Shorts

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Though it may seem like I read a lot these days, I really don’t. Most nights I am so tired I either go to sleep right after putting the kids to bed, flip thru a magazine, or a zone out while Housewives whine in the background. I read in spurts. I’ll start something during a nap on a Saturday and won’t put it down until I’m finished. You may wonder how I do this, but it’s the same premise as when you’ve found yourself addicted to Homeland or Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black (my most recent obsession) and you just find ways to watch or read. You also start to realize that if you’re reading, sometimes “They” will try to mimic you and find their own books to “read.” With all that said, I know I’m a fast reader and that I’m able to read thru anything – long car rides, TV in the background, children playing/crying, and I know that I’m somewhat in the minority for this. As I’ve been hearing from a lot of my readers, you are enjoying the recommendations for you, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite short story collections. I’ve read that Alice Munro became a short story writer because that is the length that worked best for her while raising small children and it stuck. Of course it also turned out that she had a knack – a very strong knack – for writing beautifully complete short stories. But as for us, it is hard to find the time to read a whole novel at this point in our lives; short stories offer the perfect dose of literature.

Disclaimer first: to those very seasoned readers out there, this list will be a bit behind. I am still not at the level of up-to-date reading that I was pre-kids. So there may be some good recommendations for you to revisit, but don’t expect me to discover the next great writer (at this point at least).

So I’m going to assume that you already know about a lot of the classics: that you’ve read or been exposed to the three Cs at some point: Chekhov, Cheever, and Carver. And if you haven’t, well there’s a start for you. And let’s also assume since that you’ve encountered the A ladies at some point: Alice Munro and Ann Beattie. If not, again – there’s your start. Go to the library, choose of these books off the shelves and pick a random story. Don’t read in any particular order. Or better yet, if you subscribe to The New Yorker, check out their archives. All the best writers have been published there at some point.

As with most English majors who go on to work in publishing and teaching, and dabble in nonprofit, editing, and all kinds of writing, one of my favorite collections of short stories is Dubliners by James Joyce and yes, specifically the last story: “The Dead.” Again, I know to many of you this is not news, but I realize there are equally as many of you who have probably never read this story, and now that you’re an adult and you have a great attention span and some life experience, this collection of stories (particularly the last one) will blow you away. You’ll want to read it over and over again because of lines like this: “he could hear the skirts sweeping against the drawing room door.”

If you’re enjoying revisiting some of the classics, I’d also recommend Edith Wharton’s Roman Fever And Other Stories – the title story is unforgettable, and Katherine Mansfield’s stories, stories by Eudora Welty and The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor.

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So let’s also assume that you may be interested in something different, not necessarily something new. Let me start by recommending The Collected Stories of Truman Capote. If you love Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood (so vastly different but equally impressive), I think you’d enjoy his collection of stories and his novella Summer’s Crossing. If you like Alice Munro and Ann Beattie, you might like the lesser known Antonya Nelson. Some Fun and Female Trouble both have some excellent stories. And if you also love to skip ahead to the fiction when your New Yorker arrives, I think it’s worth buying a collection of Tessa Hadley’s stories. I bought Sunstroke a few years ago and was not disappointed at all.

And for those of you (like me too) who like their stories a little weird, stories that are told from a unique perspective, that travel down an unexpected road, that make your reconsider what makes a story, who are blown away by Davide Foster Wallace-esque writing, there are a slew of such writers whose names you’ll never see on the Bestseller’s list (in fact, most best writing does not hit the bestseller list since it doesn’t appeal to the masses). Without overgeneralizing too much, they’d all probably be called postmodern. Anyway, here are three to check out: Donald Barthelme, Dan Chaon‘s  Among the Missing, and Red Plaid Shirt by Diane Schoemperlen.

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Okay, best for last: last week I wrote about Aimee Bender and her mind-blowing stories, but by far my favorite short story writer (at this time) and my favorite Amy, is Amy Hempel. I could write a whole post (or paper) about why, but I know I’m the only one who’d want to read something like that so I’ll try to keep it short. Though she is best known for her profound story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” which is a longer story – I prefer her short shorts (I am planning on writing a post about short shorts soon). They’re two to five pages long, but so packed with strong imagery and insight that need not be any longer. Here’s the last line of one of my favorites, “Daylight Come:”  “I am looking down, where the lost wedding rings are invisible, now the color of the sand or of the sea or of the flesh.” It actually reminds me of some of Cheever’s last lines. So it you want to challenge yourself, to open your mind, find some stories by Amy Hempel. Whenever I get annoyed with myself for lugging all of my books with me each time we move, I remember that I often pull this one down to browse thru it, to reread a certain page or story. It has to always come with me.

Final thought: I didn’t intend to do this, but as I just went back over to bold all of the authors’ names, and it occurred to me that most of the writers I recommend are women. Hey, and it’s not March – Women’s History Month. Let’s celebrate writing by women all year long…

 

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