Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Doerr’

I’ve just finished Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall, now out in paper. With only six stories, it seems like a slender collection, but the title story is nearly 80 pages long, and the last, “Afterworld,” runs to 55 pages. Although they’re clearly the two powerhouses of this collection, what I came away liking best were two others: “Village 113” and “The River Nemunas.”

Doerr seems uniquely qualified to write about memory. He was a history major who writes a column on science books for the Boston Globe. His novel, About Grace (2004) was a meditation on loss, memory, precognition and water; in it, a hydrologist who occasionally dreams events that later come true runs away from one of them, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter. It’s a wonderful book to get lost in, filled with dreams and snow, one of those novels I recommend to people I know will overlook the improbable plot.

The title story in Memory Wall is about an elderly South African woman suffering from dementia in a futuristic society where technology enables her to access her memories through a science-fictionlike device that “reads” memory tracings pulled from the brain and recorded onto cartridges. While the elderly play back their entire lives, one tape at a time, a kind of piracy has grown up around the tapes, which are traded on the street. There are also “memory tappers,” people whose heads are implanted with ports that allow them to read the cartridges.

It’s all a bit spooky and creepy, reminiscent of Vonnegut without the humor.

Gorgonops longifrons

Doerr complicates things further by giving the old woman, Alma, a dead husband who was on the brink of a fantastic and wildly profitable discovery—he had found “a rare Permian fossil” called Gorgonops longifrons, a complete skeleton of which would be worth millions—when he had a fatal heart attack. Alma was with him that day but has never been able to remember exactly where they were.

A cutthroat fellow fossil hunter thinks the spot is still lodged somewhere in her head, and he’s using a memory tapper, a 15-year-old boy named Luvo, to exhaustively scan each of Alma’s hundreds of memory tapes in hopes of recovering the exact location. How this eventually happens and what becomes of everyone involved is less important than what Luvo eventually understands: “It’s the rarest thing … that gets preserved, that does not get erased, broken down, transformed.”

This is the heart of every story in Memory Wall, where characters from all corners of the world—Cape Town, Minnesota, Korea, Idaho, a Chinese village named 113, Lithuania, Hamburg—try to restore or sustain that elusive memory. The language Doerr fits to this search is like the vocabulary of memory: sometimes elegiac and lush, sometimes sharper and exact, a strange blend of science and poetry. (more…)

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Bo Emerson of the AJC interviews Atlanta magazine’s former editor-in-chief, Rebecca Burns, whose new book about the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr., Burial for a King, comes out this week. Read a review of it here.

A whopping 416 pages of new and selected older stories make up Charles Baxter’s new book, Gryphon. The title story is from one of my favorite Baxter short story collections, Through the Safety Net. Here’s a 2003 interview with Dave Welch at Powells.com.

You can read “Gryphon” here at American Story.

Anthony Doerr (Memory Wall) writes about the way no two people read a book the same way in his marvelous essay at Simon & Schuster. After losing his copy of Daniyal Mueenuddin’s story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders on an airplane, Doerr recalled his plans for it:

… once I finished it, I planned to stow it on a shelf in a particular spot in my office and there it would sit, with my notes scribbled in it, waiting to be called back up, in the way I imagine individual memories wait to be called back up inside our brains.

It is the weather in which one reads a book that interpenetrates the paper. It is the mood one is in, the mindset one carries, the hunger in one’s gut, the quality of the sunlight falling across the page. It is the little coffee stain on page 29, the twelve bright stars scratched ecstatically across page 302.

Coming up next week: the National Book Critics Circle Awards Finalists Announcement and Celebration, January 22, 2011 at 7 pm in New York.  I’m keeping my eye on this one for reasons I can’t yet divulge.

Swamp Odyssey: The current issue of Tin House has an interview with Karen Russell, whose upcoming novel, Swamplandia!, is due out Feb. 4. She talks with TH’s Elissa Schappell about her first book, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and sharing her first draft of Swamplandia!:

ES: I’ve found that showing an early draft takes equal parts bravery and a certain hard-heartedness towards the constitution of my reader.

KR: It’s such a scary feeling to have a first reader. It’s like inviting somebody to come over for cupcakes in your house, but at the time when you extend this invitation, you are also wondering, Holy crap, is this a house?

No. It’s not one at all. Half of it’s on fire. Half is under water. And you’re like, you’re insisting to your kind friend, No, no, I followed my blueprint to the T! Why, I’m fairly certain this is correct. It’s a solid structure. It’s an adobe a person could live in. Here, have a cupcake. But the stairs go nowhere, and you watch your friend’s face and you start to get this horrifying awareness. Something might not be right about my house.


Out and about in Decatur now that the snow’s melting? Find a book to read at my friend Laura Keys’ bookstore, the Blue Elephant Bookshop, on West Ponce, then drop in at the Dancing Goats Coffee Bar two doors down.

If the Toco Hill shopping center on LaVista Rd. is closer to you, wander over to Tall Tales Book Shop, where I used to read work. No website for this 30+ years-old shop—they’re strictly old-school: You must walk into the store. Monday through Saturdays, talk to owner Marlene Zeiler, who will share her latest favorite(s) with you. Right about now, that could be Joseph Skibell’s A Curable Romantic. (Read my review here.)


Belles, Books, and Candor: The February issue of Vanity Fair features a bevy of Atlanta’s most talked-about women writers, accompanying story by Alan Deutschman (Walk the Walk).  That’s the Swan House behind them.  If any copies are still on the stands, it’s only because ice and snow prevented fans from snatching up every available  copy. From left to right: Sheri Joseph, Susan Rebecca White, Karin Slaughter, Amanda Gable, Joshilyn Jackson, Natasha Trethewey, Emily Giffin, Jessica Handler, and Kathryn Stockett.



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