What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake...
I read an article from The Guardian UK about 2009 being the year of the short story... It made me think if I ever really indulged in reading short stories, and my answer to myself was no. I have enjoyed reading the occasional short story in The New Yorker and even the Strand Magazine, but really my short story collection in books was lacking. After seeing Brokeback Mountain I wanted to read the short story it was born from, and my dear brother send me a copy of Annie Proulx's Close Range: Wyoming Stories, which was a wonderful book to sit down and relax with, and the writing was beautiful. This year I did buy a copy of Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, a story collection set in war torn Africa that was also full of powerful stories and was wonderfully written. AND, I received and read a wonderful collection of short fiction from Midge Raymond called Forgetting English (I'll be reviewing that soon)... So, I have decided to make a effort to read more short stories.
Of course reading short stories is a different reading experience. Each story is like a novel, that deserves to be digested properly, and thus slowing down a bit and taking a breather between stories in a collection seems only fair. And if you're on a tight budget with time, a short story can satisfy your reading needs without a longer obligation. Other questions about a short story collection, do you feel obligated to read the whole book of short stories all at once or are short stories meant to be enjoyed in between larger novels? Or just randomly enjoyed at will? I think am going to want to finish the whole book of short stories before moving on to another book... and I am going to force myself to close the book after each story to enjoy the story that usually lingers afterward (I started Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender and after enjoying the first story went right into the second and felt like I was rushing even though it was just enthusiasm for the writing that was propelling me forward). Short stories also let you sample a writer (if they've written any) before investing in a full blown novel. Kind of reading the first chapter, but you get a wrap up at the end.... So here are some Short Story Collections I've heard about with Buzz...
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro... "In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the “deep-holes” in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky—a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician—on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician. With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives." *This Book is Kindle Ready!
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie... Adichie has been amazing the literary world with her writing since her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was called “one of the best novels to come out of Africa in years”, “prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes”. In The Thing Around Your Neck, "Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and theUnited States. In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them. Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. *This Book is Kindle Ready!
Walk the Blue Fields: Stories by Claire Keegan... "An unforgettable array of quietly wrenching stories about despair and desire in the timeless world of modern-day Ireland. In the never-before-published story “The Long and Painful Death,” a writer awarded a stay to work in Heinrich Böll’s old cottage has her peace interrupted by an unwelcome intruder, whose ulterior motives only emerge as the night progresses. In the title story, a priest waits at the altar to perform a marriage and, during the ceremony and the festivities that follow, battles his memories of a love affair with the bride that led him to question all to which he has dedicated his life; later that night, he finds an unlikelyanswer in the magical healing powers of a seer. A masterful portrait of a country wrestling with its past and of individuals eking out their futures."
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver... Raymond Carver is touted an a master of the short story. Numerous writers say how influential his writing was to them. He is said to be an economical writer, getting to the point in few words, but the words he choses are perfect. "This powerful collection of stories, set in the mid-west among the lonely men and women who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time. With its spare, colloquial narration and razor-sharp sense of how people really communicate, the collection was to become one of the most influential literary works of the 1980's. "
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor... Flannery O'Connor With an keen eye for the dark side of human nature, an amazing ear for dialogue, and a necessary sense of irony, Flannery O'Conner exposes the underside of life in the rural south of the United States. One of the powers in her writing lies in her ability to make the vulnerability of one into that of many; another is her mastery of shifting "control" from character to character, making the outcome uncertain. Sexual and racial attitudes, poverty and riches, adolescence, old age, and being thirty-four which "wasn't any age at all" are only some of the issues touched on in this collection. When Ruby has to walk up the "steeple steps...[that]...reared up" as she climbed to her fourth floor apartment, we feel her pain as she "gripped the banister rail fiercely and heaved herself up another step..." Flannery O'Conner, a 1972 National Book Award winner, reminds us that none of the roles in our lives is stagnant and that wearing blinders takes away more than just a view. Through her stories we see that what we blind ourselves to is bound to appear again and again.
A few other books to consider are Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender. The L.A. Times compares her writing to "Hemingway on an acid trip", as her stories border on fantasy, are bizarre (in a good way), and her writing is good. Annie Proulx's Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Annie just writes beautifully! Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnya. Vapnya's collection of 6 short stories serves up insights into the intimate relationship of food and love among recent Russian immigrants.
What do you think about short story collections? Yes or No? Not enough or special occasion? And do you have any recommendations?! Share some of the collections you've read! And BTW, some people consider Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout a collections of stories (some consider it a novel), what do you think?
**Short Stories Update! Thanks to Brittanie from A Book Lover I found out about The Short Story Reading Challenge hosted by Katie S. To participate you can read as little as 10 different short stories from 10 different authors or commit to read 5 to 10 short story collections over the course of 2010. Follow the link above to read how to sign up (I just did!), and even if you're not going to sign up, there are lists of short story collections shared by the participants so you can learn about more short stories you should add to your reading!
Happy reading.... Suzanne