Granta me favor …

June 12, 2009 § 16 Comments


This arrived in the mail last week. I removed the plastic wrapper around it so that it could breathe. I left it on the kitchen table for a day or two. It looked nice against the flowered tablecloth. It was then moved to the bannister, meaning a move to the upstairs. How many people woudl walk by it, march upstairs without snagging it and taking it up?

The next stop was my dresser.  Then the TBR pile. It stalled there, got lost. 

And then, the other morning, as I dangled my arm over the side of the bed while trying to decide whether or not I should get up, but knowing that if I did, I’d start “doing things,” I knocked the pile over, grappled for a book without looking, fished it up and it was this one, this yet-another-precious Granta

I scanned the table of contents.
OMG, an interview with Mavis Gallant!
What?  I love her work.
Oh, you remark, it’s easy to say that. You say that about everyone.
I do? I don’t mean to. Or, maybe I do. But Mavis, an expat to sunny old France, is special, in part because she is an expat. To France.

I’m a francophile. I can’t help it. No cause for alarm. It only means I love things French and France and  the language and yes, I love Parisians, too, those “tetu” blockheads and I cringed when the US went through its “freedom” fries and “freedom” dressing phase.  (oh for Pete’s sake, of course I love it here.  I mean, I came home from France, time after time, didn’t I?)

I haven’t read her piece yet. I think it’s an interview. I love high quality interviews. I’m “saving” it. I will soon read it, bit by bit, but I did flip through the entire issue, too, seeing what’s in there, what grabs. (All of it “grabs.” OK, I’m probably over-touting it, but if you have occasion to buy a Granta at a garage sale or from the library for 25 cents, I’d say it’s a wise investment for a quarter. You will find something in it to love, the least of which is the spirit of the thing and the writers they include. Or, buy it fresh from the shelf at the bookstore. A good bookstore will have it.)

Back to Mavis: I have two of her books: one of essays and reviews, the other a novella and short stories. 

She’s a Canadian who’s kept her birth country and returned to it often while the City of Light  became her home actually. She is sometimes (often?) acclaimed as one of the penulitmate short story writing greats. Born in 1922, she married at age 20,  it lasted five years, and she left newspaper writing in Canada to pursue fiction writing… in Paris.  She has published more than 100 short stories, the majority for the New Yorker where she is still published. 

I love Granta. I save every issue. I read them out of order.  I collect them like books. I read them carefully, not cracking them open too far. Sometimes, though, I write in them with pencils.  They are a terrific timeline, a graceful marker of writing, how it grows and how it stays the same.

I’ve never aspired to be a Granta editor (though i am happy to say I no longer wish to take Anna Wintour’s place at VOGUE, either. Pshew.)  I’m thrilled when Granta arrives in the mail, five times a year.  There is always a photo story, too. Somehow, on its pages, pictures take on the thrill of actual existence: a picture of  a coal miner becomes a pinup; a terrier dog sleeping in the grass becomes worthy of hanging over the fireplace, doesn’t matter whose dog it is or who took  the photograph.  Granta takes everything and makes it more, by the nature of its package, its credit, its belief in writers.

The magazine was started in 1889 by students at Cambridge and named THE GRANTA for the river that runs through the town. It grew, it morphed in the hands of AA Milne and Ted Hughes and his tragic wife Miss Plath and many others. Then it dipped, nearly fell off the shelf ’til it was revived in the late ’70s.
The following is directly from its web site: 

“Since 1979, the year of its rebirth, Granta has published many of the world’s finest writers tackling some of the world’s most important subjects, from intimate human experiences to the large public and political events that have shaped our lives. Its contributors have included Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow, Peter Carey, Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, Bruce Chatwin, James Fenton, Richard Ford, Martha Gellhorn, Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jayne Anne Phillips, Salman Rushdie, George Steiner, Graham Swift, Paul Theroux, Edmund White, Jeanette Winterson, Tobias Wolff. Every issue since 1979 is still in print. In the pages of Granta, readers met for the first time the narrative prose of writers such as Bill Bryson, Romesh Gunesekera, Blake Morrison, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith; and have encountered events and topics as diverse as the fall of Saigon, the mythology of the Titanic, adultery, psychotherapy and Chinese cricket fighting.”The thrill of it is seeing new writers.  That’s the key now, since 1979: new writers. Granta has a good nose.  There is no hurry to read each or any issue. It waits, looking very tidy, very nice, each numbered , on the shelf, next to its counterparts, some thumbworn, some perfectly perfect, barely opened .  Each issue has a theme: Fathers, Celebrity, New Nature Writing, The Deep End, What Happened Next, Best of Young American Novelists, Best of Young British Novelists…etc.

