The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel has converted me back to reading short stories. Where would you go next after Hempel?
Isn’t she good! If you want to expand on that Hempelian mood of yours, I suggest—in no particular order—any of the collections of Mary Robison, the latest issue of the short-story annual Noon, David Gates’s Wonders of the Invisible World, Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, Christine Schutt’s A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer, Sam Lipsyte’s Venus Drive, and Gordon Lish’s What I Know So Far.
I know this person who got a fancy agent and sold a book, and, recently, I’ve noticed he has a very inflated ego. He talks about how great he is compared to other people, and how he has to network and get to know important editors. It’s a little weird, especially after years of saying he was devoted to the “craft.” Maybe it’s a case of sour grapes, but it’s pretty damn annoying. I also feel pretty strongly that this book won’t be making it onto the best-seller list. Nor does it mean he’s going to be published by the New Yorker. Is it my job to manage expectations here? —Sam is not my name
Well, “not-Sam,” getting a fancy agent and selling a book have been known to puff a young writer up. And it can be annoying to watch—yes, even when you know the book is going to sink like a stone in the scum pond of posterity. But really there’s no percentage in trying to manage an author’s expectations. For one thing, it simply can’t be done. No one but an academic ever believes he has written a dull book until it is too late. Even after the book fails, disappears from the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and is pulped, if your friend has invested time and libidinal energy into schmoozing editors, he won’t blame his book. He will blame all the powerful new friends who didn’t give him the review he wanted or wrangle him the blurb he deserved. He will blame his publisher for not taking out an ad on the front page of USA Today. And he will blame you (buzz starts at home).
Besides, I have found it’s hard to give good, gentle, constructive advice when you want to slap somebody upside his silly melon-head.
My advice is to be friendly and supportive. Go to the launch, ask him to sign your copy (buy a copy), and otherwise try to avoid quality time alone with him until the thing’s in paperback.
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