Birrell, Heather

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

It’s been a while since I’ve last read, for reasons whose details I won’t serenade you with, but which have to do with huge, overwhelming, life-changing projects that ultimately will leave me with more time to do this more often (I’ll need a little luck, if you want to drop some in the mail), but which, at the moment, have me submerged and often feeling not unlike drowning (or what I imagine drowning is not-unlike. I’ve never actually drowned.)

Then I received an email from Evan Munday at Toronto’s Coach House Books, asking if I had interest in reading from Heather Birrell’s latest collection. Let me assure you now that a response of “WOULD I‽” does not come across to full effect in email if not accompanied by a look of wide-eyed promise and a rare display of teeth (even with the interrobang). Some of you might remember my enthusiasm at reading Birrell’s Trouble at Pow Crash Creek (from I Know You Are But What Am I? a couple of years ago. I promise you that the new collection, Mad Hope, is, impossibly, even more beautifully wrought, more intellectually finely tuned, and more gut-wrenching. You’ll see what I mean when you listen.

(Thanks Evan and Coach House for the book. Thanks Heather for the collection. Lest you think this is shilly, I was under no obligation whatsoever to read from the collection. Like most makers of book-derived things on the Internet, publishers send me books all the time, which I often read and sometimes like, but which are rarely suited for the little sanctum I’ve got here. Happy weekend!)

Rhys, Jean

Illusion by Jean Rhys (Redux)

Sometimes it just kills me how many stories I’ve read here. A lot, that’s how many. And as much as I’m endeared to those earlier lo-fi bootleggy recordings, there are some stories which just aren’t served by the lack of quality, and some stories that, after this many years, should be read again anyway.

So, here’s a bonus for you, thanks to Mel U of The Reading Life, and one of the internet’s most enthusiastic readers of Jean Rhys.

In related news, this article about Global Warming affecting the intelligence of reptiles has been floating around the internettish circles. A scary thought, to some, but I take great pleasure in the thought that someday salamanders may fit themselves with earbuds and join our clan of the literarily satisfied.

Now, about Jean Rhys…

Du Maurier, Daphne


You’ll have to excuse the fact that this sounds somewhat as if it might have been recorded in a submarine in the icy waters beneath an alien planet; I haven’t been around for a while, and my audio equipment was dusty and had been playing bingo in a church basement, so it was a little creaky when I roused it from its folding chair. But I didn’t want to leave you without at least a shimmer of holiday leer, and think this does the job nicely. I’ve got more guests to post but will be back on the regular beat in January. Meantime, happiest of all of that. Now, have a story…

McDermott, Alice

I Am Awake (Guest narrator: Philip Shelley)

Tonight’s guest narrator owns and operates The Devastationalist Manifesto, a project I desperately wish would soon revive itself from its two-year hiatus, and not just because I miss the occasional chance for self-gam-gawkery. The project is one of genius, sometimes seemingly singlehandedly keeping the internet’s signal-to-noise ratio from flatlining, and maybe if you help me to strongarm him (GENTLY), he’ll rouse it from its vanWinklery nap.

Reflecting on his interpretation of Alice McDermott, I realise that perhaps I haven’t given her a fair shake, and that should change. This is heartwrenchingly rendered beauty, which, given our narrator, shouldn’t surprise anybody.

I’ll be back in my own voice very soon now, and still have a few guests to post. If you told me you’d read for me and you haven’t, I am probably very disappointed in you, although I just might understand all the same.

O'Connor, Flannery

Enoch and the Gorilla (Guest Reader: Patrick Scott)

Some of you may remember the sweet sounds of Patrick Scott from earlier Miette Bailouts. When I put out the call for guest readers, he was quick to the case. But Patrick’s a busy guy, now that he’s a famous filmmaker, and so when you listen to his lustrous interpretation of Flannery O’Connor, you will pick up the occasional whirr of what seems a loud computer fan.

I’m here to tell you resolutely not to mind this, not to let it interfere with the almost toxic pleasure you might receive from a Patrick/Flannery one-two-punch. If anything, think of it not as a probably loud computer fan, but rather, as a Flannery O’Connor story as broadcast from the other side of the buckle of the asteroid belt.

The next two weeks will be just full of guests, and if you’ve offered a story and haven’t delivered, I will remember this when your birthday rolls around. There’s still time to redeem yourself. You know who you are.

