The Midwest Book Review has a short — but exceedingly nice — review of The Portable Son.
Warning: this blog post has actual content, rather than just mooning about Philip Roth. Though, to be fair, there should be a fair amount of that, too, since Roth has announced his retirement from writing. This news is so big that I can’t even quite blog my head around it, so in lieu of a loose sally of the mind, I give you self-promotion.
I did an interview last week with WJTK’s North Florida Today (96.5). I’m talking about the book with host Ken Allen. This was my first radio interview ever, and if you listen closely, you can hear me sweating through my clothes.
I am also scheduled to do a live interview on “Mornings with Al” on WYRQ-FM broadcast out of MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL, MN. That will air at approximately 7:10 am CT this Tuesday, December 18. I’ll post a link when I can.
Thank you to everyone who came out to the book signing/reading at Burke’s two Thursdays ago. It was a stuffed house, and I left feeling equally stuffed with gratitude. There’s a nice little essay by Nicholson Baker about reading one’s work aloud and the always present prospect of becoming choked up at completely inappropriate moments. It’s not so much a case of being emotionally moved by one’s own work as it is the spontaneous flood of tears at a moment of high stress. However, I am happy to say that I proudly avoided weeping while reading. That’s one of the two things I always pray for before a reading: that I will not begin to spontaneously weep and that I will not trip and fall while reading.
In other news, the Memphis Flyer ran a nice write up before the reading and they have posted an extended Q&A here.
And in additional other news, I take my one-man-signing show on the road this weekend and will proudly deface copies of my book at Lemuria in Jackson, Miss., at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4. This is my hometown bookstore, site of countless afternoons spent mooning among the paperbacks. I am not reading at this one, just signing, which is good, because at Lemuria all I would do is weep.
p.s. I finally updated my FAQ with some pressing questions that have been coming my way. Feel free to send more.
I’ll be at Burke’s Books in Memphis–in the heart of Cooper-Young for all you locals–this Thursday starting at 5:30 p.m.
I’ll be there signing and mingling and doing a whole bunch of talking with my hands. I’ll also be reading a scooch from the book, beginning at 6 p.m.
Do you want to attend but cannot? Shoot me an email–barrett.hathcock [at] gmail.com–and I’ll figure out a way to get you a signed copy.
Well the day is finally here. My first book of short stories, The Portable Son, has been published by Aqueous Books and is now for sale. I have flipped the switch from someday forthcoming to recently published.
The hard sell: The Portable Son is available at Amazon as paperback and Kindle, Barnes&Noble.com, and directly from the publisher. It is also for sale at Burke’s Books in Memphis, Tenn., and Lemuria in Jackson, Miss. More brick-and-mortar stores as I line them up.
I can’t believe it has actually happened.
I remember the first time I thought that I wanted to write a book of short stories. I was 20 and a sophomore in college. I was taking an introduction to fiction writing workshop, and the book that did it was The Watch by Rick Bass. I’d had a vague desire to write throughout junior high and high school, and I had written the requisite notebook or two full of deeply impassioned, hormonally drenched poetry. But it wasn’t until this particular workshop and that particular book that I realized what I wanted to do, or that I found a shape in which to write, a model to draft after.
In that book Rick Bass’s writing seemed ideal: he talked about men and women in an unsentimental, masculine way, but he wrote with a lyrical yearning that kept it from being too spare, too much like Hemingway. He wrote about bullfighting and drinking and reckless male desire but without boiling his language down to elliptical fragments. He kept it looser, more musical, and reached for a panoramic level of detail when it came to nature. Another way of saying this is that he wasn’t afraid of an adjective. And he wasn’t afraid of using a dash if he felt like it. And he wasn’t afraid of building up his effects into a long, cumulative paragraph, like a crescendo before the big chorus.
Also in those stories there is a mythic element underneath the surface. The characters, seemingly relatively normal at first glance, are told at a mythical slant. Everything is always on the verge of becoming a tall tale, which paradoxically didn’t make the stories seem magical or fantastic but realistic, more like how I experienced life.
