Short Story Series: Part One

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath
‘This collection of short stories, essays, and diary excerpts highlights her fierce concentration on craft, the vitality of her intelligence, and the yearnings of her imagination. Featuring an introduction by Plath’s husband, the late British poet Ted Hughes, these writings also reflect themes and images she would fully realize in her poetry. “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” truly showcases the talent and genius of Sylvia Plath.’

2. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
‘An awkward teen with a terrible haircut has a reversal of fortune when he finds artefacts from the future lining a seagulls’ nest. In a godforsaken barn, Presidents Eisenhower, John Adams and Rutherford B. Hayes are bemused to find themselves reincarnated as horses. Clyde and Magreb – he a traditional capes-and-coffins vampire, she the more progressive variety – settle in an Italian lemon grove in the hope that its ripe fruit will keep their thirst for blood at bay.’

3. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger
‘First published in “The New Yorker” in the 1950s, “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction” are two novellas narrated by Buddy Glass, a character often said to be a portrait of Salinger himself. In the first, Buddy has taken leave from the army during World War II to attend the wedding of the eldest Glass brother, Seymour, and an atmosphere of portentous suspense sets the scene for the tragedy that will follow. In the second, Buddy reminisces about Seymour and the novella unfolds into a deep and far-reaching exploration of a complex and sad character which displays all the tenderness and subtlety which distinguish the best of Salinger’s writing.’

4. Collected Stories by Carol Shields
‘In the Collected Stories we bring together Carol Shields’ original short-story volumes, Various Miracles, The Orange Fish and Dressing Up for the Carnival, as well as many stories not previously published in the UK, including ‘Segue’, her last work. In these stories the author combines the dazzling virtuosity and wise maturity that won so many readers to her prize-winning novels such as The Stone Diaries and Unless.’

5. The Whole Story and Other Stories by Ali Smith
‘This is a brilliant new collection of stories from a much loved and highly praised author. It presents stories for people who’ve grown up being told time is running out and don’t want it to. How do you ever know the whole story? How do you ever know even part of the story? How do you find meaning when chance and coincidence could, after all, just be chance and coincidence? In a celebration of connections and missed connections, an inquiry into everything from flies and trees and books to sex, art, drunkenness and love, Smith rewrites the year’s cycle into a very modern calendar.’

6. Belated by Elisabeth Russell Taylor
‘From award-winning writer Elisabeth Russell Taylor comes a dazzling new collection of short stories. Whether examining the unspoken deals brokered in every marriage, the inherent menace of daily exchanges or the secret lives of the unattached, each of these sixteen stories sparkles with Russell Taylor’s extraordinary talent. ‘The Contract’ brilliantly reimagines Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin; ‘Supporting Roles’ reverses the client-therapist relationship; ‘Charlotte’ looks at the life of a Jewish immigrant in postwar London; ‘Les Amants’ is a lyrical paean to love and loss in rural France; ‘Take Care’ sees the visitors getting too comfortable in a house that’s not theirs; ‘The Inquest’ is a whimsical feat of magical realism; while ‘Who She?’ and ‘Carter’ explore the mysteries and complications of identity. Here is a writer unafraid to probe the dark corners of character, who sharpens her teeth on the casual cruelties, subtle ironies and alarming contradictions of everyday life.’

My review can be found here.

7. New York Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell
‘An irresistible anthology of classic tales of New York in the tradition of “Christmas Stories, Love Stories, “and “Stories of the Sea. ” Writers have always been enthralled and inspired by New York City, and their vibrant and varied stories provide a kaleidoscopic vision of the city’s high life, low life, nightlife, and everything in between. From the wisecracking Broadway guys and dolls of Damon Runyon to the glittering ballrooms of Edith Wharton, from the jazz- soaked nightspots of Jack Kerouac and James Baldwin to the starry- eyed tourists in John Cheever and Shirley Jackson to the ambitious immigrants conjured by Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz– this is New York in all its grittiness and glamour. Here is the hectic, dazzling chaos of Times Square and the elegant calm of galleries in the Met; we meet Yiddish matchmakers in the Bronx, Haitian nannies in Central Park, starving artists, and hedonistic yuppies–a host of vivid characters nursing their dreams in the tiny apartments, the lonely cafes, and the bustling streets of the city that never sleeps.’

8. The Doll’s House and Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner
‘Recently discovered in the New York Public Library archives, these four short stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner are as sharply insightful and observant as all her writing. They are published for the first time exclusively in ebook format alongside the new editions of her celebrated novels The Corner that Held Them and Lolly Willowes, which have brand new introductions by Philip Hensher and Sarah Waters.’

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Three Books of Unconventional Love

I would not say that I really like reading about love in all of its many forms – I would never read a romance novel, for example – but love seemed to be a common theme in three very good books which I read in February.  One is a volume of short stories, another a fabulous poetry book, and the last a novella translated from its original French.

‘Love Stories’ by Diana Secker Tesdell (Everyman Pocket Classics)

Love Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell ****
I cannot resist the beautiful Everyman’s Pocket Classics with their lovely striped spines, so when I spotted this in the library, I added it to the already enormous pile of books in my arms.  I thought that it would be a great volume to begin on mine and my boyfriend’s anniversary, and it certainly was.  As with my beloved New York Stories, purchased at The Strand in New York City, the authors collected in this volume are varied, and range from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Guy de Maupassant to Roald Dahl and Margaret Atwood.

Love Stories is wonderfully varied, both in terms of their settings and how the love within each is portrayed.  Some of them were new to me, and others were not, but it was lovely to revisit old favourites alongside fresh tales.

My favourite stories were ‘Winter Dreams’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Armande’ by Colette, ‘Mr Botibol’ by Roald Dahl, ‘Immortality’ by Yasunari Kawabata, ‘Here We Are’ by Dorothy Parker, ‘The Stranger’ by Katherine Mansfield, ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ by Margaret Atwood, ‘A Temporary Matter’ by Jhumpa Lahiri, and ‘May’ by Ali Smith.

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‘Love Poems’ by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador)

Love Poems by Carol Ann Duffy *****
Love Poems was another library book which I could not walk past without picking up.  I adore Carol Ann Duffy’s poems, and am slowly working my way through all of her volumes.  All of the work which is collected in this book comes from other volumes, some of which I have already read, but it is a wonderful idea to collect poetry which has such a central theme together.

Throughout, Duffy’s writing is startling and drips with emotion.  She has the knack of painting incredibly vivid pictures in the mind by using just a handful of elegantly crafted phrases.  I love the different poetical techniques which she uses, from simple rhymes to reimagining Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Gorgeous ideas are woven in – for example, in the poem ‘Deportation’:

“We will tire each other out, making our homes
in one another’s arms.”

Duffy examines every aspect of love: relationships, sex, loss, imagining future families, memories, and adultery, amongst others.  Love Poems is a very short volume, but it is a very beautiful one, and I really want to purchase my own copy now so that I can dip into it whenever I like.

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‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ by Sophie Divry (MacLehose Press)

The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry ****
I was first alerted to this lovely little novella in one of treepaperbook‘s Youtube videos, and thought that it sounded too lovely and witty to pass up.  I was so pleased to spot a copy when I visited Waterstone’s Piccadilly with my boyfriend.

I love the book’s premise:

“One morning a librarian finds a reader who has been locked in overnight.  She begins to talk to him, a one-way conversation full of sharp insight and quiet outrage…”

I found that it was not really the best of ideas to begin reading The Library of Unrequited Love just before I went to sleep, because it is a continual stream-of-consciousness work, which has been written in just one paragraph.  This rendered it difficult to know where to stop reading.  Everything which I love about contemporary French literature can be found in this slim volume; it is witty, shrewd, clever, slightly sarcastic, and intensely readable.  The unnamed librarian’s narrative voice is captivating, and the novella is so interesting in terms of the social and political history in France, and the musings upon the Dewey Decimal System.  The Library of Unrequited Love is very quirky, and is a treat for bookish people and library goers alike.  I for one cannot wait to see what Sophie Divry comes up with next.

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