More than twenty years ago, I read Eleven Canadian Novelists in the public library, sharing one of the big wooden tables, traipsing back and forth from my chair to the stacks, fetching the authors’ work as desired.
I hadn’t yet read my first Alice Munro book, but I knew her name. I’d seen Lives of Girls and Women in the metal racks at the Towers stores near my grandmother’s house, where the book department was a regular stop for all the female members of our family.
The book of interviews looked as tattered as my copy of Margaret Atwood’s Survival now looks, and they date to the same era, many of the same authors’ works discussed therein.
Graeme Gibson actually interviewed Margaret Atwood, Austin Clarke, Matt Cohen, Marian Engel, Timothy Findley, Dave Godfrey, Margaret Laurence, Jack Ludwig, Mordecai Richler and Scott Symons as well as Alice Munro.
At that point, I think I can only read Margaret Atwood, Marian Engel, Margaret Laurence and Timothy Findley. I must have done a lot of running between my seat and the shelves.
Now that House of Anansi is set to bring the book back into print, I’m curious to see what feels familiar when I revisit. I might even see if I can find the notebook that I was scribbling in, back then, to compare the sets of notes taken across that span of years.
In the meantime, readers (first-time or re-readers) can purchase this single interview here.
Which is the connection with my talk of dogs and tricks, because not only have I discovered the thrill of digital-only content (day one of this project).
And the convenient digital bundling of disparate works, collecting stories-on-a-theme in a most satisfying way.
But now my changing habits have afforded the opportunity to revisit an interview long-out-of-print, one rooted in another reading time.
The interview is positioned after the publication of Dance of the Happy Shades and Lives of Girls and Women and the discussion revolves around these works.
References are made to liking “Images” a great deal (in the former) and in struggling with the blatently autobiographical elements of “The Peace of Utrecht” (also in the former).
The interviewer shares specific passages from Lives of Girls and Women which reveal the author’s perspective on relationships between men and women, the collisions between their worlds, and the desire to understand the gaps between.
This discussion bleeds into the author’s own experiences as a woman writer as well. She discusses the ways in which a woman writer has to deal with an assertion of herself which a male writer does not have to handle, because a man is expected to be selfish about his work but a woman is expected to set work aside to meet the needs of others.
And she marvels at the fact that, even at such a young age, before she knew she could actually do it, she believed that something about what she had to say was that imporant, necessitated a certain kind of determination and withdrawal.
“With me it has something to do with the fight against death, the feeling that we lose something every day, and writing is a way of convincing yourself perhaps that you’re doing something about this.”
“You can experience things directly without feeling that you have to do that, but I suppose I just experience things finally when I do get them into words. So writing is a part of my experience.”
She has, at times, struggled.
“Yes, I’ve always found the time except for a few years when my confidence failed me completely and it wasn’t the children, it was my own problems.”
And the discussion with the publication of her latest collection, Dear Life, about her retirement, is echoed in this early interview too.
“You know when I’m in the really hellish part of a book, I think this is the last book, when I finish this book, I’m going to stop and live like a sensible person. And even now I thinkmaybe after the next book, though just a little while back I said to you I can’t imagine living without writing, I think possibly that I could attain some level where I would have done enough and where I - maybe as you say, I would know, and then I wouldn’t write anymore.”
But, there is no end of material.
“I mean the part of the country I come from is absolutely Gothic. you can’t get it all down.”
Even though the environment did not encourage her to either read or write.
“In the community where I grew up, books were a time-waster and reading is a bad habit, and so if even reading is a bad habit, writing is an incomprehensible thing to do.”
She had to find a way to make it work, much as Jane slipped her manuscript beneath other pages she was writing.
“I learned very early to disguise everything, and perhaps the escape into making stories was necessary.”
But, still: “I feel damn lucky to be a Canadian writer.”
And a distinct and powerful voice.
“I told somebody the other day I really want to write stories like Frank O’Connor’s stories in which, you know, there are all these people living at a distance, going through lives. But when I try to do things like this it doesn’t work – it isn’t for lack of trying.”
Beginning on Saturday, I’ll be revisiting the stories in Love of a Good Woman as part of my Alice Munro reading project (nine collections read, five remaining).
Despite the urgent appeal of e-reading that I have discovered this week, I have been reading Love of a Good Woman in print. But I do have an e-book of Robert Thacker’s biography at hand.
Have you been reading any Alice Munro stories? Would you like to join in with this collection?