Saturday, February 21, 2015

Short Story Saturday: How to Be a Writer

Lorrie Moore
I was listening to a book podcast the other night (one from the U.K., but I can't remember exactly which it was) where Lorrie Moore was being interviewed at some London event.  What immediately struck me was Moore's rather quirky sense of humor about herself, her characters, her books, and, well, just life in general.  Even the title of the 1994 book she was being specifically interviewed about was a bit weird: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?  I guarantee you that if I ran across that title on the spine of a book at a local bookstore, the odds are pretty high that I would pick it up for a closer look.

"How to Become a Writer" is one of Moore's earlier short stories, and it is included in the The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (2012) edited by Joyce Carol Oates.  According to Oates, Lorrie Moore is "the very Jane Austin of the ill-at-ease and the inept."  The story's narrator certainly fits the bill because she is one of the most socially inept characters I've run across in a while.

The seven-page story is a chronology of the events that combine in a perfect storm kind of way to transform one young lady into "a writer."  Not the least among these events is the computer glitch that places her in a creative writing class rather than in the bird-watching seminar she thinks she has registered for, a class she decides to keep only because she cannot face the long registration lines again.

As Ms. Oates says in the story intro, it is both funny and touching.  Well, for me, it is funny - and touching mainly in the sense that I always feel great sympathy for those trying to negotiate their way through life carrying only the most limited and basic social skills in their toolbox.  Our young narrator, however, is not completely lacking in self-awareness, as when she describes her desire to be a writer this way:

"...but you have a calling, an urge, a delusion, an unfortunate habit.  You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd."

Or this observation about herself:

"You will read somewhere that all writing has to do with one's genitals.  Don't dwell on this.  It will make you nervous."

I think I'm going to like Lorrie Moore.  

I love this book more every week:


  1. I really like this story. My favorites of hers are "You're Ugly, Too and "Charades". Her novel Anagrams is a great read as well.

    1. Susan, I'm a late-comer to ther work, but I'm looking forward to much more of it in the future. Thanks for listing your favorites of hers.

  2. I read one of Moore's books long ago and really liked it, her second collection I think it was. Don't know why I've not picked up another. Those are excellent quotes though and you have made want to read this book!

    1. Just too many authors, too many books, Stefanie...that combination seems to kill the best of intentions on a regular basis.