Lorrie Moore has long been a favorite writer of mine. Her short fiction, which has appeared regularly in THE NEW YORKER and elsewhere, is unbeatable. Her humor is sharp, her descriptive powers awesome, and her stories (almost) always feel as though they actually go somewhere.
One of the best pieces in "Self-Help" is probably the first Lorrie Moore piece I ever read. "Self-Help" was published the year I graduated from college, and I think a college friend gave me a copy of "How to Become a Writer." Note the "become" instead of "be." Moore acknowledges the process involved in writing and lets her readers know that writers are not sprung fully-formed from the head of Zeus or anyone else. Listen to this beautifully assured, resonant, yet hilarious passage from "How to Become a Writer":
"First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age--say, fourteen. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire. It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain. Count the syllables. Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She'll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face blank as a doughnut. She'll say: 'How about emptying the dishwasher?' Look away. Shove the forks in the fork drawer. Acccidentally break one of the freebie gas station glasses. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters."
Moore likes to do that--throw in references like Vietnam, then spin things around a little so that it comes out funny. One of my favorite Lorrie Moore bits had to do with a woman who said something awful before she could stop herself--Moore described the blurted insult as being "a lizard with a hat on." Wacko as that sounds, you still know exactly what she means. That is her great gift--she makes life sound wacko and off-kilter, but you completely, utterly GET IT anyway.