The KGB Bar Reading Series, originally conceived as a small literary series in a funky bar in New York City's East Village, has grown into a showcase for daring, lively writing that draws a response from listeners -- and readers -- and is quickly earning national recognition. Finally, fiction and nonfiction selections from the series are gathered together in this unique anthology.
This edgy, energetic collection represents more than twenty of today's best young writers. Kathryn Harrison, Rick Moody, Jennifer Egan, Michael Cunningham, Elizabeth Gilbert, Luc Sante, and others appear here with up-and-coming new voices. While some of these pieces have been published in magazines such as The New Yorker, GQ, Harper's, and Story, many were read first at KGB, and others are in print here for the first time.
This writing is often unpredictable, taking readers by surprise with the same anything-might-happen feel of the bar itself. (After all, the tenement that houses KGB once served as U.S. headquarters to the Ukrainian Communist Party.) This wholly original collection will appeal to readers eager to discover new favorites.
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At first glimpse, the only thing that the authors represented in The KGB Bar Reader share is that they have all appeared at this East Village bastion of cooler-than-cool since its reading series began in late 1994. Below the surface, however, lurks a common theme, or so posits its organizer, Ken Foster: "There may be just one universal story: Someone loses something." And in this 28-piece collection, memory, innocence, love, and life all prove themselves slippery entities. Occasionally something equally valuable is found in the wake of such loss, and sometimes not--which is pretty much par for the course in this pu-pu platter of entries.
On the visceral side, Elissa Schappell, A.M. Homes, and Diane Lefer make unapologetic stabs for a gut reaction with their contributions on abortion, incest, and self-mutilation. Of course, if you're not in the mood for societal horror, then settle back with Kathryn Harrison's nine-page lesson in tick bursting. Yes, you read correctly: tick bursting. A few authors do weigh in with more nuanced gems. Rick Moody's "Demonology" is a haunting meditation on photography as an alternative to memory's imperfect hold on the past. And Meghan Daum's "Variations on Grief," the tale of a woman's maddeningly calm reaction to a close friend's death, is a compelling emotional shell game.
The KGB Bar Reader ends with an interesting compromise between these two tactics. Luc Sante's "His Confession"--a close cousin to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried--is a catalog of ways to die in contemporary society. The only thing more horrifying (and yet stunning) than the subject matter is the pokerfaced manner in which the tale is presented.
In the end, the primary reason for this collection's success is also the source of its greatest weakness. Given the varieties of approach and execution, you're sure to be less than enamored with a good chunk of it, and yet at the same time you're likely to find at least one piece that absolutely detonates in your consciousness. --Bob MichaelsAbout the Author:
Ken Foster has organized the KGB Bar Reading Series since its inception in 1994. He received an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, where he was fiction editor ofColumbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. He lives in New York City and is at work on a novel.
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