Short Stories, Big Punches

Ryan Call is over at HTMLGiant talking about his first encounter with Lydia Davis and the incredible impact she (and the recent PlayStation Live downtime) has had on him, his reading, and his writing. Ryan’s trip back to undergrad had me thinking: What stories and books have affected me in a way that the effect is stronger than even the details of the story?

You see, I have this system, where when I feel like I can’t write, and I’ve stared at the page for a discouraging length of time, swallowing turrets-like screams about how futile writing is – I read. It assuages the guilt of not-writing and stirs my stagnant optimism. Sometimes I get ideas from tiny situations within the text; sometimes I read a word or a name that triggers associations that trigger ideas and I drop the book in a frenzy to find a pen. Most of the time, however, it just keeps me trudging forward in what I’ve found to be one of the most patience-trying aspects of my life. (We’ll see what I say when I have kids, but my writing is never as cute as I suspect my own children will be.)

One story that stands out especially is Allegra Goodman’s “La Vita Nuova,” published almost exactly a year ago in the New Yorker fiction section. Each time I reread this story, I find something new that I wish I’d written. Each moving part is flawless, the motion and the pace are spot on, and the emotion – in terrible danger of being drawn out and distracting, based on the subject matter – is subtle and threaded throughout, coming unraveled only at the very last moment.

The truth is, reading rarely sparks my next great idea that comes to fruition on the page. But more times than not, reading reignites the need to write, and to continue trying to say what it is I’m trying to say.

What stories have impacted you this way?

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