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Writer Thomas Pierce Suggests A Book To Read During The Pandemic

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

What are you reading during this pandemic? We've been asking that question to a range of writers. Fiction author Thomas Pierce picked up a book he hasn't read in over 15 years - "The Fairy Tales Of Hermann Hesse."

THOMAS PIERCE: I'm tempted to call them, like, anti-fairy tales unless there are like lots of fragments and allegories, and they flow like dreams. But there's this one that I always remember, and it's why I opened the book again for the first time in a long time is this story called Faldum. And it's about this city that's called Faldum, and we're told it's a very normal little city, sort of an idealized city - you know, all very quaint. And there's this fair happening. And on the day of the fair, this stranger comes to town. And he's this wanderer and very mysterious, and he goes to the fair and begins to grant wishes.

And there are these two guys - the last people in the town to make their wishes. They've been up in this attic all day playing and listening to violin. And they come down to get their wishes, and the violinist wishes he could play so beautifully that no one would ever disturb him again. And he gets his wish. And he plays, and he's just lifted up into the air and he disappears into the heavens and he's never heard from again. And the other man, who's really upset that he's lost this violinist - he can't listen to him anymore - and so his wish is that he could be a mountain.

The story shifts. And the man gets his wish, and he becomes this mountain. And time just lunges forward in this really interesting way. Generations just come and go in this city, and the mountain's there throughout it all. And in a certain way, I was very - I find it to be very comforting. It's about cycles of time and the seasons and the ebbs and flows and the fact that we all exist within these cycles. And I think there's just - something really hangs with me about that story.

CHANG: Many of Pierce's stories also have a fantastical or science fiction element. But living under the cloud of the coronavirus has forced him to rethink his own writing.

PIERCE: You write a version of our reality or the future that you hope doesn't come to pass, and you hope the story has some power in warding that future off somehow. And you know, when reality mirrors your own work, it makes me, if anything, want to write a story that (laughter) imagines the world in a - I don't know - that's maybe - perhaps more optimistic. If I have any power to, like, change reality, you know, as a writer, then, like, Lord, I should be writing more optimistic and hopeful fiction.

CHANG: That's Thomas Pierce reflecting on reading and writing. His books include the short story collection "The Hall Of Small Mammals" (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.