Posts tagged: short.stories

Best Books of 2015

By , December 7, 2015

My top 3:

Single, Carefree, MellowSingle, Carefree, Mellow: Stories
by Katherine Heiny

I haven’t been this excited about a short story collection since Courtney Eldridge’s Unkempt.





The Folded ClockThe Folded Clock: A Diary
by Heidi Julavits

I kept reading this and saying happily to myself, “I totally agree!” Not to be hokey, but it was almost like making a new friend.





A Manual for Cleaning WomenA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
by Lucia Berlin

This is my #1 pick for this year. Like Jean Stafford, whose Collected Stories won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (available through ILL), Berlin takes details from her own life and turns them into amazing art.

Some of my favorites were Point of ViewHer First DetoxTiger BitesEmergency Room Notebook, 1977Unmanageable, and Fool to Cry, as well as Carmen and Mijito, which were gut-wrenching but beautiful.

This also has a great introduction by Lydia Davis, who really gives you an appreciation of the collection before you even get started.

Stunning! Also recommended for fans of Mary Karr.





Book Review: Unexpected Stories

By , November 22, 2015

Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. ButlerUnexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler

When I first heard Octavia Butler’s estate had found unpublished material by the famous sci-fi author, I almost lost my breath. Since I knew the discovered stories would most likely be unedited or rough starts of Ms. Butler’s beautiful writings, I was hesitant to read this collection because I did not want to be disappointed. However, on a random lunch break, I finally cracked open the book; or rather whipped out my smartphone’s Overdrive app, since this is only available as an e-book. Upon reading the first few lines of the first short story, “A Necessary Being”, I nearly dropped my smartphone in shock. This is a short prequel to Ms. Butler’s out of print book Survivor–set within the Patternist series’ universe, which feels like a godsend to her most devoted fans! I felt like getting up, screaming, and doing a death drop, before realizing that I would look demented.

“A Necessary Being” takes place on another planet, and deals with several groups called the Kohn. The main protagonists are Diut (Tehkohn Hao) and Tahneh (Rohkohn Hao). Both protagonists lead their respective groups, and both feel weighted by the expectations and responsibilities that ruling entails. Tahneh has ruled her people for a good length of time, but must prepare herself to name a successor. Diut has just come into power, and is trying to learn how to manage his expectations versus his people’s expectations. These two meet, and both must choose whether to follow tradition, or choose a different path for themselves and their people.

The second short story, “Childfinder,” was written for Harlan Ellison’s anthology Last Dangerous Visions. The anthology was never published, so the story was thought to be lost forever. Butler’s cousin, and her literary executor, found this story and “A Necessary Being.”
“Childfinder” takes place in the 1970s. Barbara is a black women who is able to find children with pre-psionic (i.e., telepathy, pre-cognition, etc.) powers, and is able to activate these children. When the story opens, she is currently running away from the organization that she helped start. Barbara is left with the decision to continue with the life she has always known, or to let that life go. “Childfinder” is very short, but it deals with covert racism, classism, and what it means to truly get along with others.

Unexpected Stories is a sparse collection. Although it is a worthy addition for any adoring Octavia Butler fan, it only contains two newly found short stories, a foreword by Walter Mosley, an afterword by Merrilee Heifetz, and a brief biography on Octavia Butler herself. Unexpected Stories will definitely satisfy Ms. Butler’s longtime fans, and allow readers who are unfamiliar with Ms. Butler a better idea on how her experiences influenced her writing, and also shows how her work transformed and became more refined overtime. For those beginners, I would also suggest reading with Lilith’s Brood.


Book review: Let Me Tell You

By , July 6, 2015

Let Me Tell YouLet Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings
by Shirley Jackson

Get ready, everyone—the Shirley Jackson revival is about to begin.  In anticipation of Ruth Franklin’s major biography of Jackson coming out in 2016, Franklin introduces this compilation of short stories, essays, reviews, and family humor pieces (most of which have never been published).

