So I assigned a short story for my graduate workshop to read, by a writer I won't name but whose fiction, which I found unappealing before, I thought deserved a second chance. I read the story and found my original opinion confirmed: Bad Barthleme.
Donald Barthleme was a wonderful fiction writer, essayist, and critic active in the 1970's and 1980's; he followed in the footsteps of the Oulipians as an "experimental" writer who was as funny and engaging as he was innovative. His selected-story collections 60 Stories and 40 Stories are among my favorite books by any 20th Century American writers. Barthleme died young but left behind several careers' worth of great writing, and he was, and is, a major influence on my own work.
I showed up for class and asked the students--what did you think? One of them, Alexi Zentner, immediately said "Bad Barthleme."
In this case, most of the class agreed, and that got me thinking it was time to go read some good Barthleme. My students informed me that a great deal of Barthleme was now available online--a blogger named Jessamyn Charity West got permission from Barthleme's estate (specifically his brother, the writer Frederick Barthelme) to post a bunch of stories, and they're free for the reading now.
It's hard to pick favorites, but I can't resist linking to the hilarious Some Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby--I'm going to assign it to my undergraduates, most of whom haven't yet had their first contact with this endlessly rewarding writer. Huge thanks to Jessamyn and Frederick Barthleme for making this work available for free--I can't believe it took me this long to find out about it.