In New York, Sam Anderson does one of those review-in-the- style-of-author-reviewed things on Barthelme, in honor of this posthumous collection — and, although I rarely like this gimmick, Sam’s imitation is pretty well done. (As opposed to this iteration of the genre, in which Alan Jacobs mocks the low-hanging fruit of Kahlil Gibran. The imitation is apt, I suppose, but why bother? In fact, I’d like to see a good example of a negative imitation-review, if one even exists. Maybe it has to be done more or less respectfully; otherwise it just seems like you’re reading something you hate out loud in a sneering, sarcastic voice.)
And here I’d been thinking a lot about Barthelme lately, waiting for the latest McSweeney’s to arrive with its Barthelme symposium (thanks in advance, A.K.). I’m sure the timing is no accident. I’d take Don B. on my three-name list of favorite short-story dudes. I can truthfully say I’ve read “Some of Us Have Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” aloud to a girl in a cemetery, among other Barthelme-improved moments. Same girl then proceeded to try to teach the story in a Bed-Sty classroom — the kids didn’t like it at all, she told me. A white-bearded college professor read “A Manual for Sons” in a lecture hall, which left quite an impression on freshman me. Moral of the story: read Bathelme out loud, unless you’re teaching high school in Brooklyn.
Try to start reading “The First Thing the Baby Did Wrong…” and not click to finish it:
The first thing the baby did wrong was to tear pages out of her books. So we made a rule that each time she tore a page out of a book she had to stay alone in her room for four hours, behind the closed door. She was tearing out about a page a day, in the beginning, and the rule worked fairly well, although the crying and screaming from behind the closed door were unnerving. We reasoned that that was the price you had to pay, or part of the price you had to pay. But then as her grip improved she got to tearing out two pages at a time, which meant eight hours alone in her room, behind the closed door, which just doubled the annoyance for everybody.
* Kudos to jessamyn, really. I wish every author I will one day wish to investigate had a minimalist, curated linkpage like this. Beats Wikipedia. A negative kudos to the publisher of the new Barthelme collection: Couldn’t put a story or two out of 45 out on the web?