Transport yourself to a storm-lashed villa on Switzerland’s Lake Geneva. There, sitting in front of a roaring fire, is Percy Shelley, Mary soon-to-be-Shelley Godwin, Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron… This privileged, literary bunch has been driven indoors by unseasonably cold weather, driving rain, and spectacular thunderstorms—all due to Mount Tambora, although of course they don’t know it. Bored and perhaps tired of reciting poetry, they decide to have a contest for who can tell the best ghost story.
I’m always inspired because I’m alive. It’s a gift to be able to do this. I don’t need outside inspiration. I need time. And if, and when, I get it, I use it. It would scare me to have all day long to write. I need pockets of time, spaces where it is tempting to write before the clock strikes the end. That’s where poems are born for me, when time is so compressed that the idea sparks out.
If you’re like me, you probably assumed you’d never read the phrase “George Saunders in O, the Oprah Magazine”, but this is where his latest short story has turned up. In the story, the author imagines what he’d say to an alien who asks him what it’s like to be human. For more on his work, go read our own Elizabeth Minkel on his legacy and recent collection.
Out this week: The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman; Charleston by Margaret Bradham Thornton; Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya; The Home Place by Carrie La Seur; Lucky Us by Amy Bloom; and Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (which I wrote about for our Great 2014 Book Preview). Support The Millions: Bookmark this link and start there when you shop at Amazon.
Why try to engineer masterpieces anyway? The idea smacks of our tendency to make a science out of every imaginable pursuit.
“Cosmicomics is that rarity among progressive texts: its premises are absurd and almost incoherent, yet the plot lines are filled with romance, drama, and conflicts that draw the readers deeper and deeper into the text.”
Like the narrator of Norman Rush’s Mating, who was “overdetermined” for life in Africa, you could say that I — product of an evangelical Christian upbringing and Korean heritage of stoic endurance — was overdetermined for Lampedusa. His elevation of natural appetite as an ideal, and his vision for unity between body and spirit in their fullest expressions, radiate from the page. When I read Lampedusa the sun bursts up indeed, thawing all of that deeply seeded “puritanical horror,” as Warner puts it, and reconciling life forces that, as Lampedusa attempts to show us, were never meant to be opposed.