One of The New Yorker 's "Books We Loved in 2017"
A Grace Paley Reader compiles a selection of Paley's writing across genres, showcasing her breadth of work as well as her extraordinary insight and brilliant economy of words.Read more...
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One of The New Yorker's "Books We Loved in 2017"
A Grace Paley Reader compiles a selection of Paley's writing across genres, showcasing her breadth of work as well as her extraordinary insight and brilliant economy of words.
"A writer like Paley," writes George Saunders, "comes along and brightens language up again, takes it aside and gives it a pep talk, sends it back renewed, so it can do its job, which is to wake us up." Best known for her inimitable short stories, Grace Paley was also an enormously talented essayist and poet, as well as a fierce activist. She was a tireless member of the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, the tenants' rights movement, the anti-nuclear-power movement, and the Women's Pentagon Action, among other causes, and proved herself to be a passionate citizen of each of her communities--New York City and rural Vermont.
- ISBN-13: 9780374165826
- ISBN-10: 0374165823
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publish Date: April 2017
- Page Count: 400
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.15 pounds
Well Read: Decanting a life
Grace Paley, who died 10 years ago and whose 95th birthday would have been this coming December, is not a universally well-known writer, although her work is revered by many who know it. With a distinctive narrative voice that relies heavily on the rhythms of the vernacular, her stories unflinchingly capture the experiences of ordinary people—often, but not always, women—as they shuffle through life, at once pushing against and accepting what fate has dealt them. Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley, the writer’s daughter, have compiled a marvelous introduction to her work, A Grace Paley Reader. It comprises short stories (about half the volume) as well as essays and poems, and it proves a fitting tribute to a great writer.
Paley was known first and foremost for her inimitable stories—her The Collected Stories was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award and won the PEN/Malamud Award—and the 15 stories included in A Grace Paley Reader give full measure of her singular talents as a storyteller. To read Paley is to be invited inside the intimate lives of her characters, who always speak their minds, sometimes with alarming honesty. These unromantic creations, often hard-bitten denizens of New York City, are funny in their forthright appraisals of any situation, be it love or sex or how to beg credit from the neighborhood butcher. The stories hold up a mirror that clearly reflects the unvarnished concerns of people in a specific time and place. And yet, as with all good writing, these stories are timeless. Does today’s stay-at-home mom, for instance, feel any less trapped than her 1950s counterpart? Can she not love her children unconditionally while wishing she could shed the burden of motherhood, if only for a few hours? In a Paley story, a character might succumb to an ill-advised affair with her eyes wide open, knowing full well that there is no future to be found—surely this is as germane a scenario as any contemporary writer might devise.
Throughout her life, Paley could be found, quite literally, on the frontlines of protest and civil disobedience. Arrested more than once for her efforts, she demonstrated for all the great causes of the era: women’s and civil rights, the anti-war movement, nuclear disarmament. Her essays reflect this side of her life, but as with her fiction, they are wholly her own in approach: personal rather than polemical, passionate and compassionate, anecdotal—in a word, humanist. Her poems, on the other hand, straddle the line between her stories and essays, laced with political concerns but enriched as much by the heart as by the head. “It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet,” she begins in her poem “Responsibility,” later declaring, “It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it on in the way storytellers decant the story of life.”
After encountering one of Paley’s stories, it is hard to leave it behind. It—and the characters who fill it—linger. In his introduction to this volume, author George Saunders calls Paley “a kind of secular saint”—a saint of seeing. It is, indeed, her singular way of seeing that makes Paley’s work still relevant, still essential and still so eminently readable.