This time next week, GUTS will post the first instalment of Reading Alone Together, a short story reading series led by Esmé Hogeveen, an English student living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over the next few months, friends, strangers, teachers, artists, thinkers and hopefully, one day, maybe even you, will contribute to a discussion on a selection of short stories. Each installment will feature an interview focusing on the theme of female friendship. Next week, Charlotte Bondy, our first interviewee, will be discussing “Something That Needs Nothing” and “Ten True Things,” short stories from Miranda July’s 2007 collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You.
by Esmé Hogeveen
The motivation for Reading Alone Together is the thrill I get when a friend or acquaintance tells me about a book she has read and loved (or sometimes, loved to hate!). Better yet, is when we have both read the same story and get to talk about it. It seems like there are so many chances to experience mediums like music and film with friends, but reading often gets left behind as a solo activity.
I hope that this reading series can be a project we do together, in an enjoyable, open and relaxed way. Imagine a book club, but without the constraints of location and time. You can read the stories whenever and wherever you choose, and then respond by reading, commenting or by becoming an interviewee. The impetus for creating Reading Alone Together was to find new venues for reading alone and reading together. I hope that the online format of this series will allow for a new kind of reading community to develop, one with a diversity of voices.
I am going to try to post a link to the stories we’ll be talking about in advance of the day the interviews will be published. I encourage you, if you’re interested, to try reading them aloud to someone else, or even to yourself. Good short stories can be both challenging and accessible. Their brevity often makes them easy to read (because they’re short!) but exciting to deconstruct (because they’re enriched with many details!).
For the first installment, we will be reading two stories by the much beloved, much critiqued Miranda July. Among a smorgasbord of other artistic credentials, Miranda July is a filmmaker and actor (Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future), performance artist, and author. The first interview of the reading series will be with Charlotte Bondy, who is currently studying Creative Writing at Trinity College in Dublin. Charlotte recently met with me on a frosty afternoon in Toronto to talk about friendship – and also the lack thereof – in July’s stories, “Something That Needs Nothing” and “Ten True Things.”
The presence and absence of friendship and interpersonal connection is an integral theme of Miranda July’s work, and so we thought it would be an apt choice for the first installment of Reading Alone Together. Many of Miranda July’s characters seem trapped in private worlds, longing to reach out, find a friend and connect in some way. Many characters, however, seem doomed to live out daydreams, interacting more with ghosts and imaginary friends than experience fulfilling, “real” relationships. The nuance and extreme detail of Miranda July’s prose shows us how sometimes the lines between friendship and loneliness, and between real and fantastical connections, can be blurred.
As we proceed with the first installment of Reading Alone Together, here are some questions to keep in the back of your head:
How does July represent female friendship?
What motivates July’s characters to seek connection?
How are the friendships July portrays realistic or unrealistic?
Are the characters successful in developing friendships? Or are they more interested in learning about themselves than others?
What struggles do the characters face in their encounters with other women?
And more generally:
Why do we make friends?
How do we lose friends?
Where do we find them?
How do we love them?
How do we hate them?
Can friendships be imaginary? Or romantic? Or both?
These questions may seem simple, but the more I think about and discuss female friendship, the more I find it to be a much more fascinating, confusing and challenging subject than initially anticipated. As we read together, I encourage you to share your impressions of friendship in the comments section, and to get in touch (esmehogeveen @ gmail.com) if you know of any stories (or related pieces of art or criticism) which depict a representation of female friendship you find meaningful. I’d love to talk about them.
Here are the available links to the stories for Vol. 1 of Reading Alone Together.
(“Ten True Things” is unavailable)