Jun 22

Two weeks’ worth of reading in one post! My travel schedule has quieted now, so I hope to go back to posting my reading roundups weekly. I’ve also got a few other things cooking in relation to Project Short Story.

We’re nearing the halfway point of the year, and so I thought it was time for something fun. What about a giveaway?

May We Shed These Human BodiesOne of my favorite collections is Amber Sparks’ May We Shed These Human Bodies. Most of the stories are very short. I think they are best digested one at a time, with space between to ponder and remember the images that Sparks creates so vividly. Our friends at Curbstone Splendor very kindly sent me a copy to review, but I had already purchased my own copy. So I’m going to send the extra to one of you. To enter, just click the link below and leave your name and email. If you would like to tell me your favorite short story, there’s a place for that, and I’ll put together a list of everybody’s responses and share it here.  Deadline is midnight (PST) Sunday June 31st. I’ll do a random number drawing on Monday, July 1st.

Click here to enter the giveaway for May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks


And now the recap of my two weeks of reading:

Two stories for my writing class (sadly coming to an end).

The Chinese Lesson” by AM Homes, (available free online from Granta for a limited time),  from Things You Should Know. Homes was named the winner of The Women’s Prize 2013 (formerly The Orange Prize). She said that the characters in this story are a “character precursor” to Harry and Claire in her novel May We Be Forgiven. I haven’t read the novel, so I thought I’d introduce myself to Homes’ work through this story.

Last Night” by James Salter. A re-read, in anticipation of our group discussion of the short story at Booktopia Washington. It was a fabulous discussion. If you want to try a short story conversation with your book group or other group of friends, I recommend this story; there is much to discuss, and it seemed to appeal to people in both the pro- and con- sides of the short story divide. This is the Books on the Nightstand June short story read-along, so if you haven’t left your comments yet on that thread, please do!

Cadiz, Missouri” by Robert Long Foreman. Foreman is an acquaintance of mine through Twitter, recently posted that this story (originally published in AGNI 75) won a Pushcart Prize. It will be reprinted in the 2014 Pushcart anthology (which will be published in November 2014), but I couldn’t wait. When Robert offered to send it to me to read, I was excited. And it was eerily timely. Though I’m sure the story was written long before the tornadoes that recently wiped out Moore, Oklahoma, that disaster was fresh in my mind as I read it. In the story, the narrator, who recently moved to Missouri, tells of what happened when a tornado levels a neighboring town.

Rorschach” by Lex Williford, in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. I’ve been playing with flash fiction, both reading and writing, and this book is an interesting survey of the form.  “Rorschach” is a story included in Williford’s essay, “Forty Stories in the Desert.” He created an inkblot and listed each image that he saw within that inkblot. He then worked each of those images into a single story. I find the exercise intriguing, as it positions the writing of flash fiction as a kind of parlor game. Be warned if I invite you to my house and instruct you to bring a notebook and pen.

Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1927 in the collection Men Without Women. Read for a class that focused on the single-scene story. OK, confession. I don’t like this story. I realized what it was about on the second read, but if it weren’t for class, I would have stopped reading on the first page. I know it’s Hemingway, and it’s a much-lauded and anthologized story, but this is the type of story that made me think that I didn’t like the form.

The School,” by Donald Barthelme. A re-read for class, and I still love it. In fact, I think it gets better with every re-read.

Olympus Hills,” by Ron Carlson. I need to read more Carlson. I have only read a few of his stories and the novel Five Skies, but I really like everything I’ve read. In fact, I’m putting his collection, A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories, on my to-buy list for my next visit to the bookstore.

Dog Heaven” by Stephanie Vaughn (read by Tobias Wolff on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast) – A re-listen, read for class. Discussion on this story in our class was mixed — some liked it, others didn’t. I’m not quite sure how I feel. It felt a little long to me, though perhaps that was my mood.  It’s a story that I could see also working as a novel, and makes me wonder how (if) the author made the choice to write it as a story.

The Evil B.B. Chow” by Steve Almond, from The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories. You may know Steve Almond from his nonfiction book Candy Freak, but he’s also an instructor at Grub Street, the writing center in Boston where I’ve been taking classes. I was curious about his short fiction, so decided to start at the beginning of this collection. I confess that the title got me. I’m a sucker for a good short story title.

And finally, three stories from May We Shed These Human Bodies: (Don’t forget to enter the contest!)

  • The Monstrous Sadness of Mythical Creatures”  – what it may have looked like when Paul Bunyan grew old. Paul Bunyan was a looming figure in my childhood and so I loved this story.
  • The World After This One – The story of Edith and Ellie, two sisters who live with their preacher father. This story is very visual, with imagery so vivid that I won’t soon forget it.
  • The Poet in Convalescence” – This may be my favorite story from this collection, at least so far (I’ve read about 1/3). Sparks’ word play, and the entire premise of the story, appeals to me on so many levels. And yet the story is more than a gimmick — it’s a fully complete and emotional story.  If you love words, you must read this. If you love stories, you must read this.
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