Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Currently Reading: Short Stories

It’s a little embarrassing that I’m told to write short stories in almost all of my fiction writing classes, yet I rarely read short stories that aren’t homework assignments.  With this in mind, I decided to pick up a few collections by authors I admired.  What surprised me most (but probably shouldn’t have surprised me at all) about reading these collections was how many trends and reoccurring themes I found in each author’s work.  Even though I might have at first thought, “Really?  You’re using that same trick again?” as I was reading, I ended up really appreciating how much I was able to learn about each writer’s distinct voice.  Anyway, I decided to share what I loved about each of these collections below.

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore – Lorrie Moore is able to get her readers deep inside the heads of her characters, oftentimes by writing in the second person, so that by the time I finish one of her stories and take a step back I’m surprised to realize that I would probably hate these characters in real life.  She writes about everyday people and events, but with enough details that their worlds always feel colorful and tragically deep.  I loved her novel Anagrams as well and will definitely try to read more of her work.  (I also really want to mention that there’s an episode of Gossip Girl where Blair tries to get Lorrie Moore invited to a party to impress the editor of a magazine, and as I was watching it I freaked out thinking Lorrie Moore might cameo.  She didn’t.)

Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel – I first heard about this book from my high school writing teacher who liked to talk about how much fun this book was to read in public due to its self-help-style cover, making it ironic that I read it back-to-back with Lorrie Moore’s collection.  Even though I avoided the comments of, “there, there, don’t jump,” he claimed strangers would make on the train, I loved reading the collection that included one of my all-time favorite short stories, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.”  Even though I didn’t totally understand every story in this book, many of the stories contained such beautiful, thought-provoking passages that I often found myself going back a few pages just to re-read them.  There aren’t many characters in her stories, and hardly any dialogue, and I was immediately impressed that any author could pull off this much self-reflection without it feeling at all amateur.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell – Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia! was one of those books I initially had mixed feelings toward, but haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I read it over a year ago, so when a friend told me that the novel was actually inspired by the short story, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” that starts off this collection, I knew I had to read it.  She pulls off magical realism perfectly, writing stories that remain in the realm of reality but always feel just a little off.  Most of her stories contain adolescent main characters, but wouldn’t at all fall under the genre of YA, allowing adult readers the chance to reflect on the mysterious, fantastical, often twisted ways young people see the world.  Considering how much success Russell has already had at only 31 years old, I’m looking forward to the amazing work this writer is bound to produce in the future.

I think I’ll take a break from short story collections for a while, but I already know Tenth of December by George Saunders is next on my list.  For now, these collections have given me plenty of inspiration to continue working on some short stories of my own. 

Read on,

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