Apr 06

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. But one of the things I’m most looking forward to is discussing stories with you, here on the blog. Each month, I will choose one story to feature, and I hope that through the comments on the blog, we can explore these stories together. In addition, there is sure to be conversation about the story at the Books on the Nightstand Goodreads group, so come join us over there, too.

Elizabeth reads her short story

Elizabeth reads her short story

Last weekend I attended my very first Short Story Salon. It won’t be my last, even if I have to host one myself. A friend invited several of us over to her cozy apartment; the only requirement was that we each bring a short story to read aloud. Some of us knew each other slightly, others not at all, but it was one of the most enjoyable literary evenings I’ve ever had. First, we fortified ourselves with wine, cheese, and a bit of bourbon. Then we went around the room and read our stories out loud. Some stories engendered a lot of discussion after the reading, others not so much, but I think we all appreciated each and every story.

Vanessa started the evening with “Billenium” from The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard.  I’d never read Ballard before but I’ll be picking up this collection, as Ballard’s futuristic story has stuck with me since the reading. It’s one of those stories that is set in a future that contains a recognizable truth: if the population continues to grow at its current rate, there will not be enough resources, including living space. And yet at its heart, “Billenium” is a human story, and one in which most of will recongize ourselves and those we know.

Callie offered “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds” by Neil Gaiman, an old-fashioned detective story featuring nursery rhyme characters that were familiar to us all. It’s available to read for free from Gaiman’s website, and also in his collection Angels and Visitations.

Noah read Ron Carlson’s “The Governor’s Ball,” from A Kind of Flying. I loved Carlson’s novel Five Skies, and was happy to discover this story collection. This tale of a man who tries to retrieve an old mattress that has fallen off his truck contains a scene that I won’t quickly forget, and one that makes me smile even now as I think of it. Also, for those of you are interested in dissecting short stories, either for pleasure or because you are a writer, Carlson has written a book called Ron Carlson Writes a Story, in which he invites the reader to look in depth at how he wrote “The Governor’s Ball.” It’s “the story of the story,” and I can’t wait to read it.

Elizabeth made us all sit up when she announced her short story: Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss. It was fascinating to think of this story in a new way (as a short story rather than as a children’s picture book) while we listened and watched Elizabeth read it aloud. She’s right, this is a short story, and it works for adults as much as for children.

Loretta gave us another Neil Gaiman story: “A Study in Emerald,” which is a play on the Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet.” Read the .pdf from Gaiman’s website.

I chose Donald Barthelme’s “The School.” It’s available to read on the NPR website and also in his collection Sixty Stories. I loved this story about a class that has been touched by death in many ways, but was also surprised by how differently it came across when I read it aloud. When I read it to myself, it’s a somewhat serious story with humorous moments that brought a bemused smile from time to time. When I read it aloud, it became laugh-out-loud funny in parts (at least that’s how this audience reacted) and then took a sharp turn toward the dark that made it difficult for me to read out loud because I was still laughing. It’s hard to explain, but so very interesting to think about.

If you are interested in short stories and literary gatherings, I highly recommend a Short Story Salon. Let me know if you try it.

I did my “regular” reading this week, too, but my recaps will be short and to the point since you’re probably all off planning your Short Story Salon…

“The Fall” by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya from There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Hanged Himself. This collection is so good.

“The Madman” by Chinua Achebe from Girls at War and Other Stories. Achebe died this week, and I had never read any of his short stories. This was first published in 1971.

“Night Women” by Edwidge Danticat from The Art of the Story, edited by Daniel Halpern. I recently finished Danticat’s fortchoming novel Claire of the Sea Light, and wanted to read more. My favorite line from this story reflects what I love about the new novel: “There is a place in Ville Rose where ghost women ride the crests of waves while brushing the stars out of their hair.”

The Cavemen in the Hedges” by Stacey Richter, in Zoetrope. When choosing my story for the Salon, I asked twitter to suggest good candidates for reading aloud. Pete from the fabulous Green Apple Books in San Francisco (go visit!) suggested this story. It turned out to be a bit long to read aloud, but it’s a fabulous story and I want to read more by Stacey Richter.

“The Lady Luck” and “Veneer” by Steve Yarbrough, from the collection Veneer. Steve Yarbrough is one of our authors at Booktopia Vermont next weekend, and I’ll be moderating a session called “Short Story vs. Novel.” I read these two stories in preparation, and can’t wait to talk to Steve about the similarities and differences in the two forms.

And hey … if you host a Short Story Salon in the Boston/Providence area, invite me, OK?


  • Robin

    Wow! You have been busy. A Short Story Salon sounds fabulous. I am going to try it after Booktopia Vermont. Seems like a great way to get people interested in short stories.

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