John McNally’s After the Workshop
Counterpoint, 2010

Not just another bookish Friday, nope: this bookish-book Friday comes to you thanks to Sasha and the Silverfish, whose rave post about John McNally’s novel ensured its placement — and her acknowledgement — in my Bad Blogger’s category.

The TwentyTen Reading Challenge demands that this be a book I picked up purely on a blogger’s recommendation and Sasha’s response to After the Workshop definitely fits the bill: “This novel has fast become one of my favorite reads. Evahr. I shall squeal, and then elaborate. Because, man, I want everyone to read this book.”

So I did. And you should really check out her review to see if it inspires the same contagion in you. I’m not even going to try.

I will say that I agree, that it’s the writerish sort of readers who will most enjoy After the Workshop. From the text through the epigraphs, John McNally’s book is writerish. Harper’s, The New Yorker, Poets & Writers, Paris Review, Best American Short Stories: the narrative is soaked in a writer’s life.

To a certain extent it is soaked in a reader’s life as well. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Moby Dick, The World According to Garp, Gravity’s Rainbow, and The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test. Joyce’s “Araby” and Cheever’s “The Swimmer”. Paul Bowles, Stanislaw Lem, O’Henry, Chekhov, James, Dickens, Flaubert, William Lashner, John Gardner, Flannery O’Connor, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Fritz McDonald, James Frey, and Jay McInerney.

And perhaps to more than just a certain extent. Because our hero, Jack Hercules Sheahan, hasn’t really been doing that much actual writing lately. “I might as well have opened up the carton holding the cremated remains of a beloved pet. All the longing to become a writer that I had once felt, all the promise I was told I’d had, came bubbling back to the surface at the sight of my manuscript.”

But, even so, ultimately After the Workshop is about a writer’s life. Even if our writer isn’t writing right now. As Nadine Gordimer says: “Because a writer doesn’t only need the time when he’s actually writing – he or she has got to have time to think and time just to let things work out.”

Here are a couple of bookish quotes from John McNally’s novel to whet your appetite, but please help yourself to a plateful of Sasha’s enthusiasm for this bookishness for the most enthusiasm Evahr.

“Bookstores were the new bus stations, a place where people with no discernible plan (or, in some instances, without a place to live) ended up to pass the time. The ways in which the fiction readings themselves could quickly sour were innumerable. What was worse than nobody showing up, which sometimes happened, was only one person showing up; the author, unsure of what to do, would awkwardly read to that one person.”


“There are few pleasures quite like walking into an independent bookstore on a snowy evening, and tonight was no exception. […] Here we all were, all lovers of literature, gathered together on a night straight out of a Dickens novel. I half-hoped to look out the window and see Tiny Tim atop Bob Cratchit’s shoulders, but no: All I saw was an undergrad writing SUCK ME in the snow that covered somebody’s car while another guy bent over and pressed his ass against the car’s front door, hoping for an accurate imprint.”


And, finally:

“If a writer didn’t have a blog, he or she was being blogged about, often viciously, usually by wannabe writers who wielded their blogs like swords. Part of the appeal of being a writer was the anonymity, but the Internet had pretty much ruined that.”


And, in conclusion: What Sasha Said.

PS  I’ll be posting the second book in this category for the TwentyTen Challenge next Friday, another bookish book that I read simply because another reader’s enthusiasm caught my interest. (Sasha, if you haven’t already gotten to my next Friday’s read, I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning the “favour” because I am sure it’s one that you would love.)