This month two new books came out that benefit two branches of 826 National, a non-profit organization that helps school age children develop expository and creative writing skills.
My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, benefits 826 Chicago.
Here are the authors you’ll find in the collection: Stuart Dybek, Denis Johnson, William Trevor, Eileen Chang, Anton Chekhov, George Saunders, Richard Ford, Isaac Babel, Gilbert Sorrentino, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, William Faulkner, Harold Brodkey, Milan Kundera, Miranda July, Bernard Malamud, Deborah Eisenberg, Raymond Carver, David Gates, Mary Robison, James Joyce, Guy de Maupassant, Grace Paley, David Bezmozgis, Robert Musil, and Vladimir Nabokov. Plus an introduction by the editor, Jeffrey Eugenides.
What a powerhouse of incredible authors, both classic and contemporary.
I was lusting about the book as soon as I heard rumblings about it last year, and in love with the book as soon as I held it in my hands. Like everything that has anything to do with Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s, its design is impeccable and striking.
While the book’s theme is Love, Eugenides warns that not all of the stories are about traditional love, nor will they all have a happy, mushy ending. Eugenides, and the authors he’s selected, are more interested in Love as a powerful human emotion that arrives in many different ways and often has many unusual stories to tell.
I’ve read a few of the stories so far, and was familiar with a few before buying. It’s an incredible collection, and worth owning.
A few weeks ago I was able to attend an awesome event for the book, that featured Jeffrey Eugenides and George Saunders. Eugenides read from the introduction and one of the stories, and George Saunders read from his story, “Jon.”
They both took questions from the audience, which were mostly great except for the first question from a woman who anxiously asked why Jeffrey decided to kill all five sisters in The Virgin Suicides. He politely answered that five suicide attempts would not make a very interesting book, which cracked us all up. (If you haven’t read the book yet, I promise that wasn’t a spoiler, he tells you they are all going to do it on page 1.)
It was amazing to meet Jeffrey Eugenides and hear him read and speak. People from Michigan take a lot of pride in him, and love that he’s set his first two novels in our great mitten state. He also doesn’t tour very much, and generally shys away from public appearances.
But the real treat (probably a surprise for many there who had never heard of Saunders before) was listening to George Saunders read from “Jon.” First of all, the story is great, and he explained how he came up with its tone (basically the beginning of a paper one of his students wrote that used a lot of important/big words to say something not very intelligent). And his reading voice for the story was hilarious and perfect. My sides hurt from laughing. The friend I went with hadn’t heard of him before that event, but is now a big fan, plans on reading much more of his work, and wants to go to more of his events.
As I mentioned above, two books came out this month that benefit 826. The second is The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith. I want to buy this book, but am waiting until my days off next week when I’m planning on visiting some independent bookstores in the city that I haven’t been to yet. I figured this will be a good purchase to make there to support an indie store, since the book itself supports 826 NYC.
The concept of this collection is interesting. According to Zadie Smith in the introduction, “The instruction was simple: make somebody up.” The cool thing about this one is that all of the contributions are original, done especially for this collection. It includes many of my favorite authors: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida, George Saunders, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Lethem. And many more that I can’t list because I don’t have the book in front of me.
Just like My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, The Book of Other People has a great cover, with art similar to covers from The Believer, by Charles Burns.
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