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Beginners [Hardcover]

Raymond Carver
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Oct 2009

Tim O'Brien once said of Raymond Carver, 'He uses the English language like a whittler's knife, carving stark and unadorned prose-objects, paring away everything but the very core of human emotion.'

Beginners is Carver's most famous collection of short stories - What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - before this whittling process had begun. It is the unedited version of the masterpiece which would be cut by almost fifty per cent by Carver's editor and mentor, Gordon Lish, before its original publication in 1981 and which would go on to become one of the most influential pieces of modern literature.

Carver's preoccupation with the marrow of things is just as present in these longer stories. A young girl, dancing with her lover amidst the debris of an older man's life, has her first forewarning of the dangers of adulthood, and is filled with an 'unbearable happiness'. A man and woman lock themselves in a motel room and slowly, painfully, acknowledge the end of a relationship, while somewhere else in the lonely Midwest a man is photographed over and over again as he attempts to locate himself in a world that seems utterly without focus. But as we move through the manifold little tragedies at the heart of the ordinary - so much at the core of Carver's work - new layers, new nuances, new meanings reveal themselves.

Where the Lish / Carver collaboration cut this collection to the 'linguistic bone', these fleshier stories say what was previously unsaid, filling in the narrative silences that have both inspired and mystified readers for so long. Beginners is a fascinating insight into the aesthetic of a literary great and, in the questions it raises, may just spark off one of the great cultural debates of our times.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Edition edition (1 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224089285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224089289
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 321,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, in 1938. His first short stories appeared in Esquire during Gordon Lish's tenure as fiction editor in the 1970s. Carver's work began to reach a wider audience with the 1976 publication of Will You Please be Quiet, Please, but it was not until the 1981 publication of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love under Gordon Lish, then at Knopf, that he began to achieve real literary fame.

This collection was edited by more than 40 per cent before publication, and Carver dedicated it to his fellow writer and future wife, Tess Gallagher, with the promise that he would one day republish his stories at full length.

He went on to write two more collections of stories, Cathedral and Elephant, which moved away from the earlier minimalist style into a new expansiveness, as well as several collections of poetry. He died in 1988, aged fifty.

Product Description


Tim Martin, four stars --Telegraph

Tim Adams: `an extraordinary book, more generous and rambling in tone than its distilled counterpart.' -- Observer

`the most interesting book of the year' --Seven Magazine in Sunday Telegraph

`Fans will find it fascinating.'
--The Bookseller

Book Description

This fascinating collection contains the original, unedited stories Raymond Carver wrote for what became - at the hands of his editor Gordon Lish - What We Talk About When We Talk About Love --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great collection in its own right 2 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As most readers who are interested in Raymond Carver will know, 'Beginners' is essentially the collection of short stories that were published under the title 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' - but published here in their 'original' versions, i.e before his editor, Gordon Liss, got to work on them. This is a fascinating companion piece to that better known collection. Carver is well known for his minimalist style - spare, elliptical and very finely wrought. For anyone interested in the processes of writing, rewriting and editing, looking at examples from the two collections alongside each other is very revealing; but 'Beginners' is far more than an academic exercise. In these more extended, 'original' versions, the stories are rich and insightful; well worth reading, even if you have never encountered Carver before. Very highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not the fashionable opinion, but THIS is carver 19 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I, like most people coming to Carver late, had heard about him before reading him, so that his reputation cast a big shadow over his work. I read "What we talk about...", "Will you please be quiet please", and "Short Cuts", and while some stories pleased me, I couldn't quite see what the fuss was about. The style was nice, the writing sharp and striking, but the plots were non-existent. The stories were little more than snapshots, and left you feeling they were nice as far as they went but didn't really go anywhere. There were occasional exceptions, but overall, I was left slightly disappointed. when i read that lish had cut so much out of his stories, and that originally they offered much more story, then i got interested. As I have said, i enjoyed the style, so I thought that maybe, this new collection might be more up my street.

Well it was. This is one of the finest collections of short stories I have ever read. I love punchy short stories, about people in the modern world, tales of urban fiction, if you will - stories I can identify with: people feeling a bit lost and insecure, who drink too much, who don't really know what they're meant to be doing, but kind of just muddle through and try and make sense of it all. I love stories by Bukowski, by Richard Yates, by Hemingway. These are at least on a par with those. If you like that sort of thing, you'll love this.

I'm fully aware of Carver's reputation that he carved (arf!) with Lish's help. Some people have even said this book shows how great Lish was, and how, left alone, Carver waffles on and loses his cutting edge. Well, I have read with and without, and I couldn't disagree more. This is short story writing at its finest, and I will be tracking down everything else of his that I can find.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for die hard Carver fans 20 July 2012
This book, the original, unedited versions of the short stories found in Carver's best known work - What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is not just for die hard Carver fans with a little extra space on their bookshelves. It makes an interesting companion to the published, edited version, but is also very readable in its own right.

I'm obsessed with Raymond Carver. I think he is probably the greatest post war short story writer to come out of America and is up there with John Cheever amongst the best of all time. Still, I know how much Gordon Lish had to do with creating that razor sharp, minimal and impacting style that Carver is best known for. This book lets you see behind that editorial curtain and see a different side to those famous stories.

Some of the editing is justified, it has to be said. The edited versions of 'So Much Water...' and 'The Calm' I think are better, more effective. In fact, most of these stories are 'better' in the edited version because GL was such a good editor. Compare the books. Look at the detail, the punctuation, the exchange of words, the cuts that GL made. He had a vision that complemented Carver's work perfectly. That's not to say that these stories come second best or that Carver was in some way a fraud. They give a real insight into Carver the writer, instead of Carver the published author. Budding writers trying to emulate Carver's style will do well to read this and understand that editing and rewriting is as important as the first draft itself.

Buy it without hesitation.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Raymond Carver - Beginners 23 Feb 2012
By Tobykin
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good book for studying short stories and general reading purposes - recommended to anyone - try it and see especially not dear.....
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early and Unedited Carver 3 May 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Raymond Carver has become something of a vogue among short-story wannabees. He has assumed iconic status for his down to earth, spare writing style, dealing with unremarkable and every-day people in remarkable situations. This compilation is of the stories he wrote before they were edited and published in his flagship volume, What we talk about when we Talk about Love. These original versions make excellent reading, although little was lost through their subsequent editing by Gordon Liss for Alfred Knopff & Co, Carver's first major publisher. This collection confirms Carver as possibly the outstanding short story writer of his generation. His untimely death at fifty (a year older than Kerouac), leaves one in mourning for what might have been had his writing continued to mature and develop.
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