number two on the list, Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (our review) continues its climb, surpassing D.T. Max’s biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. Wallace looms large on our list as his posthumously published collection of essays Both Flesh and Not debuts at number seven. The book is the third by Wallace (after Infinite Jest and The Pale King) to appear on a Millions Top Ten list. The new Paris Review anthology is another big mover, hopping two spots in its second month on the list. We’ve got an interview with one of the editors.

Near Misses: The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays, The Fifty Year Sword, The Round House, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: October 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

A Naked Singularity
4 months

2.
2.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
2 months

3.
5.

This Is How You Lose Her
2 months

4.
3.

NW
2 months

5.
4.

Telegraph Avenue
2 months

6.


Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story
1 month

7.
8.

Gone Girl
3 months

8.
6.

Bring Up the Bodies
6 months

9.
10.

The Patrick Melrose Novels
5 months

10.


A Hologram for the King
3 months

 

Our hurricane-delayed Top Ten for October has arrived. This month we see a new Paris Review anthology land on our list. We recently covered its creation in an interview with one of the editors. Meanwhile, Dave Eggers’A Hologram for the King returns to our list after a month off wandering in the desert.

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava remains in our top spot (don’t miss Garth Hallberg’s profile of De La Pava from June), and D.T. Max’s biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace holds on to the second spot (read the book’s opening paragraphs), and Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (our review) leapfrogs other big fall books to land the third spot.

We had two books graduate to our Hall of Fame: How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees (don’t miss the hilarious, yet oddly poignant interview) and Stephen Greenblatt’s Pulitzer winner The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.

Near Misses: Shakedown, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, An Arrangement of Light, The Fifty Year Sword, and New American Haggadah. See Also: Last month’s list.

Stein Squared: Object Lessons

Paris Review editor Lorin Stein was interviewed for Days of Yore. Topics include: the “perverse power” of editing your parents’ work; his rise through the ranks of NYC publishing; and the new story collection, Object Lessons. Elsewhere you can check out his “five favorite short story collections.” And, in case you missed it, be sure to check out our own Bill Morris’s interview with Paris Review deputy editor Sadie Stein (no relation) about the Object Lessons collection as well.

Tuesday New Release Day: Banville, Erdrich, Petterson, Meek, Helprin, Lehane, Cisneros, Sloan, Josefson, Bertino, Ware, Paris Review, BASS, Amis

October kicks off with a mega-dose of new fiction: Ancient Light by John Banville, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, It’s Fine By Me by Per Petterson, The Heart Broke In by James Meek, In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin, Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, and Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros. And that doesn’t even include debuts Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, That’s Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson, and Safe As Houses by Marie-Helene Bertino. And there’s more: graphic novel master Chris Ware’s Building Stories, The Paris Review’s collection Object Lessons (we interviewed one of the Steins behind the book) and this year’s Best American Short Stories collection. Finally, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim is out in a new NYRB Classics edition with an introduction by Keith Gessen.

The Paris Review’s Favorite Stories: The Millions Interviews Sadie Stein

Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review, was talking a while back with Scott Moyers, who was then a literary agent with The Wylie Agency, which represents the prestigious journal. For years The Paris Review has been publishing its inimitable interviews with writers in book form. So, Stein and Moyers were thinking, why not do something with the wealth of short stories that have been appearing in the journal since its birth in 1953?

“We were reflecting on the fact that the short story archive is remarkable, but it has never been harvested,” says Moyers, who left The Wylie Agency to become publisher of The Penguin Press last year. “Lorin thought it would be neat to have masters of the form choose stories that affected them. The idea was to have a book that would have meaning for students, MFAs, and the rest of us.”

So the editors of The Paris Review approached a handful of accomplished short story writers and asked them to pick a favorite story from the journal’s archive, then write a brief introduction explaining how the story spoke to them. The result is called Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents The Art of the Short Story. It is, to borrow a term from the art world, a curated collection. It’s much more idiosyncratic, intriguing, and enlightening than a generic Greatest Hits list, or another how-to book on the craft of short story writing. It also glitters with gem-like aphorisms and insights.

Here’s Ann Beattie on Craig Nova’s “Another Drunk Gambler”: “Serious stories don’t tend to end with a punch line.” (Take that, O. Henry.)

Here’s David Bezmozgis on Leonard Michaels’s “City Boy”: “How does Michaels create a story that manages to be both comic and sinister — like a smile with sharp teeth?  He does so by moving the story from realism to absurdity and back again.”

Here’s Dave Eggers on James Salter’s “Bangkok”: “Some of the best dialog occurs when at least one of the two people talking doesn’t want to be there.”

Here’s Jeffrey Eugenides on Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking”: “Compared to writing novels, writing short fiction is mainly a question of knowing what to leave out. What you leave in must imply everything that’s missing.” And: “The story hasn’t told you about an experience so much as made that experience your own. Which is as good a definition of fiction writing that I can think of.”

Here’s Ben Marcus on Donald Barthelme’s “Several Garlic Tales”: “Barthelme proves that, in reading a story, it’s not the facts — what we know — that matters, but what we feel, and sometimes the business of making feeling from language necessitates a disloyalty to quotidian sense and stability.”

Here’s David Means on Raymond Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance,” (a great story that was made into an even better, more capacious movie called Everything Must Go, starring Will Ferrell): “A great story is like an itch that has to be scratched eternally.” And: “Carver’s style teaches us that the bare bones of a story — no matter how ornate or twisty a style might get — are always simple, rudimentary, and arriving from a deeply humane source. Heart and style and story must be united, somehow. In other words, you have to care, and care a lot.”

And finally, here’s Joy Williams on Dallas Wiebe’s “Night Flight to Stockholm,” about a desperate obscure writer who willingly sacrifices body parts in pursuit of literary fame, only to wind up a limbless, eyeless lump in a basket, bound for Sweden to pick up his Nobel: “What a frolic! It really is one of the funniest, most grotesque pieces ever written and this in the day (1978) when all manner of crazy things were going on.”

Well, you get the idea. The stories range over eras (from 1955 to 2010), styles (comic, grotesque, fantastic, realistic, and all combinations of the above), and subject matter. On a balmy late-summer afternoon, I sat at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Manhattan to talk with Sadie Stein, the 31-year-old deputy editor of The Paris Review, who worked with Lorin Stein (no kin) to bring this magnificent book together.

The Millions: I’m curious about the conception of the book.

Sadie Stein: One thing that interests (Lorin) and all of us at the Review is this conversation between being relevant while drawing on the richness of our archive. In that sense I guess the book was a fairly logical idea.

TM: Who got the writers together?

SS: We made up a wish list and contacted them. These are almost all people who are friends, who write for the Review. It was actually a very friendly, collegial process. We wrote them, we asked them if they’d like to be involved, we explained the project — and everyone was so excited and enthusiastic. In that way it was very organic.

TM: There are 20 writers — choosers, we’ll call them — in the book, and they chose 20 stories. And only three of the choosers, by my count, were also chosen — Lydia Davis, Joy Williams and Norman Rush. Was that just dumb luck?

SS: By chance, yeah. We put the entire archive at their disposal and let them choose. It was fun to be able to tell people who had already agreed to choose stories and write introductions that they had been chosen. But it was almost as exciting that more people chose stories that weren’t as well known — and that they remembered immediately. Joy Williams knew at once she wanted to do the Dallas Wiebe story, “Night Flight to Stockholm.” It had made such an impression on her when it first ran (in 1978).

TM: What a weird story.

SS: Right!? There are some really odd stories in here. It’s a very unconventional collection. To call it greatest hits is misleading, because it’s not —

TM: No,  no, no.

SS: It’s not the most famous. And that’s what I like so much about it — it’s actually a curated collection, which is done purely from love and interest.

TM: It’s not a conventional how-to book, either — about how to be a better writer.

SS: There is that element, but we wanted that to come, first, from a story they love — and then get them to think about what makes it good. Which, I think, is a more organic way of going about things. So many of us had collections of short stories we read in seventh grade as an introduction to fiction. We were never taught the short story as a unique form. It was an introduction to longer forms. This book was really about looking at what makes a short story such a distinct discipline. The writers we chose to introduce the stories are known for their mastery of that particular medium, which is so deceptively difficult.

TM: What I love about the book is its range. “Old Birds” by Bernard Cooper (chosen by Amy Hempel) is very conventional, very straightforward. And then you get weird Dallas Wiebe —

SS: Leonard Michaels.

TM: Or Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.” My favorite in the whole book. It’s so freaking strange.

SS: It’s a strange and wonderful story. It was in Jesus’ Son, which went on to become a huge collection.

TM: I’ve been reading The Paris Review interviews since I was a teenager, because they’re a great way for an aspiring writer to see what the world of a writer is like. Is this book meant to complement the interviews, which have been published in book form, or is this a completely different kind of animal?

SS: Commercially speaking, I don’t think it was intended as a complement. But philosophically, and this is something we talk about quite a bit, we’ve always seen real overlap between the interviews — which are called “The Art of Fiction” or “The Art of Poetry” or “The Art of Playwriting” — and the fiction and the poetry that we run. So in that sense, this book is a very logical extension.

It was just a really fun project to work on. One of the things I loved about it was that the process of securing the rights was often very challenging because a lot of the stories in the archive were done with handshakes, a lot of it wasn’t in writing, and the magazine has been around so long. It was so casual when things started. A lot of writers weren’t agented. So it took some detective work to sort everything out. And while that can be frustrating, and it certainly gave the lawyers at Picador some sleepless nights, it was also one of the most exciting parts of the project — in that I came into contact with writers’ kids, who are in their 60s and retired now, and in some cases the authors themselves, who were so flattered and excited that their stories were chosen. Dallas Wiebe died in 2010, but I heard from his agent. He was so excited that this would bring new readers.

TM: That was a nice feeling for you, I’m sure.

SS: That was a great feeling. And that’s one of the things we wanted to achieve with this book. The impressions these stories have made on people — the ones that they knew instantly they wanted to write about that were not canonical — that was exciting.

TM: What do you hope this book will accomplish, if anything?

SS: At a base level I think it will be fun to read. We hope it will remind people how pleasurable reading short stories can be. We hope it will introduce them to some writers they weren’t familiar with. I think you can learn a lot about writing from it, but I hope it’s pleasurable first and foremost.

TM: Do you have a favorite story in the book?

SS: There’s a few I really, really like — “Dimmer” by Joy Williams; “Pelican Song” by Mary-Beth Hughes, and I thought Mary Gaitskill’s introduction brought a lot to it; and “Funes the Memorious” by Borges, which I’d read in high school, but coming to it with adult eyes was fun.

TM: Lydia Davis breaks down Jane Bowles’s “Emmy Moore’s Journal” like a mechanic. Rolls up the sleeves, gets the wrenches out, and tells you how the thing was made. Which is brilliant and, to me, one of the great values of the book — aside from, as you say, the pleasure of reading the stories.

SS: Some of these people are wonderful teachers. When Lydia Davis does something like that, you can appreciate the story on a technical and craft level but you can also enjoy it as a reader. If we can achieve one thing with this book, I think it would be that — that a short story can be both an education and a pleasure.

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