or How to Read
By Lorrie Moore
Forget how to describe the type of sentence for giving instructions. Remember only interrogative, declarative, and exclamatory. Look up imperative online. Discover that it is fourth grade level language arts. Feel embarrassed, but since its been over forty years, cut yourself some slack. Most of the stories are in the imperative, which surprises you. Think of jokes how imperative it is to recommend this book. Figure that’s why the title is Self Help.
The stories are delightfully discursive, more like exposing character than telling a story. Perhaps the most successful is the first in the collection, “How to Be An Other Woman.” Imagine that the story is really Ms. Moore in the 80’s. You figure this makes sense because she was a secretary in NY before going on to grad school, and so was the main character. Realize that you are projecting and dismiss the thought. The character is young, vulnerable, insecure. She longs for love, knowing that she won’t get it from the Robert Culp look-alike. Remember that in the early 80’s, when this was written, Robert Culp was in his early fifties. Your in your fifties now.
Other stories written in the imperative are ”How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes),” ”The Kid’s Guide to Divorce,” ”How to Become a Writer” and ”How.” Enjoy them all immensely. Read the other stories, not written in the imperative, “What Is Seized,” “Go Like This”, “Amal and the Night Visitors,” and “To Fill.” Enjoy all of them except “To Fill.” Conclude that it is too long and self indulgent, in need of an editor or some self-restraint. Break it into pieces. Read it over a couple of sessions. Enjoy each session for what it is. Don’t mind the indulgence much, because the rest of it is so engaging.
Realize that the writing style was experimental and leading edge back in the 80’s, and that was 30 years ago. Lament the fact that you’re only just reading it now, but enjoy it immensely anyway. Recommend it.