It didn’t hurt that one of the stories, “Cats and Students, Bubbles and Abysses,” was not only about wanting to write but set in my hometown of Jackson, Miss. In that story Bass, who lived in Jackson for a few years when he was a young adult, makes fun of streets I’ve driven, places I’ve been. It was that alchemical fictional recognition: I didn’t know you could write like that about the place I grew up.
I wrote the first couple of stories in The Portable Son while I was in college, though they have changed a good bit since then. The rest of the stories were cobbled together in the intervening years. Going over the final proofs of the book, I was frankly amazed that I had written these stories. They seemed less like pieces I wrote than pieces I found, though I can’t rightly remember the location where I found them.
A lot has happened in the years since I first read that book by Rick Bass: graduation, grad school, marriage, kids, moving, job changes, teaching, not teaching, innumerable bagels, and, of course, car insurance. But I still think fondly of that book of stories and of the idea behind a collection of short stories. The essayist Elif Batuman says somewhere that she thinks that short stories are historically obsolete, that the economic and reading conditions that brought forth their popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century are gone, never to be recovered. I disagree with her, obviously, but not just because I wrote a book of short stories. Because of their brevity, because of their portability, because of the way they visit a make believe world rather than map it (which is what the novel does), short stories seem like a perennially handy way to comprehend life. That is, a short story offers a way of understanding not available in any other arrangement of language. It is a mode of understanding as much as it is a certain page length.
They’re sort of like songs, except you can’t dance to it.
The good thing about never posting is that you eventually accumulate something worth posting.
And so it is with great pleasure that I link to a list of Ten Essential Southern Novels I wrote for Conversational Reading. Boiling down that list was instructive, revealing. So much gets left on the floor. For better or worse, there’s nothing too terribly idiosyncratic in my list, except for the fact that my list of novels includes four collections of stories. No matter, the collections are novelistically expansive, panoramically interesting. But it made me think of the paucity of my list-making ability. Get thee to the library! And it made me appreciate D.G. Myers’s energetic listing over at his excellent A Commonplace Blog. Here’s my favorite list he’s done thus far: Five Books of Professors.
In addition, I am happy to report that a short story of mine is in the newest issue of Louisiana Literature (27/2), available now in better bookstores and libraries everywhere. The story is called “Popular Baggage” and is included in the story collection that will come out next year. The story is my, ahem, High-School Prom story. Every writer who’s read Hemingway attempts a hunting story, and likewise, everyone who was a child in the 80s, or has seen too many John Hughes movies, has a High-School Prom story in them. My Prom story is a bit more like Carrie than Sixteen Candles, except there’s no blood, or telekinesis, or John Travolta, but there is dancing, by god.
Here’s how the story begins:
Hello! I am happy to to announce that my first short story collection, The Portable Son, has been acquired by Aqueous Books, a wonderful new independent press brought to you by the same great people who run Prick of the Spindle. It will be published in the fall of 2011 both as a paperback and as a Kindle eBook. It’s difficult to write this blog post without sounding like a total spaz; I’m so excited I could spit.
The book is a collection of nine linked stories, all following a single character, Peter, from his Mississippi adolescence to his conflicted adulthood bouncing around the South, trying to figure out how to be a grown-up, which, if you read this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, is not merely a random authorial confabulation of upper-middle-class ennui, but is in fact an actual verifiable trend. (Ah, if we only had that “emerging adulthood” line back when we were twenty-four and sleeping in our childhood bunkbed. Back then they just called us Slackers.)
Anyway, three of the stories — “High Cotton,” “Timber Walking,” and “Nightswimming” — have already been published in print and online mags, and two more of the stories got picked up over the summer and will appear within the next several months.
So, in short, lots of excitement, and I am sure to actually begin posting something to this blog as my inevitable PR campaign of total devastation cranks its engine.
And I love that word — “forthcoming.” Good, good word.