Recently TM told me that my hobbies were not actual hobbies. A harsh verdict, I feel. My hobbies are watching TV while lying down (in bed or on sofa); doing jigsaws; and being driven around in cars. What’s wrong with these?
I don’t count reading and writing as hobbies. They’re work. Enjoyable and rewarding work, but still. And they’re more than work, of course, more than hobbies. They’re a necessary part of every day.
My other interests, by the way, include cooking; browsing the marketplace/eating Swedish meatballs at IKEA; looking up Merrill paper dolls and coloring books on Ebay; and turning this year’s Christmas cards into next year’s gift tags. But I don’t know that any of these count as hobbies, really. Especially the IKEA one, as I get to go there so rarely. (We don’t have a car, and anyway, you have to keep the magic alive.)
One of my new year’s resolutions has more to do with work than hobbies. It’s to read a short story every day. A published short story: student work doesn’t count. (Students will understand.) No particular rules to this resolution, though I’m trying to read as much as possible that’s new to me, and I hope to range around in time and country of origin throughout the year.
Not much ranging has been possible so far. Because I’ve been traveling – in the US, hence American spelling here – most of the stories this past week have been found on the New Yorker web site. I’ve been doing research on Jean Rhys at the University of Tulsa library, thanks to a Carnegie Grant. It’s been an enormously productive week, with the added benefit of proximity to Route 66 and fantastic Tex-Mex food. Here is a picture of Tulsa.
Today is the fourteenth day of January, so I’ve read fourteen short stories.
Stories so far:
1. ‘In the Penal Colony’ by Kafka (1914; published 1919).
2. ‘Love in the Slump’ by Evelyn Waugh (1932).
3. ‘The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor’ by Deborah Eisenberg (1994).
4. ‘Heaven-Hell’ by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008).
5. ‘The Immortal’ by Jorge Luis Borges (1949).
6. ‘The Lost Order’ by Rivka Galchen (2013).
7. ‘Night Out 1925’ by Jean Rhys (published in 1976 but written much earlier).
8, ‘Creative Writing’ by Edgar Keret (2012).
9: ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’ by George Saunders (2012).
10: ‘Elsie by Starlight’ by John Updike (2004).
11: ‘Paper Losses’ by Lorrie Moore (2006).
12: ‘Starlight’ by Ann Beattie (2011).
13: ‘Bull’ by Mo Yan (2012).
14: ‘Experience’ by Tessa Hadley (2013).
I will not be impudent enough to give reviews of any story or – horror of horrors – assign a star rating. If I were in charge of things in the world, as I so clearly should be, I would force everyone to go cold turkey on star ratings for a while. Just a few months, maybe, so people could take a break from pronouncing their opinions and verdicts and prejudices, and deciding whether they liked something or not, and lying awake at night pondering whether they need to deduct half a star because there aren’t enough special features on a DVD …
But I guess I can share some favorite quotes without violating the review rule. So far: ‘Nothing can happen in England’ (Waugh) and ‘Actually have never been to Europe myself. Dad felt portion sizes there too small’ (Saunders).
Please join me in my story-reading hobby-resolution-thing, even if it’s just for a week or a month. I’ll keep updating my list here. You can send me story suggestions as well, but I may not pay any attention. There are enough short stories in anthologies and collections on our book shelves to keep me busy for several years, and TM keeps Suggesting Things, needless to say.
By the way, during a recent Skype session with a class in Illinois, the librarian told me that my hobbies are quite similar to those of her students – especially being driven around in cars. But she pointed out that this is because they are eighth-graders, and too young to drive themselves.