Tag Archives: short stories

Book Roundup #5

1 Feb

I had a week of vacation time about to expire, so I used it up for a week of traveling, writing, and of course, tons of reading. One of my favorite things about going on vacation is having the excuse to sit and read for hours. Whether it be on a plane, in an airport, at a restaurant, on an island sanctuary, I look forward to how much reading I can get done on extended days off.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL by JOHN BEHRENDT

When I decided to take a vacation to Savannah, pretty much everyone I told asked me if I had read this book/seen this movie. I had heard marvelous things about it. With my plane tickets bought, I had to read it. It didn’t disappoint. Another book that is proof that nonfiction is often stranger and more fascinating that fiction. This book is a classic that describes one New York journalist’s life in Savannah society. Odd characters, muddled history, transvestites, voodoo priestesses, and a murder that shook the upper society of Savannah. It absolutely lived up to the hype.

THE PUSHCART PRIZE XXXVI

This is one of the series I had mentioned in my post about short stories. What I like about pushcart is that unlike other series, Pushcart doesn’t limit the writing form. They have a balance of nonfiction essays, fiction, and poetry. It’s nice to have a poetry palate cleanser after reading something longer and weightier. My favorite essay in this collection was “The MFA/Creative Writing System is a Closed, Undemocratic, Medieval Guild System That Represses Good Writing” by Anis Shivani. It put into words exactly why I’ve been so skeptical about applying to an MFA program and confirmed my decision not to. This entire collection, though, was dense, and I don’t have the space here to fully describe all the pieces I loved.

SAVANNAH FOLKLORE by Nicole Carlson Easley

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According to legend, this statue of Little Gracie can be heard crying at night.

While I was in Savannah (more detailed post to come), I became interested in the ghost stories. So upon my wandering one day, I found an adorable book store E. Shaver, Bookseller and spent an hour or so wandering the aisles and petting their cats that live in the stacks. I wanted to know more about the local history, but there wasn’t much to choose from, besides the big display of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I settled with this short, glossy book that gave a quick overview of a lot of the history and legends of Savannah. Not great writing, and I read it in an afternoon while relaxing in a square. I hated revealing myself as a tourist to the cute ladies that managed the cash register at the book store, but I had to know more about the weird things I had seen and heard.

THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr

Dr. G and I always discuss what books we are reading, and he gave me this murder-mystery paperback to read on my vacation. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill serial killer stuff. The Alienist refers to one of the main characters who is a psychologist. The book is set in the late 1800’s when psychology was a new and misunderstood science. It had a fun aspect of historical fiction to it, talking about the grimy Lower East Side of New York, the hatred many people felt toward immigrants (not much has changed). Teddy Roosevelt is a main character since he was police commissioner during that time. The group of sleuths try to find a serial killer by examining his motives, his mind, what his upbringing was most likely like. It was a fun vacation book to read.

JOHNS, MARKS, TRICKS, AND CHICKENHAWKS: PROFESSIONALS AND THEIR CLIENTS WRITING ABOUT EACH OTHER

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A book of essays written by a variety of people who work in the sex industry and who are patrons of the sex industry. I find this subject interesting, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The essays vary in what they cover, and some are a lot more graphic than others. Some people are into some weird things. And while I believe that the whole beauty and point of reading is to get a glimpse into other worlds, there are some worlds that I’d rather leave alone, some images I’d rather not have in my head. I made it about 60% through this book before I had to put it away. Just not my thing.

 

Reading Short Stories

13 Dec

This has been my autumn of short story collections. Not for any particular reason other than I had a number of unread ones sitting on my shelf, and I wanted to clear them out. I know a lot of people who buy books at a much greater rate than they read them, and I too used to be one of those people. But I find it satisfying to go through these books and winnow down my collection. I have limited space, and I try to only hold onto the books that mean the world to me. The rest I give away to friends or donate. I do, however, one day want to own a house where all the walls are made of books shelves, but even in that scenario, I want them to be the great books, the ones I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to someone. That requires making sure that the books I own have been read and to commit to not buying new ones until the unread ones have been dealt with accordingly.

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Remember when the Beast gave Beauty this library, and it was the most romantic thing ever, and it set your standards of romance at an unreasonable height when you were still only 8-years-old?

I wholeheartedly believe in the short story as a medium, although it is still one of the most looked over. When I tell people that I’m reading a short story collection, they tend to dismiss the genre either because they think it’s pointless to read something so brief or they’ve never even tried reading short stories, because it holds no interest for them. What draws me to it is the intensity of the story and the language. Short stories, by their nature, have a limited amount of space in which to make the reader feel, grow attached to the characters, and watch them change. Time cannot be wasted in a short story. Novels can be short, long, or painfully long. They can go on wild tangents that have almost nothing to do with the plot and more to do with the author’s political views. I’m looking at you, all 19th century Russian writers. ESPECIALLY YOU, TOLSTOY.

We live in a fast-paced, ADHD society, and short stories are a great option. A brilliant tale with intense images that can be read in 15-20 minutes? It’s the Twitter of Literature. It’s also a great way to get a sampler of the literary scene at the moment. Most mainstream novelists also write short stories and publish them on the side, sometimes expanding them into full-length novels. I do most of my reading on the subway, and I love that I can read about a story per journey. So time-efficient!

 

BEST AMERICAN

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I’m a fan of all the “Best American” collections. They offer about any genre and do a great job of pulling together a snapshot of the best of what has been published in the previous year. Best American Poetry. Best American Sports Writing. Best American Essays. Best American Mystery Writing. I like it, because it is conscious of literary trends that come and go and offers a good glimpse at what is being put out there.

O. HENRY PRIZE

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My aunt gave me a couple of these collections years ago for the bus ride back to New York, but I only just got around to reading them. I don’t know why I stayed away so long, honestly. The stories were excellent and tend to come with the most well known authors on the literary scene. Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, George Saunders. I found one or two stories by new writers, but they tend to collect stories from authors at the height of their powers.

PUSHCART PRIZE

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The Pushcart Prize is a collection of short story, poetry, and essay that have been published by a small press. One of my first jobs was at a small press in Seattle. Three people in an office space, talking about poetry and living on a tight budget. The collection is known for being ahead of the curve as far as trends and publishers go. They pull together from more well-known literary magazines/publishers like McSweeney’s and Tin House and smaller ones that I would probably not come into contact with other wise, like the Alaska Quarterly or the New Ohio Review.

AUTHOR COLLECTION

bark

Of course, authors also have their own collections which are fantastic and some of my favorite books. I recently read Lorrie Moore’s “Bark.” Her writing is so cutting and something I aspire to. They’re easy books to buy with confidence, too. Just invest the ten minutes or so at the bookstore to read one of the stories, if you like it, chances are you’ll like the rest too.