Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Last night I met with my favorite book group to discuss John Updike’s 2003 novel Villages. I won’t go into too much detail here, but this was a good book to read in a group, mainly because despite Updike’s writing (which provides for endless study and admiration), the beginning-to-end story of Villages can be summed up like this: man living in suburban PA has a series of affairs.

Obviously there is more going on here. But it’s all densely packed into the characters, who are, strangely, unexpectedly, all types. Owen, whose story Villages is telling, is fairly stereotypical. He doesn’t have an interior life that would seem to merit so much scrutiny. Yet our discussion last night was all over the place – history, feminism, symbolism, marriage, parenthood, suburban life, and many more – so there’s a point to Owen and his careless, almost mechanical hedonism. I’d like to read more Updike because finishing Villages left me with more questions about his work in general. I suppose I will head to the Rabbit books, but I’m also interested in The Coup (1978) and The Scarlet Letter Trilogy (A Month of Sundays, Roger’s Version and S.).


Several new books arrived this week. All wonderful. All very tempting. First and most exciting is the Royall Tyler translation of The Tale of Genji. I’ll be starting tonight, and hope to catch up with the Summer of Genji group read that began this week. On a recommendation from a friend, I ordered Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections and that arrived today. Looking forward to this. Also in the non-fiction category, I ordered Atul Gawande’s highly lauded Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. Finally, I received the second two books in the Agota Kristof Twins’ Trilogy, La Preuve and Le troisième mensonge. Like the first book, Le Grand Cahier, these are slim little novels. If I can, I’d like to read them both this weekend.


I’m curious these days about reader reactions to flash fiction. I’d be interested to hear some thoughts on this. Is this a meaningful/valuable literary form? Can it or does it accomplish something that other forms cannot? How is it different, if it is, from poetry?

4 Responses to “friday reading notes”

  1. Smithereens

    I love flash fiction! Why do you think it’s not valuable?? I guess it depends how long those pieces are (1000 words?), but mostly I don’t compare them to poetry, but rather to blogs or fictional diary writing. I visit http://www.flashquake.org and read stories in between meetings, or during my commute. I’d love to hear you about your experience of flash fiction!

  2. verbivore

    Smithereens – I do read David’s Very Short Novels and I enjoy them. I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t like flash fiction. I like it. But I guess I don’t think I’ve ever read any piece of flash fiction that affected as much as or more than a longer piece of fiction….so I wonder about that. I will check out flashquake as well, thanks!

  3. Stefanie

    It sounds like your book group had a great discussion and even not knowing much about the book it makes me want to read it!

    I haven’t read much flash fiction but I have a Lydia Davis book that I suppose would qualify that I have dipped into and found really delightful in the way it gets right to the crux of things. I don’t think it’s like poetry at all though it can certainly be poetic. To me it seems like prose stripped down to the bare bones. Every word has to work and I find the concept of it intriguing.

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