02 November 2018

4 Fall Collections: Truth and Fiction in Short

I can already hear you clicking on by, saying, "But I don't like short stories." I used to think the same thing until I started approaching collections in a new (for me) way. I no longer sit down with a book of short stories or a collection of short biographies with the intention of reading it cover to cover over the course of a few days.

Instead I read my collections one story or essay or article at a time, taking time to let the words or message or facts sink in. When I read a collection straight through, I remained at a distance from the author's work, jumping from one group of characters to the next, never developing a connection. Now I find myself savoring the stories, filling in the gaps, appreciating the depth that the short form offers.

Here are four collections on my night stand right now. I'm looking forward to taking my time, reading a piece at a time, before bed, at lunch, or whenever I have just the right amount of free time.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Review of Jenni Murray's A History of the World in 21 WomenJenni Murray's A History of the World in 21 Women (Oneworld, October 9) sets out to prove Thomas Carlyle wrong: The history of the world is only half told by the biographies of great men. The rest of it is revealed by the great women who ruled kingdoms, made scientific discoveries, wrote beautiful stories, headed global businesses, and otherwise changed people's lives. The short biographies in this collection start with ancient Egypt, take us through the middle ages, detour to China, head back to the New World, and end in Australia. Some of the women are household names, like Catherine the Great, and others are less well known, like Wangari Maathai. I'm looking forward to meeting each one, and because I love biography, I plan to seek out the longer works in Murray's suggested reading lists for the women I want to know better. For more information about  about Jenni Murray, check out her profile on the BBC Radio 4 The Woman's Hour website.

Review of Titan's of History by Simon Sebag MontefioreTitan's of History by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Vintage, October 16) takes a slightly different tack, by widening the net to include men and individuals who are not on our most-admired lists, like Caligula, Jack the Ripper, and Hilter. Every person profiled, however, made an impact on the world, whether through politics, murder, music, or philosophy. The 170 short biographies are male heavy, but not male exclusive and the mix is fascinating. Again starting in ancient Egypt, this collection ends in China with an unnamed but famous titan of history: the brave man who stopped the tanks in Tienanmen Square, showing the world that one person can indeed make a difference. Sharpen your trivia skills, learn something about world history, and meet fascinating people who changed the course of history through their acts, discoveries, or art.

Tell Me a Story

Review of Shelf Life of Happiness by Virginia PyeThe stories in Virginia Pye's Shelf Life of Happiness (Press 53, October 23) focus on family and making connections and gaining self-awareness. A teenager tries to bridge the generation gap with his father, and a painter finally achieves recognition only to find himself in a dangerous situation. We meet a librarian who in the process of mourning finds a wider world, and in another story about loss, a husband and wife find their own styles of comforting their child. Other stories include LBGTQ+ themes. If you need more encouragement, Pye has won several awards for her fiction and much praise from writers as diverse as Gish Jen and Annie Dillard.

Review of Nocola Barker's The Three Button Trick and Other StoriesNocola Barker's The Three Button Trick and Other Stories (Ecco, November 13) gathers 19 stories that embrace the strange and stretch reality to get at the truth of the human condition. For example, in one story a pregnant woman is scolded by her fetus when she indulges in a bit of shoplifting; in another a man purposely buttons his shirts wrong in hope of snagging a sympathetic girlfriend--what happens if it works? Other stories focus on relationships: new and broken. The stories were previously published in the UK and by a small press, but thanks to Ecco, Barker's work can reach a wider audience. In an older Kirkus review, we're told that the quirky nature of these stories might toe the line of too weird for some readers. I, however, trust Ecco and am willing to give them a go.


rhapsodyinbooks 11/2/18, 7:54 AM  

I should try the same approach to get to know short stories, as I tend to reject the very idea of them (for reasons I can't even identify!)

bermudaonion 11/2/18, 10:45 AM  

That's how I read short stories so I usually enjoy them. I'm not sure why I don't read them more.

Virginia Pye 11/2/18, 11:42 AM  

Thanks so much for including my collection in your round up! What a great list of books. I appreciate how you summarized mine. Thanks again, and happy reading!

sherry fundin 11/2/18, 1:10 PM  

I never used to read short stories, but since blogging, I have found they have a place on my reading shelf.
sherry @ fundinmental

Vicki 11/2/18, 2:57 PM  

Most of the time I read short stories the same way, but sometimes I read them straight through. Depends on the book and theme.

Daryl 11/5/18, 9:16 AM  

sorry .. to me a short story is like having just one cookie ... cant do it

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