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This Recording's marvelous writers series

February 23, 2011 | 12:20 pm

Cheever_oconnor
Franz Kafka's innermost thoughts. John Cheever's under-remembered Massachusetts roots. Samuel Beckett on James Joyce and Flannery O'Connor's wicked words. All can be found in the occasional writers series on the blog This Recording.

The books posts at This Recording read like a faster, looser, bloggier edition of the Paris Review interviews with writers (which sometimes serve as source material). The series homes in on a single writer at a time, often with a snapshot of them as a writer -- or as a writer who is also a person, with flaws and struggles. It's strangely inspiring.

Monday's post about O'Connor, the author whose collected short stories, published posthumously, won an online poll of the best of 60 years of National Book Award winners, started out not knowing all that much about literature.

I didn't really start to read until I went to Graduate School and then I began to read and write at the same time. When I went to Iowa I had never heard of Faulkner, Kafka, Joyce, much less read them. Then I began to read everything ay once, so much so that I didn't have time I suppose to be influenced by any one writer. I read all the Catholic novelists, Mauriac, Bernanos, Bloy, Greene, Waugh; I read all the nuts like Djuna Barnes and Dorothy Richardson and Va. Woolf (unfair to the dear lady, of course); I read the best Southern writers like Faulkner and the Tates, K.A. Porter, Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor; read the Russians, not Tolstoy so much as Doestoyevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and Gogol. I became a great admirer of Conrad and have read almost all his fiction. 

I have totally skipped such people as Dreiser, Anderson (except for a few stories) and Thomas Wolfe. I have learned something from Hawthorne, Flaubert, Balzac and something from Kafka, though I have never been able to finish one of his novels. I've read almost all of Henry James -- from a sense of High Duty and because when I read James I feel something is happening to me, in slow motion but happening nevertheless. I admire Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. But always the largest thing that looms up is The Humerous Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. I am sure he wrote them all while drunk too.

O'Connor's words come from a letter she wrote, and many of the other posts lean on writers' ancillary texts -- letters, interviews, diaries. When they pull from published collections, This Recording always links to the book where it's for sale, so readers can chase down a copy of their own.

So far, the authors that have been featured include O'Connor, Kafka, Cheever, W.H. Auden, Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, Raymond Carver, Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats and John Steinbeck.

The series feels like enthusiastic readers pulling books of and about these authors down off the shelf and flipping through to marked passages. See? This here? And this other thing? And listen, listen to this.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: left, John Cheever, from the book "John Cheever: A Life" by Blake Bailey. Credit: Cheever family collection. Right: Flannery O'Connor in 1962. Credit: Associated Press

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