I’m not going to lie to you here folks, I’m really excited about reading Ten Stories About Smoking (Picador). Ever since the book was ‘star of the show’ in my first ever Booknatomy feature, I’ve fallen in love with it, and since then I’ve heard so many good things about this debut short story collection, and its author Stuart Evers, who by all accounts is a real ambassador for the short fiction form. I even managed to meet the guy at the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize award ceremony in London back in May, and I saw in the man then, an awareness and an intelligence that I’ve seen in few people. I’m going to be seeing him again in August at EdBookFest, where he is in conversation with German short story writer, Clemens Meyer. That’s one of the two reasons why I’m reading this collection right now (the other being that Ten Stories About Smoking is in the running for this year’s Newton First Book Award (along with Clemen’s Meyer’s debut, All the Lights, which is published by And Other Stories Publishing in September), so please join me as I share a few forethoughts.
Let’s begin as I always do then, with the cover blurb?
Ten Stories of allure, betrayal, nostalgia, solitude, seduction, damage, desire and loss; of silence broken by the click of a lighter; insomnia defined by a glowing ember; a magician’s trick; a lover’s scent; a final wish. Stories that go to the heart of a things.
So, a short and pithy introduction to Evers’ collection no doubt, but one which certainly packs a bit of a punch. One can tell from this alone that human emotion and the troubled mind are being explored to some depth in this collection, and what a way to explore it, through the act of smoking, which is itself an instant ‘go to’ for the smoker who is dealing with stresses brought about by personal turmoil.
Of course smoking as a theme is somewhat controversial. It’s very much a ‘frowned upon’ habit these days – in the UK and the US at least – and so it’s interesting that Evers has chosen to base an entire collection on such a ‘taboo’ subject. Why is he doing so? Well in his rather insightful interview with James Walton for The Telegraph, Evers reveals that he has something of an affinity with the habit. Not only has the thirty-something smoked since he was a teenager (although he did give up for three short years), he says that he has always written about smoking. He also wanted to give himself a stricture with this collection to stop himself ‘veering off’ subject, much like one of his literary heroes, Georges Perec, who most famously wrote that novel A Void (originally titled La Disparition), without once using the letter ‘e’.
Smoking emerged as Evers’ ‘stricture’ for his short story collection, and asked by Walton whether its publication means that he is now destined through obligation to continue smoking, Ever’s rather eloquently responds, No, I really think I’m tied to the theme of small dreams left unfulfilled, rather than the cigarettes themselves. But I’ve yet to find a better metaphor or stand-in for that than smoking.” Does this mean that Ten Stories About Smoking is more on the theme of unfulfilled dreams rather than the act of smoking? I rather think it does, especially when one considers the cover blurb, and so the prospect of this thrills me no end.
Small but also important to me, is what impresses me most about Ten Stories About Smoking before I begin reading it (aside from its wonderful design of course) – it comes with a glowing endorsement from award winning American writer, Wells Tower – author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Granta Books). ‘A remarkable collection’ declares Tower on the front of the cover/box, and on the reverse he goes on to say that ‘Stuart Evers winds a course through worlds of yearning, secrets and mortification in prose as lithe as a ribbon of smoke’. To a guy who think the sun shines out of Wells Tower this is a hugely positive testament to read, and putting all other positives aside, this really motivates me to read Ten Stories About Smoking (unusual because I don’t usually pay attention to author testimonials). Thing is, I’ve not even mentioned what David Vann says about Ever’s collection. He uses the words ‘bleak’ and ‘terrifying’ which coming from Vann is particularly powerful, in a hugely positive way. Delicious!
Talking of notable short story writers (I know Vann is primarily a novelist but readers are still split on deciding whether Legend of a Suicide (Penguin) is a novel or a series of linked short stories p.s. I subscribe to the latter notion ), Evers admits himself that he is greatly influenced by the likes of Raymond Carver and John Cheever which also thrills me greatly. If the influence of these American short story masters is even minutely evident in Evers’ writing then I know I am in for a real treat.
So I’ve briefly mentioned the literary ‘giants’ who have influenced Evers’ writing but what more do we know about the man himself? Well I may have met him but it was all too brief, so there are no personal anecdotes from me I’m afraid. I do know though, from rooting around, that London-based Evers is no stranger to the world of literature and publishing. Aside from studying English at Liverpool University, Evers has been a bookseller and an editor. He is also a writer and reviewer for The Guardian, The Independent, New Statesman, Time Out and more. His bio info on the Picador website also tells us that he his fiction has been published by 3:AM Magazine, Litro, The Book Club Boutique Magazine and on EverydayGenius.com. I know too that Evers is providing the introduction for Clemen Meyer’s aforementioned debut, All The Lights. So what we have here dear reader, is a writer who is deeply embroiled in the world of literature and publication, and that only offers me additional reassurance.
So I guess I’ve rambled on enough in these forethoughts and it’s time to get down to the business of actually working my way through Evers’ debut collection; a collection which I think is going to be hugely powerful and dripping with emotion. I will proceed as I always do, reading and reviewing each story as I go before returning at the end with my final afterthoughts on the collection as a whole. For your benefit, and for mine, I’ve listed the contents of Ten Stories About Smoking, below, and I will link to each of them as I post my review. So for now be sure to pop back to this page often should you wish to trace my progress or to catch up on my reviews of these stories. Meanwhile check out the links near the foot of these forethoughts if you would like to know a little more about Stuart Evers, and don’t forget to return later in August when I’ll have a report on that EdBookfest event starring Staurt and Clemens.
Contents of Ten Stories About Smoking
- Some Great Project
- Things Seem So Far Away, Here
- What’s in Swindon?
- The Best Place in Town
- Lou Lou in the Blue Bottle
- Real Work
- Sometimes Nothing, Sometimes Everything
- The Final Cigarette
Stuart Evers will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in a Newton First Book Award event with Clemens Meyer, on Tuesday 16th August 5pm – 6pm. For ticket information and booking, please visit the event page on the EdBookFest website.
Picador | 4th March 2011 | £14.99 | PAPERBACK | 256 PP | ISBN: 9780330525152
Find out more about Stuart Evers:
- Stuart’s personal blog
- Stuart Evers’ profile at The Guardian (which also has links to the articles which he has written for the newspaper).
- The Telegraph’s James Walton meets Stuart Evers
- A Short Review interview with Stuart, which particularly centres around Ten Stories About Smoking
- Follow Stuart on Twitter
A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.
Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.