From My Bookshelf

Stories by Nathan Leslie
Hamilton Stone Editions, 2005

Everyone who knows me knows I don’t particularly like to drive. Many people–ranging from friends and family to the guy who inspects my car each year–routinely tell me that given how infrequently I use the car the fact that I own one makes absolutely no financial sense. A few years ago I thought I’d write a short story about someone who either didn’t like to or was simply afraid to drive. I started that story, but, as can happen, the piece soon turned into a story about something else; a story truly “about driving” eluded me.

So I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react to Nathan Leslie’s new collection, Drivers. In the end, I was a little surprised and quite delighted by this group of 23 stories, most of which have previously appeared in print and online magazines. (Leslie, the author of another story collection, A Cold Glass of Milk, is himself fiction editor for The Pedestal Magazine. He also teaches at Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling, Virginia.)

It’s tough to assemble a story collection, and it can help if you have a theme connecting the components. Leslie definitely has that. The “drivers” of this book, while mainly residing in Middle Atlantic states (Leslie was born in Minneapolis but raised in Ellicott City, Maryland) illustrate a variety of compelling “driver” characters and situations. That’s also an admirable achievement, because it’s far easier to write not-very-variable variations on a theme than it is to create distinctive yet related stories.

In “Stuck on Woodrow Wilson,” for example, a woman seethes behind the wheel while caught in accident-exacerbated traffic on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge leaving DC. In “Shape,” a car salesman evinces a surprising sales approach as well as a deep–if conflicted–concern for his troubled sister, to whom he lends a car (with problematic results).

The main character in “The Hit and Run” is a driving instructor making money off parents’ fears. He’s a pretty disturbing instructor: he makes it to his class through ice and snow “at 65, skidding all over the road and blaring right through the stop lights, stop signs, and anything else in the way.” He’s also responsible (though apparently not particularly remorseful) for killing a mother and her daughter in a hit-and-run.

Some stories reflect a sheer love for and/or knowledge of cars. Again, I’m no expert even when it comes to my poor neglected Honda, but the references to Duryeas and Hillmans seem authentic to me.

Whether you like cars, or like short stories, or both, you’re likely to enjoy Drivers. Find out more here.

Salman Rushdie on the Novel and Today’s World

At the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 7, Salman Rushdie read from his latest novel, Shalimar the Crown, and spoke about storytelling in today’s world.

According to the Harvard Gazette, Rushdie said that the novelistic conventions we associate with Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Gustave Flaubert don’t suit our own times very well.

“The novel does not want to live in a world like this. The novel wants to be about Madame Bovary living in a small town and having an affair because she’s bored. It’s much harder to write a novel about our world, but it’s important to try.”

(To which I say, “Amen.”)

At the same time, Rushdie also cautioned against allowing larger world forces/events to overtake the novel.

“One has to remember, at the heart of the novel is the human figure. In this book, Shalimar gradually becomes a man of violence, but he’s from a community where everyone undergoes the same privations. Why does he become a man of violence when others don’t? This is where individual character becomes very important.”

Rushdie further noted: “The reason Tolstoy wrote ‘War and Peace’ was not to describe the battle of Borodino. It was to write about the lives of his characters. The novelist has to make sure that human beings stay at the center.”

Pretty intriguing stuff, especially for someone (like me) often drawn to what some have disparaged in writing workshops as “current events” in my fiction. To read the full Gazette article, click here.

Philip Roth: "Newark is my Stockholm"

Philip Roth may not have won the Nobel Prize this year (that honor, as you know, went to Harold Pinter). But Roth was celebrated nonetheless on October 23 in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, where a plaque now marks his boyhood residence on Summit Avenue. Said Roth: “Today, Newark is my Stockholm, and that plaque is my prize. I couldn’t be any more thrilled by any recognition accorded to me anywhere on earth. That’s all there is to say.” To read the New Jersey Jewish News account of the visit, click here.

Attention, New York Writers!

The Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts offers both summer fellowships (one-month residencies at the Saltonstall Arts Colony open to all New York State artists and writers over 21 years of age–categories include poetry; fiction and creative nonfiction; photography; and painting, sculpture, and other visual arts) and individual artist grants ($5,000 grants open to writers and visual artists living in specified New York State central and western counties). For 2006, individual artist grant categories include works on paper; photography; poetry; and creative nonfiction. The application deadline for both programs is January 15, 2006. For more information, including detailed eligibility guidelines and the required forms, visit the website.