If you’ve never read Jackson before, she’s best known for her short story The Lottery.  If you’re already familiar with her, you’ll see her preoccupations running throughout this collection: everyday magic, loneliness, domestic trials, and the fact that some houses are born bad.  Paranoia is a thrilling example of her short story style, and Mrs. Spencer and the Oberons (my favorite piece in the book) reveals her not-so-hidden misanthropy.  Fans of Life Among the Savages can look forward to an entire section of domestic comedy, and the book wraps up with revelations of where Jackson came up with her story ideas and how she used symbols (“garlic”) in her work.

Jackson has been cited as an influence by Stephen King, Kelly Link, and Donna Tartt, among others.  This collection showcases her wide range, from menace to dry wit.  Place a hold on Let Me Tell You before it comes out next month!


Book review: Further Joy

By , January 5, 2015

Further Joy: StoriFurther Joyes

by John Brandon

John Brandon reminds me a lot of Wells Tower, and that’s high praise.  He often uses Florida settings, but it’s definitely not the Florida of Disney World and sunny beaches.

Here’s an excerpt, to give you a sense of Brandon’s style:

“Bet had come up with the idea of doing all the worst things they could think of in a single day, once–they’d had breakfast in an Arby’s and attended a boat show, listened to right-wing radio and read about Jessica Simpson online for a full hour.  In the evening, they’d gone to see whatever Vin Diesel car-chase movie had been playing, filing in with packs of teenagers.”


Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedWells Tower wrote Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, a short story collection for fans of Raymond Carver, Jean Thompson, or George Singleton. He’s also a regular contributor to GQ.


Book Review: Stone Mattress

By , December 21, 2014

Stone Mattress by Margaret AtwoodStone Mattress
by Margaret Atwood

I’ve had a very long and wonderful journey with Margaret Atwood’s works. It started in high school, when a teacher assigned The Handmaid’s Tale as a complementary novel to 1984 and A Brave New World.  Every year since then, I have attempted to read it at least once. After high school, I practically devoured every fiction work she had ever done, including her poetry.

Stone Mattress is compromised of nine tales (tales, not stories) written by Atwood over the years. The themes they explore include aging, loss, and reality (even the reality of others).

I think my favorite story out of all of this was the one about Constance and Alphinland. Constance is a prolific fantasy writer, whose stories have a cult following. Yet, she lives alone after the death of her husband, a doddering old woman who listens to his voice in her head telling her what to do to take care of herself. It isn’t about the fact that she is old and perhaps a little crazy. It is about an old woman who made two things very important in her life – her husband and her writing. She couldn’t share her writing with her husband in this world – so she imagines him waiting for her in her fantasy world, along with former lovers who have hurt her.

These stories are not light and airy. Margaret Atwood explores the darker side of human nature – the grotesque, the murderous, the hatred – from a perspective of some of the more interesting characters experiencing those things.

This was a very fast read for me, because it was a collection of short stories. Highly recommended for your personal wish list!


Book Review – Astray

By , November 9, 2012


By Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue, the red-headed Dublin native, re-visits leave-takings, journeys, wanderings and meanderings throughout history in her latest book of short stories Astray. It’s not just about the physical – these are people going astray in many aspects of their lives; they cross boundaries where boundaries have not been crossed before. Fourteen stories track fourteen lives throughout history as they are led astray – by themselves, by others, by race, by sexuality, and many other ideas.

The stories are reminiscent of a previous collection of Donoghue’s The Women Who Gave Birth To Rabbits, which focuses on grotesque and odd historical anecdotes. Just like in her previous collection, Donoghue breathes life into stories that seem like nothing more than footnotes in the grand scheme of history, but in truth are important reminders of all the little things we miss when looking at the “big picture.”

One of my favorite stories in this book is actually the first one, called “Man and Boy”, which reads like a monologue. At first, you can’t tell that the person speaking is an animal trainer, addressing his ward: an elephant named Jumbo. The story tells of the elephant’s sale to P.T. Barnum, and the trainer’s preparation for the ocean voyage from London. There is so much tenderness in the speaker that it is easy to believe why Matthew Scott, the trainer, refers to Jumbo as “his boy”.

If you like historical fiction with a twist, this is definitely a book for you!

Meet Emma Donoghue on November 13th, as she joins the Nashville Public Library as part of their Salon@615 series. Please check the calendar for details.

