Wining, Reading, Grading
From Tony Hoagland's "When Dean Young Talks About Wine," in What Narcissism Means to Me:
He says, Great first chapter but no plot.
He says, Long runway, short flight.
He says, This one never had a secret.
He says, You can't wear stripes like that.
This suggets a good writing exercise: Elaborate descriptions for wine.
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Dan Rhodes's Guardian list of his favorite books under 200 pages has been much linked to. (Dizzyheads, any candidates?) Off the top of my head, The Mezzanine would be high on my list, something by Richard Brautigan, and of course something by Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, probably). Bernhard's The Loser is 183 pages. I'm also, randomly, a fan of Isherwood's Prater Violet...and Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means must be sub-200. . . .
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Here is the Guardian obit for Vonnegut—the Times one is more interesting, I think. His official website is here, and today its splash page features an opened bird cage.
Wikipedia mentions Vonnegut's self-assessment of his books (in Palm Sunday); it reminded me of Nabokov's annotated copy of a collection of short stories, in which most things received C's or lower, except Salinger's "Bananafish" (A+) and...something by VN himself, if I'm not mistaken.
Here's Vonnegut's list:
Player Piano: B
The Sirens of Titan: A
Mother Night: A
Cat's Cradle: A-plus
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
Welcome to the Monkey House: B-minus
Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
Breakfast of Champions: C
Palm Sunday: C
This seems pretty clear-eyed—though I remember seeing this before reading Breakfast of Champions, then thinking BoC must be pretty mediocre...then reading BoC and being pleasantly surprised—the result of lowered expectations? Anyway, what a nice chunk, from Sirens to S-5. Enough for any writer, no?
UPDATE: Excellent set of online Vonnegut resources, compiled by the Mirror Ed.