People often ask me, “Who is your favorite writer?” And although I love many authors, their question is not hard for me to answer. Of course I like many different writers, such as the ones from my childhood: Tolkien, Hesse, Emerson, Gibran, Watts, Bradbury, Kafka and Thoreau. And the writers that I found later have a special place on my bookshelf: Percy, Barthelme, Alexie, Borges, Egan, Saunders, Steinbeck, Bishop, Oats, Collins, and many others. But, for me, there is one writer that stands above all others — I remember sobbing at the end of one of his stories and thinking, I need to write better. I need to write deeper. I need to write one story that Raymond Carver might, in my imagination, nod his head and say, “Not too bad.”
Carver is known for his short stories. He is often referred to as a “minimalist” writer. What people mean when they use this term, I think, is that his stories get to the heart of the matter quickly and efficiently — there are very few extraneous words or sentences. I personally don’t like the term “minimalist” for his writing. The word can connote “simple” or “barren,” but these words have no place in describing Carver’s writing. His stories effetely get at the human condition — longing, love, loss, fear — in a way that few other writers have achieved.
Carver lived and taught writing in California in the early 70s. Here are two quotes that sums up his writing philosophy:
“No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just in the right place.”
“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”
If you have never read Raymond Carver’s work, you are in for a big treat. I’d recommend reading his short story, “Cathedral” to get a good sense of his quality and vision. Then you’ll probably want to branch out to his collections of short stories (e.g., “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please,” or “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”). Once you are hooked, then you may want to read his poetry, which, like Billy Collins, is “accessible.” Read more about Carver here, and read one of my favorite poems of his, here, called “Happiness”.