Pleasant Reading –


Book review: Blasphemy

By , October 15, 2012

Sherman Alexie, one of America’s best short story writers, will be appearing at Montgomery Bell Academy on October 18th at 6:15pm as part of Salon@615. His new book Blasphemy is a collection of his new and best loved stories. Alexie’s stories evolved from his poetry, the orality of which is center stage. Many of the stories glow like burning coals when read aloud. It’s as if Raymond Carver finally saw the joy in life instead of just the misery. Alexie does know how to tell a joke but the subject matter here is not necessarily light.  Of the new stories, “Protest” and “Indian Country” are probably my favorites. They return to the examination of edgier aspects of indigenous-Anglo relations featured in earlier collections like Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven and Toughest Indian in the World. The highlights of both are included here. The softer, married with children Alexie found in the PEN/Faulkner award winning War Dances is mostly absent. Mellow out and win an award? Ask all the notably award-less, notably angry Native writers that came before. The only story I am missing is “Fearful Symmetry,” the most hilarious take down of Hollywood machinations since Kevin Smith’s Superman speech.

Besides his print work, Alexie has positioned himself as a screenwriter / director / producer of films. Smoke Signals’ on screen manifestations of Lone Ranger and Tonto‘s troubled teenage protagonists Thomas and Victor have rendered that film a contemporary classic. He was also instrumental in the re-release of Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles, a rare example of pre-Civil Rights era cinéma vérité capturing daily lives of Native people in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Bunker Hill.

Since much of Alexie’s oeuvre is concerned with poverty, it is appropriate he will be appearing at Montgomery Bell Academy. He should be able to offer an illuminating perspective to much of the student body. It is worth your trip out to MBA too. It will be much more of a storytelling session than a book talk. He might even drop the three best lines ever penned about Sasquatch:

When I asked the Indian elder, she said
with a smile, “I don’t know if I believe in Sasquatch
but he sure do stink.”

- Bryan

Book Review: When It Happens to You

By , September 14, 2012

When It Happens to You

by Molly Ringwald

For those of you who grew up in the 1980s, you probably remember Molly Ringwald as the quirky actress in coming-of-age teen movies, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Though she has an extensive acting career, Molly Ringwald is also an accomplished writer. Her articles appear in Esquire and The New York Times, as well as a non-fiction book titled Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick.

When It Happens to You: A Novel in Short Stories, is Molly Ringwald’s fiction debut. The stories revolve around a central cast of characters. Greta is a woman who has given up her own dreams in order to raise a family. She struggles with fertility issues and, as the novel opens, the betrayal of her husband against everything she has held dear. Greta’s husband Phillip is successful and handsome. He tries to be attentive to his family’s needs. However, he finds himself turning away from family life, seeking something outside marriage. Charlotte is their six-year-old daughter. At times, she can be a trying child, especially when her parents separate, after Phillip’s revelations to his wife.

The stories in the novel are connected through these three characters, even if the story may seem unrelated to the novel as a whole. Ringwald addresses a series of issues regarding family, infidelity, infertility, and identity through the diverse cast of characters whose lives rotate around the central family like the earth around the sun.

Out of all the stories in this novel, my favorite is called “My Olivia”. The story is about Charlotte’s playmate, Oliver, and is told through his mother’s perspective. Without giving too much away, the story explores gender identity issues in small children and how one mother learns to come to terms with her young son’s confident insistence that he is a girl.

When It Happens to You is a study of the realism of life. The characters are human beings with faults, who make mistakes, and who struggle for redemption and understanding.

Molly Ringwald will be kick-starting this season’s Salon@615 series, on September 18th at the Main library downtown. Check the calendar for details!

Pleasant Reading -



Book review: I Knew You’d Be Lovely

By , November 16, 2011

I Knew You’d Be Lovely: Stories
by Alethea Black

I’m starting to pull together my personal “Best of 2011″ lists, and this is my nominee for best short stories (the only other contender being You Know When the Men Are Gone). This collection movingly depicts the quest to become your true self, despite missteps, and to find someone who understands you.



Book review: Raymond Carver

By , May 20, 2011

As you may have heard, the new Will Ferrell movie Everything Must Go (currently playing at the Belcourt) is based on the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance?”, included in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  If you’ve never read Raymond Carver before, you’re in for a treat.

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