So why is Mavis in this issue of Granta, NEW FICTION SPECIAL, with that terrible (as Yeats would use the word “terrible”) blue cover?
I will investigate and report back.


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§ 16 Responses to Granta me favor …

  • jeanie says:

    Well, Francophile, I hope my next couple of week’s posts won’t disappoint! I’ll do my best.

    I don’t know Mavis Gallant and I don’t know Granta, but I have a feeling I’m going to become acquainted with both and very soon! How can I resist your recommendation?!

    • oh says:

      Jeanie – Bon Voyage! Can’t wait to see your pictures and hear your stories!!!!! and if you run into the venerable Ms Gallant, say hello for us!

  • Lys says:

    i’ve never heard of the publication, but i’m certainly thinking about checking it out now that i see you giving it such high, honest praise. personally, i like the cover, the blue and the sparrows really catch my eye.

  • Arti says:


    What a treasure! Thanks for introducing Granta… I clicked on the link and who do I find? Jhumpa Lahiri interviewing Mavis Gallant! Lahiri is just brilliant. I’ve read all of her novels and her latest, Unaccustomed Earth, is one of my all time favorites. I’ve written a review on it on my blog. And Mavis Gallant, I read a little of her work years ago in my student days. And to have Lahiri crediting Gallant as a major influence on her own writing, I must re-visit MG now. Actually Gallant’s latest book Going Ashore (2009) is in bookstores now.

    And the videos on the Granta site, they even have their interview and reading… Thank you so much for posting this!!

    • Arti says:

      Here I am oh, making corrections. I meant to say “… all her books”. Lahiri has written just one novel, The Namesake. The others, like Gallant’s, are short stories… maybe that’s where the influence comes in. Lahiri’s first book “The Interpreter of Maladies” won the Pulitzer, but I find her latest “The Unaccustomed Earth” even more brilliant.

      • oh says:

        Lys – Important to note there are often selections in an issue that I might skip over but overall, it’s almost like a magazine in regard to variety. And “theme” is important.

        Arti – And thank you! for noting Gallant’s latest book is out! I had not idea. I haven’t read Lahiri yet but I’m chasing the short story this summer so Lahiri’s now on the list.

  • I think its a lovely cover! I love France too, but am more of an Italianophile…. I’ve never read Granta, i should do, i look forward to reading more about this issue here….

  • oh says:

    CGP – update by Monday, I think. I am finishing a silly “beach book!”

  • shoreacres says:

    ” Granta takes everything and makes it more, by the nature of its package…”

    There! THERE! You see? THAT’S a statement directly from the field of visual rhetoric. 🙂

  • I used to love Granta, and then it got a bit edgy for me. Not that I have any objection to edgy, but it struck me as edgy for the sake of edgy (probably about 8 years ago). On the other hand, I never thought of it the way you put it in terms of a record of writing/writers over time. How absolutely true.

    And it’s always been beautifully done.

    You’ve made me intrigued again.

    And I share your Francophilia.

  • oh says:

    I keep heading upstairs to get it off the TBR pile and things get in the way (well, not in the “way” really, but ya’ know) like folding clean towels to take upstairs, too; turning off the sprinkler that I just noticed was still going; letting the dog out…all conspire to keep me from reading! or so it would seem!!!!

  • laylou says:

    I just like the fact that birds look like penguins. at least they do to me…

    I also like the fact that when I come home I see one of these lying around =)

  • […] of Mavis Gallant reading in a Paris book shop and her conversation with Jhumpa Lahiri, thanks to fellow blogger oh introducing the Granta link, I was elated to find this volume.  It looked like it had not been opened, fresh, clean for the […]

  • Arti says:


    Imagine me finding the 887 page The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant in a used book sale for one dollar after reading your post! Yes, I went back for more.

  • oh says:

    Arti – You are having magnificent book luck!

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