22 October 2010

Featuring . . . Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle

This Friday and every Friday for the next several months I'll be featuring a book in the Harper Perennial Imprint. Some were recently published, some will be released later this year, all are worth a closer look.

My first exposure to Lydia Peelle was her interview with singer-songwriter Gillian Welch, which appeared in Bomb magazine in fall 2009. I loved that interview so much, I knew that I would love pretty much whatever Peelle had to write. Before I tell you more about why I'm excited about this author, let me introduce you to her book. Her debut story collection is Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, and here is what the publisher has to say:

In Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, Lydia Peelle brings together eight brilliant stories—two of which won Pushcart Prizes and one of which won an O. Henry Prize—that peer straight into the human heart. In startling and original prose, she examines lives derailed by the loss of a vital connection to the natural world.

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing conveys an almost Faulknerian ache for the pre-modern South, for a landscape and a way of life lost to the ravages of money and technology.
I hardly know where to begin because there are so many things about Peelle's book that call to me. The southern setting, the exploration of how technology can change our lives, the lingering days of the innocence of childhood . . . these factors alone would make this a must-read book.

But then there is Peelle herself, whom I know only through her interview with Welch and her appearance in the New York Times blog "Paper Cuts." Here is part of her answer to Welch's question, Why short stories?
As for the stories, well, I knew it had to be stories. . . . When I moved here [Tennessee] I was so inspired by this place; I wanted to come at it from a lot of different perspectives, to look at it through the lives of a lot of different people, in many different time periods. I was especially interested in the evolving human relationship with the land. To look at the way our relationship with the land, and what we ask of it, has changed, and is changing, and how all these different people in different eras have coped with that.
Well, yes, I want to read about that. Peelle apparently listens to a lot of old folk music (like I do), and Reasons for . . . Breathing was at least in part inspired by that music:
Oh yeah, the old songs. They work in two ways for me: I use bits and pieces of them in the stories, but also think my ultimate goal is to write a story that could capture the feeling of one of those songs.
I'm not the only one singing the praises (sorry, couldn't resist) of Peelle's debut collection:
  • Melissa from the Betty and Boo Chronicles says: "I am loving this collection and Lydia Peele has now become one of my new favorite writers to watch. She has a wonderful style that I am enjoying immensely. . . .The only bad thing I can say at this point about Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing is that there are only eight short stories."
  • David from Largehearted Boy says: "Lydia Peelle's short fiction has earned comparisons to Alice Munro and Mary Gaitskill, but her voice is unique and strong. . . . These are impressive stories of the past colliding with the present, and the emotional chaos that ensues."
  • Maria Russo writing for the New York Times says: "“Lydia Peelle’s lovely, fluid voice lures you into a world full of heartbreak and devastation. . . Each of the eight stories in the collection is a small feat of craftsmanship, remarkably consistent in pacing and tone."
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing was an Indie Next pick for August 2009. To learn more about Lydia Peelle, I suggest reading her interview with Gillian Welch. If you choose this collection for your book club, you might want to look at the reading guide offered by Harper Perennial.

This book was featured as part of my Spotlight on the Harper Perennial imprint. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. See the alphabetized review index to see what others are saying. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing at Powell's
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2009


Sandy Nawrot 10/22/10, 6:41 AM  

Wow. Just the title and cover puts you in a MOOD. I cannot wait for you to read this one!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 10/22/10, 7:23 AM  

Thanks for bringing Peelle to our attention! The questions she explores in her short fiction are so large ... these pieces must be intense!

bermudaonion 10/22/10, 10:31 AM  

This does sound like an amazing collection. I've come to appreciate short stories more as my life seems to get busier.

Keetha 10/22/10, 10:35 AM  

Thanks for the review - I hadn't heard of this author before. I will have to get a copy of this collection. It sounds amazing!

(I'm visiting here via the link from HarperPerennial's twitter feed.)

Melissa 10/22/10, 8:16 PM  

Great post ... and thanks so much for mentioning my praise of this one. I finished it during the recent Readathon and loved it even more. One of the best short story collections I've ever read.

Alice 10/23/10, 12:05 PM  

Gosh, I love that cover! I must learn to like short stories more. This one is a good place to start!

Anonymous,  10/23/10, 3:25 PM  

It turns out I have a copy of this book on my shelf already! I've been reading some really good reviews lately and am looking forward to starting it.

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