William Trevor

William Trevor, the County Cork Irishman who spent most of his adult life living in England, was one of the greatest short story writers ever. He is in a league with the likes of Chekhov, Joyce, Faulkner, Munro, and Singer. During the last few weeks, I have read fifty of his short stories, and I was amazed, without exception, how quickly I got into the story, usually by the second or third paragraph. Once into it, I was riveted on the plot and characters until the story’s end.
Trevor touches on so many different characters and situations. There is the old farmer in rural Ireland who has no one to take over the farm that has been in the family for generations. There are those brilliant and heartbreaking stories of the antagonists on both sides of the Troubles. He has marvelous depictions of the loneliness of men and women coping with their problems in the urbanity of London and Dublin as well as the remote cottages of County Meath. And that just barely touches the surface of his great imaginative range.
Give yourself a literary treat and pick up a collection of his short stories soon.

Ralph Ellison on the Harlem Riots of 1943

I have been reading Arnold Rampersad’s excellent biography of Ralph Ellison in preparation for my upcoming October seminar at the Glencoe Library on Invisible Man. Rampersad’s discussion of Ellison’s personal observations as a witness to the Harlem race riots in 1943 caught my attention in light of recent events in Chicago. The quotes from Ellison are from on article that appeared in the New York Post on August 3, 1943.
Rampersad writes that Ellison was stunned by the bizarre, even surrealistic juxtaposition of behaviors among the rioters. A crowd of looters paused long enough from their stealing to buy bottles of milk from a passing truck. One man disavowed being a member of the mob. He hadn’t stolen anything, he pointed out. ‘I just broke windows.’ A woman declared the event ‘a colored man’s New Year.’ A group of black boys put on blonde wigs, silk hats, and other formal wear ‘and danced in the streets.’ Toting stolen boxes of soap powder, a man explained truculently, ‘I gotta keep clean ain’t I?’….He witnessed attempts by law-abiding folks to console shop owners. Mainly, however, the dominant vision was of chaos.

Anne Tyler Seeks Her First Booker Prize

I am pulling for Anne Tyler to win this year’s Booker Prize for “Redhead by the Side of the Road.” She is certainly one of the grand dames of the American literary scene at age 78. She has written 23 novels, three of which have been nominated for a National Book Award, one, “Breathing Lessons,” won a Pulitzer Prize, and one, “A Spool of Blue Thread,” was previously shortlisted for the Booker in 2015. I have been an avid reader of hers for nearly forty years, having read 18 of her novels. Why do I keep coming back to her?
The answer is simply that she gives me pure reading pleasure. Her books, most of them set in Baltimore and its environs, always have an interesting plot, but the real strength of her writing is her marvelous protagonists, all variations of a quirky Everyman or Everywoman.
The Everyman in her last novel, “Redhead by the Side of the Road,” is Micah Mortimer, an IT repair guy who doubles up as a super for a small Baltimore apartment building. Like so many of Tyler’s main characters, Micah has made poor decisions regarding both love and career. We meet him in the novel where he has attained creature of habit status, a middle-aged man set in his ways.
The Booker competition, as always, is intense. Especially this year, as Hilary Mantel strives to become the first-ever winner of three Bookers. There is a nice short video on this year’s longlist on http://www.thebookerprizes.com.