I’ve never described myself as a fangirl before, but yesterday morning when I learned Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature the truth became clear. I am an Alice Munro fangirl. When I saw the news on Facebook (I wish I could say on the New York Times or something smart like that) my heart rate sped up and I started crying. It was even more emotional that when I found out about the TFIOS movie or when Rob and Kristen broke up.
Alice Munro is commonly referred to as the best writer nobody knows about. I first heard her mentioned in college as the favorite author of two of my favorite authors (Amy Bloom and Curtis Sittenfeld). In my last year at Smith, I took my senior seminar (kind of like a thesis) on Alice Munro. With a fantastic professor and five other girls we read every one of her short stories in chronological order and then all wrote thesis papers relating to her body of work. It was one of the most amazing experiences as a reader and a writer that I’ve ever had.
I think Munro is as close to a flawless writer as there is. There are a few stumbles (I didn’t love her second book and only attempt at a novel), but most of the time if you read an Alice Munro story you know you are going to be in the presence of genius. Her stories feel as close to real life as anything I’ve ever read. One of my favorite Alice Munro quotes comes from The Lives of Girls and Women: “People’s lives, in Jubilee as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing, and unfathomable – deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.” This quotation not only shows Munro’s style, it describes her interest as a writer. She resists sensationalism or high concept plots, and instead focuses on the incredible drama of people’s real lives. She portrays both levels: the boring and the fantastic. Each of her stories is a deep caved paved over with linoleum.
I could obviously go on and on and on about Alice Munro (hence the label of fangirl). I could write about how she both embraced and rejected the title of feminist author, by writing complex female characters, some of whom rebelled against patriarchal society and others who desperately conformed to it, without judging either type of woman. I could write about how her manipulation of story structure, often jumping back and forth in time and starting in strange places, revolutionized the genre. I could write a lot about her writing about writing and writers (my thesis topic) and how she portrayed the development of an artist as the synthesis of a character’s opposing forces (my overwrought thesis statement).
But this blog post is already getting too long, so I will conclude with this: There are many reasons I’m excited Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. She’s a woman (13th woman to win) and she writes short stories (an increasingly undervalued form). The main two reasons I’m excited though are simple. I love her writing and I want other people to have the chance to love her as much as I do.
If you haven’t read Alice Munro before here are 12 of her short stories you can read for free online. If you feel ready to commit to a book I have three suggestions.
- Start chronologically with her debut Dance of the Happy Shades.This book put on on the literary map when it won the Governor General’s Award in 1968 and is a great place to start to understand her evolution as a writer.
- Start with my favorite, The Beggar Maid. I rarely suggest this book, because it is far from a typical Munro collection. However, it is the most honest writing I’ve ever read and the book I keep coming back to, so I had to include it on the list.
- Start with Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. This is the book that made John Updike compare Munro to Chekov. I loved every story in this collection, and the title story is Alice Munro at her best.
Okay, so I’m going to stop fangirling, for real now. If any other Munro readers out there want to celebrate with me leave me a note in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you so we can fangirl (or fanboy???) together.