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FPP#13: Because No One Else Had

This week I've been reading a collection of short fiction by an author whose work I'd managed to overlook for the last couple decades, despite recommendations. The first story starts like this*:

My heart — I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God. I passed two churches with cars parked in front. Then I stopped at the third because no one else had.

How many times can I read that paragraph before it starts to wear thin? I'm going on fifteen or twenty.

This being the first piece in a 400-page book, the story could be long or short, funny or tragic. The first paragraph isn't giving much away. What almost stopped the narrator's heart? Who picks a church by the number of cars parked outside — the less, the better? And why would someone apparently disinclined toward popular religion rush to a house of God in the first place? Why not a bar or a friend's place? Questions, I've got questions.

One thing about reading for employment is that you're often immersed in material that doesn't suit your mood**, and you can't simply put a book down when interest wanes. Never would I suggest that reading ranks among life's more taxing vocations, or that it's physically demanding (provided you can stay awake), or dangerous or demeaning or even dull (caffeine helps). It's not coal mining, this work, but a job is a job, meaning that weeks can go by, even a month, when I'd rather be doing something else — perhaps interacting with human beings (crazy!) instead of holing up with paper and ink. I've been at this for eight years now; you try maintaining a passion that long, for anything, without slipping into the occasional rut.

Most of what I read is very good, if not quite transcendent. It's just that sometimes I don't feel like reading.

But I can't wait to get back to this story collection. Which is noteworthy, and not unappreciated. If I take my job for granted once in a while, forgive me, but then along comes a writer like this one and there's nothing I'd rather do than dive back into the work.

Last week on the blog, Erin McKean kept us rhapsodized with insider tales of lexicography. C'mon, be honest: We are dorks. You, reading this — this is how you choose to spend your leisure time, cruising a bookseller lit blog? It's remarkable how much pleasure words can bring us. And better than words (sometimes), complete sentences and paragraphs, whole pages of nothing but!

Do not tell me today's opening paragraph wouldn't keep you reading.

Actually, go ahead, if you like. I'm not looking for companionship tonight anyway.

[Turn back to last week's First Paragraph Preview, or skip straight to its author and title.]

*I'm reminded of a favorite concert sound bite: Keith Richards on stage, taking a rare turn at the microphone, announcing, "This one goes like this!" before tearing into a signature riff on rhythm guitar.

**To clear up a common misperception about employment at We don't read at our desks. During the day, we answer email or attend meetings or work on the website (or plead with Georgie to tell us jokes). Reading comes later, at home.

Update: Find the author and title. (And look for an interview with the author, coming May 3rd.)

÷ ÷ ÷

Dave interviews authors for Powell's. He created our Out of the Book film series. He likes cats and dogs.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in... Used Hardcover $9.50
  2. The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
    Used Hardcover $8.50

Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State

6 Responses to "FPP#13: Because No One Else Had"

    Laura Lee April 18th, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    that paragraph doesn't particularly appeal to me. rhythm bugs me. it reads too much like song lyrics -- something by U2 or johnny cash, both of whom I like -- but it doesn't work as the beginning of a story.

    Venkman April 18th, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    How many times can I read that paragraph before it starts to wear thin? I'm going on fifteen or twenty.

    I read it only once and can live the rest of my life just fine without reading it again. Her heart stopped? Swell, I'll take her word for it. She stopped at the third church because the parking lot was empty -- good enough for me. Otherwise, there's nothing even remotely compelling to me in that paragraph.

    alexis April 18th, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    I know who the author is and I've been waiting for this book to come out for a month. So, if you don't mind running the rest of the story, I'll be set until I get a copy of my own.

    KyleRanger April 18th, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    If they're song lyrics I'd love to hear the song. Any musicians out there seeking a great first verse? Not to everyone's taste apparently, but I'll sing along.

    Whether it works as the beginning of a story depends on how much you come to fiction for characters, as opposed to action or atmospherics.

    I feel like I'm in the passenger seat, literally, riding past one church and then another. The radio's off, probably. The driver turned it off in order to focus on her/his buzzing brain. Will the story have anything to do with church #3 or what happens inside? Don't know, don't especially care. (I didn't come for action.) But out of the gate a character has done something genuinely novel. I've never heard of someone shopping for churches that way. And urgently! Something I've never seen before happens in the very first paragraph. I want to keep spying on the driver.

    Somebody make me a bumper-sticker: I COME FOR CHARACTER!

    Aalto Drinker April 18th, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    I love when Keith does that. ("This one goes like this!")

    ElinnaSnunc September 3rd, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    i don`t understand, but TY

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