Mavis Gallant teaches writing.

One of my favorite things about being involved with the various people out there owning/operating websites about books is when I wake up and check my feed reader to find a lengthy, interesting piece about a writer that has been hovering around the periphery for me.  I found (??) a copy of Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories about six months ago, in a box of discards.  Her boxmates were Grisham, Cussler, and Steele.  I liberated Gallant before the book burst into flames, flipped through it, thought it looked interesting, and tucked it in a desk drawer at work.  (Right next to Roy Kesey’s Nothing in the World – considerably better company.) 
Apparently, I’ve been sitting on gold.  Excerpt:

I have learned to slow down, and in so doing, to appreciate the sly genius of a first sentence like this one:

an epidemic of haunting, widely reported, spread through the Fifteenth
District of our city last summer, only three acceptable complaints were
lodged with the police. ("From the Fifteenth District")

Or this one:

three years, Mathilde and Theo Schurz were divorced, without a mean
thought, and even Theo says she is better off now married to Alain
Poix. (Or "Poids." Or "Poisse." Theo may be speaking the truth when he
says he can’t keep in mind every facet of the essential Alain.) (From
"Scarves, Beads, Sandals")

One can learn a lot from reading Gallant– about writing or about
life– but only by quieting one’s mind and listening to the inevitable
pause.  She describes, in a wonderful diary she kept for Slate (see
link below), how the sound of Paris is always attached to words, for
her: "Cars moving along Rue de Vaugirard are like gushing water, turned
and off. But a work site with a drill sounds like a work site with a
drill." In other words, she knows when something is evocative of
something else, and when it is evocative of itself.  Michael Ondaatje
writes in his introduction to Paris Stories that he knows a few writers who refuse to read Gallant when they’re writing: "Nothing could be more intimidating."

Lauren also writes about finding greater appreciation of a work when hearing the author reading it herself.  I couldn’t agree more – hearing Paul Auster, Tobias Wolff, Stephen Dixon read their own works is a real treat.


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