I was introduced to Raymond Carver by Louise Dean, on an Arvon course in November 2008. I was in a barn, in a huddle of other aspiring writers, as she handed us the poems 'What The Doctor Said' and 'Late Fragment.' It was at the end of a session and around me people were getting ready to leave, shuffling papers and thinking of coffee and cigarettes and a brief break from the relentless pursuit of writerly progression. But I stayed seated, reading. Reading and falling in love with the quiet, tough, beauty of Raymond Carver.
Later, at home in Bristol, I began to read his short stories. His collection 'Where I'm Calling From' now occupies a permanent spot on my bedside table. The author's foreword ends on a paragraph that I never fail to find affecting. I won't quote it here - you need to buy it and read it for yourself. But it cuts right to the very heart of what it means to read and write, and I love it. It shames me to say it, but Carver's was the first book of short stories I've ever bought. However I've proved a quick convert, discovering soon afterwards the incredible writing of Canadian Alice Munro. Since then, I've never looked back.
I'm moved to write about these two great short story writers because just a few hours ago I spoke to a friend who is a voracious reader. One who reads well and reads widely. And yet... she doesn't think she likes short stories - a reaction that Jonathan Franzen explores in his foreword to Munro's collection, 'Runaway'. I say 'doesn't think she likes' as I rather think that's all set to change. Tomorrow I will be presenting her with two of my most prized book-possessions - 'Where I'm Calling From' and 'Runaway'. I'm not going to say anything to her... I'm going to resist all temptation to wax lyrical... instead I will let the stories speak for themselves, with sweet brevity. And as V.S Pritchett says, I will leave her to discover "something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing."