Daniel Orozco’s stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Essays, and the Pushcart Prize anthology, as well as in publications such as Harper’s Magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story, McSweeney’s, Ecotone, and StoryQuarterly. He was awarded a 2006 NEA Fellowship in fiction and was a finalist for a 2006 National Magazine Award in fiction. A former Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford, he teaches creative writing at the University of Idaho. His collection Orientation and Other Stories was published by Faber and Faber in May 2011.
The Pugilist at Rest and Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones
I needed a new story collection for a creative writing class I teach, and at the last minute settled on Thom Jones. I’d read a story or two from The Pugilist at Rest years ago and remembered being frankly not crazy about that hyperkinetic voice, and so I thought a “problematic” text would be fruitful for students. Revisiting Jones was a revelation. These narrators talk and think too much all right, and it’s all in service to the Struggle—to understand, to live right in the world. They are profane and funny, and they often fail spectacularly, and their efforts are very sad and very affecting. “I Want to Live!” is one of the most wrenching and honest stories I’ve ever read. Post-Pugilist, I was . . . well, jonesing for more Jones, and so I picked up Sonny Liston. A tour de force is literally a “feat of strength” and connotes an impressive achievement that’s pulled off only once. Yet Jones kind of tour de forces again and again.
Unpacking the Boxes by Donald Hall
This Is Not the Ivy League by Mary Clearman Blew
Hall reflects on his writerly life with a warmth and affection that is nonetheless elegiac. Blew’s retrospection is much cooler, hard-edged, and at times regretful. I don’t read much memoir and I’ve always been leery of memoirs by writers looking back on how they became writers—I mean, who cares, right? I accidentally read these two books back to back, and . . . well, more revelation! These memoirs are writers not just transcribing what they remember—my idiot definition of “memoir”—but contending with it on the page. The Struggle, once again!