I have two blog posts I’ve been noodling away at in stolen moments this week, one on skating lessons and one on Instagram. So it makes perfect sense that I drop everything and write a post about Alice Munro, right?
Well, it does because I just heard the lovely news that she has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is first Canadian-based writer to win the world’s most prestigious literary prize. Remember when I used to blog about books? I’ve been pining for those days lately, and when one of my lifetime idols wins the Nobel freakin’ Prize, that’s defintely worth blogging about!
I’m sure it speaks to my rather scattered sensibilities and curiousities when I tell you that the three most influential authors in my life (so far) have been Alice Munro, Stephen King and Douglas Coupland. I “discovered” Alice Munro way back in my teen angst years, and gobbled up everything she had written to date. I was entranced in large part because many of her novels and stories are set not just in Canada but in the part of the country where I grew up (in London, Ontario). I recognized the sleepy villages, the rolling farms, the verdant fields, even when she didn’t call them by name.
But on a deeper level, she also wrote about the experience of being a woman in terms to which I could strongly relate. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.
It was also in reading Alice Munro that I learned about magic realism, a style I have come to love over the years. Once upon a time when I wanted to be a writer (that would be for most of the first three or four decades of my life!), I imagined that if I were to write stories they would be short stories in the style of Alice Munro – spare of superflous words, but with resonating insight into the human experience. And perhaps that’s why it’s best that I have turned in recent years to telling stories more with photographs than words – because perhaps emulating the best in her genre is a goal too lofty even for the pathologically enthusiastic. And I dont’ think I could ever restrain my innate verbosity.
When I went back to school in my mid-20s, I took as many courses in Canadian literature as I could. (Turns out that’s three, if you’re just doing an undergraduate degree.) I wish I still had a copy of what I remember to be my very favourite academic paper ever, an essay I wrote called “Pearls of Existence” and it compared the way Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro reflect the transformative experience of growing up through the lens of minutaie and everyday experiences. I loved writing that paper, and I got a (very rare indeed!) A+ on it.
I absolutely love this quote that the Globe and Mail picked up and included in the article I linked above. I think it captures exactly what I love most about the work of Alice Munro. In the author’s own words:
“I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way — what happens to somebody — but I want that ‘what happens’ to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing — not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.”
Are you a fan of Alice Munro, too? Which stories or novels did you love – or not love?