I’m holding off on posting my best-books-of-2009 list for another week because I’m actually getting paid to compile one this year. (Here’s a hint about one of the entries.) But right now I could do up a pretty satisfying list of best non-2009 books I read in the past 12 months: Eudora Welty‘s One Writer’s Beginnings, Saul Bellow‘s Herzog, Henry James‘ The American, David Goodis‘ Black Friday, Flannery O’Connor‘s Wise Blood, Ward Just‘s In the City of Fear, and, especially, Lorrie Moore‘s Self-Help. Maybe Herzog was better and more ambitious, but with Bellow I had a sense of what I was in for; with Moore I was left with the very palpable sense of embarrassment that comes with realizing you missed the boat a long time ago.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t meant I’ve had the opportunity to read A Gate at the Stairs, let alone the rest of Moore’s books. For the time being I compensate by reading interviews with Moore, which have a lot of the snap, emotion, and well-earned sarcasm I admired in Self-Help. In a profile in the Chicago Tribune, she cuts loose on her writing students and the need for fiction to be transgressive:
[T]hey don’t feel the transgressive nature of literature yet. Especially undergrads. They worry about offending people, and that’s fine. They don’t want to upset people. They show their writing to their parents. To their parents! I say, ‘OK, Becky, now write something you wouldn’t show your parents.’ Becky says, ‘I couldn’t!’ But, see — they’re nice kids.
And she closes by wondering whether the Midwest has lost any of the qualities that inspired her in the first place:
[T]here’s a sameness that’s sweeping the country. The Midwest is losing whatever made it so foreign. The South — same thing. I wrote a lot from that dislocation. Someone’s visiting, and there’s disruption. It’s a classic story construction, and maybe there’s just less of a reason for it now.
The whole profile is worth a read, including comments from New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman and Moore’s editor at Knopf, Victoria Wilson, as well as more from Moore herself.