In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
November 1, 2013: Rebecca Makkai
It was last November 1st that Rebecca and I first met–at Ragdale. I didn’t realize then that I had already loved one of her stories. How perfect that she’s writing the How We Spend Our Days essay for this November 1.
The story I had read was from The Best American Short Stories 2008. When I read this entire volume, I starred three, and one of them was “The Worst You Ever Feel.” Here’s its first lovely paragraph:
When the nine-fingered violinist finally began playing, Aaron hid high up on the wooden staircase, as far above the party as the ghosts. The exact, oak-floored enter of the universe. He was a spider reigning high above the web of oriental rug, that bursting star of red and black and gold, and from his limbs stretched forty-three invisible fibers, winding light and sticky around the forty guests, around his parents, around Radelescu the violinist. There were thinner strands too, between people who had a history of love or hate, and all three ghosts were tied to Radelescu, to his arcing bow. But Aaron held the thickest strings, and when he thought, Breathe, all the people breathed.
In “The Worst You Ever Feel,” in addition to the language and the many-layered story, the numbers shine: nine-fingered, forty-three fibers, forty guests, three ghosts, six best things, seventh day, five times Aaron knew for certain he had been right, those ten days, twenty years, two things.
I’ve been collecting lists in stories and novels for three years. Here’s one from this story:
The six best things about parties were: (1) Having so many people to watch. (2) The job of opening the door for guests, and waiting for the curbs to fill with parked cars so yours was the house everyone passed and said, “Oh, they must be having a party tonight! (3) Pastries. (4) The people who brought chocolates. (5) Watching people get drunk. (6) The music.
Amazingly, Rebecca has a story in The Best American Stories 2009…
And she has a fun novel, The Borrower, (which also uses lists) about a children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, and the little boy Ian who loves to read. Here’s a description of Lucy, the librarian:
I hated that I’d started to look like a librarian. This wasn’t right. In college, I’d smoked things. My first car had angry bumper stickers. I came from a long line of revolutionaries.
And here’s one of Ian’s reviews of a book on Native American myths and legends:
“They’re all about crows,” he said when he returned it. “My review is that this book is a little too crow-heavy.”
Rebecca’s essay, Mapping a Novel, in The Wall Street Journal, describes something I always do with my novels–draw a floor plan of the house/apartment so I know my main character can slide down the hallway in her socks, catching herself on the bedroom doorjamb, or that from the kitchen, a character can watch her husband come in the front door.
And don’t miss Rebecca’s recent essay at Ploughshares Literary Journal online–Write As If.
Write as if you knew what you were doing.
Rebecca is currently working on a new novel–The Hundred-Year House–about a haunted house and a haunted family, AND the story is told in reverse.
Come back on NOVEMBER 1st to read how REBECCA MAKKAI spends her days.
So excited for this post. I am reading ‘The Borrower’ before I go to sleep at night. Like a good mini-series, it’s a fun book to get my mind off of the stresses of the day. I love all of the references to books. I love the neighbors upstairs. Can’t wait to find out what happens now that Ian has Lucy driving him around in circles in her car. I’ll go look up Rebecca’s stories Best American anthologies. I must have read her stories, too!
You’re reading The Borrower now? Another overlap of our reading choices!
I’m in the mood for a fun novel. One to “get my mind off the stresses of the day.” Think I’ll join you and Ms. Paloni with this one before the Louisiana Book Festival next weekend. I always tote home more books than I have room to stack or shelve or stash in the trunk of my car.
It’s like the books are alive, isn’t it? Growing over the sides of baskets and smaller stacks appearing next to a big stack… I’m looking forward to reports from the festival!
Thanks for the intro to writer who sounds quite unconventional. It’s good to hear of her success.
Thanks for reading, Sarah. I’m looking forward to her day.