Reading Munro and Feeling Dumb

I’ve been reading Alice Munro lately and feeling dumb. This may have something to do with the fact that Munro’s writing necessitates a little bit more concentration and a little bit more peace and quiet than I am able to provide myself during my daily reading time. It may have something to do with the fact that I am, indeed, dumb. But I’d like to think that it really has to do with me becoming complacent and lazy in my reading. I’ve read a lot of things I’ve liked lately, but hardly any of them have challenged me.

And typically I don’t like challenges. My reading past is littered with novels and stories that I didn’t appreciate because, I felt, they were trying too hard to be clever. Traditionally, I haven’t appreciated authors who deviate from traditional storytelling. If you have a story to tell, I used to think, why don’t you just tell it?

But in comparing my own work from a year ago with the work I did in my thesis, I’m beginning to see the payoff in deviation. Sure, my thesis is still just about as linear as you can get, but compared to the stuff I was writing a year ago, it’s really kind of innovative and out there.

It’s really disappointing to look at the old stuff now, knowing what I’m capable of doing just a year later. Reading through the three stories I thought were going to be ready to send out to magazines, I found myself grimacing at the sort of “and then” nature of them. They were too long, they felt like laundry lists of the characters daily activities (a feeling I also sometimes get from reading this webpage), and there didn’t appear to be anything at stake. The dramatic tension that I thought was there, was sorely absent. Underneath the muck, there still appear to be things at stake, but they don’t appear to be high stakes.

I’m not sure what’s changed in my own writing, but reading stories by Alice Munro really has me questioning the nature of my short work. It could be so much more. I’m mortified that I don’t have the material to send out that I thought I did, but I’m pleased that I’m realizing how much better I can get and not focusing on how shitty I once was.