Daitch, Susan

Killer Whales, Susan Daitch

There’s a quite decent independent bookstore in the town in which I’m staying this week, a bookstore that will be closing soon for all the usual reasons. I plan to spend a fair amount of time later this morning vulturing my way through this store, and walk out picking my teeth with unsold reading lights and hauling overstuffed bags full of firesale booty that can no way be described as “carrion” no matter how many ways I stretch the metaphor.

Which means, of course, it’ll be impossible to celebrate my winnings by dumping the books on the bed and saucily getting to know them in satin sheets and slow motion. These are books to be treated reverently, I think. I hate bookstores closing as much as my wallet loves a sale, and I’ve been a part of too many such liquidations to share.

So, a few years ago, while trawling the shelves in a similar situation in a midtown shop, I found Susan Daitch’s Storytown, which sat unread until a few months ago. This was a shame, because the stories here are sui generis, told brilliantly, and inspired. I’m reading the first one for you as tonight’s bedtime story. And with that, a Archimedes moment of redemption: maybe you’ll like it, and buy it, and we can keep our vultures circling elsewhere.

In other news, this new journal looks wonderful, and I’ve been impressed with Broadcastr (in closed beta, but they’re giving out invites every day, so get over there), and plan to post a small story on that site next week.

Emshwiller, Carol

Sex and/or Mr. Morrison

A disclaimer for you on this happy June that will become self-evident soon enough: I love this story. I could read it a thousand times over and give you a thousand different insights. I love it in the peepish and borderline obsessive way its narratrice experiences love. Love it, in its own words, “as a mouse might love the hand that cleans the cage, and as uncomprehendingly, too, for surely I see only a part of him here.”

(Except the story doesn’t have a gender, so swap the pronoun for the more appropriate in that quote.)

I first read this story while obdurately at the beach with a friend on a cold, wet day. The only other beach-trawler was an Australian man, whistling and playing football by himself and wearing nothing but a floppy hat. This guy belonged perfectly with this collection of stories.

In fact, if story’s author is one whose writings (long and short) you haven’t yet read, I can tell you authoritatively that they’re perfect reading for rivers and hammocks and beaches and other June-type reading.

Speaking of June reading, by this daymarker it’s just about Bloomsday…

Millet, Lydia

Sir Henry

I have a good excuse to spare you my blathery scrawl about the show-stopping beauty in this story — the hot cats at Electric Literature have done so in a flashier way, and before you even tap the PLAY button on your baubly mp3 players, you ought to watch this:

Nice, right? Apparently an artist named Luca Dipierro is to blame.

But it’s time to forcibly extract the candy from your eyes and cram it in your ears. Here’s a story.

Bowles, Jane

Emmy Moore’s Journal

(credit: LIFE Magazine)

There was a time when I was little (and I was so cute, and so little!) when I wanted to be Jane Bowles. I was obsessed with the puppet show, unhealthily so, though thinking back now, I can’t think of any self-respecting adult who’d have introduced such a cute little thing to it.

But so I did not grow up to be Jane Bowles, nor a master puppeteer, though I’m lucky to have grow up (more or less) to be the sort of girl who’s still really excited to find a hefty copy of her collected works in a used bookshop in a far off town.

That said, I’m also the sort of girl to take her dog swimming in a hotel pool, so that’s quite enough autopanegyric.

A story:

Stafford, Jean

The Interior Castle

I’m more than a little eager to introduce this bit of Jean Stafford– in fact, the last time I was this eager, I was about to jump out of an airplane, an activity I was undertaking using age-faked identification, which was, to the best of my memory, the only time I’ve ever vomited directly onto the feet of an airplane pilot (the pilot then said this wasn’t the first time his feet had taken ablutions this way). And wait, I don’t mean to conflate Jean Stafford with my own underage retching.

Well, actually, I mean to do exactly that. The pain as rendered in tonight’s story is as visceral as words can create, and while I know your constitution can take it, I wanted to give you a chance to brace yourselves. Which is not to say that this is a story about pain, or one of those gruesome hyperviolent boy’s club tales that are all the rage* in certain circles. It’s not even a story about coping (although there’s plenty of that). You’ll have to listen to get the whole extent of the way she handles the body-mind wrestling match. But again: brace yourselves.

For those of you who just listen and don’t bother with my introductory pap, perhaps now is a good time to put your eyes to the above. I’m not fooling!

And about those round food monks mentioned in the story’s introduction, my mind will explode if it doesn’t implore. What do you think?

*a pun.