Friday, August 5, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 2

Day 2: Favorite Short Story

We're fans of the short form.


Short stories are my favorite format. Not because I am lazy (well…not only because I am lazy), but because I am completely mesmerized by the art. I want to spend a little bit of time talking about some of my favorite story writers and some of the first stories I read before I get to what will surely be an obvious choice for me.

When I was thinking about the first collection of short stories I bought and read on my own, it was – brace yourselves literary snobs - Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes. Still have it, still love it. Deal with it. But the two stories that really got me hooked on the “stuff” were "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and "Where are You Going ,Where Have You Been?" by HRH Joyce Carol Oates. After reading the Oates, I went oh, so … and forgive me if you aren’t a literary person for using a pretentious book biz term…but I went “ape shit.” Then I read every JCO story I could find. From there it was done. James Joyce’s "The Dead," Raymond Carver (I went through a major Carver phase; shut up), "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" by Marquez broadened the stories that I read, Alice Munro remains one of my favorite writers (is she under-read or is that my imagination?), the oh, oh so beautiful The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (this book takes my breath away – I will forever read whatever he writes – write it down - I am a sucka for Tim). Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri is a favorite. Amy Bloom, though I loved the novel Away, I will always prefer her stories – amazing story writer. Miranda July is insane – so sick with talent – her collection No One Belongs Here More Than You makes this list because she truly reignited my love of stories when I hadn’t read an amazing collection in a couple of years. She made me a believer again. July’s book would make my list of top 20 ss collections. Period. Lorrie Moore is a master and Birds of America is a work of art to the highest degree. If you have not read Birds of America, go buy it. If you have never read short stories, of if you think you don’t like short stories, or if you tried stories and didn’t love them, or if you think you don’t like me [I'm doubting my like at the moment], Birds of America is going to change ALL of that…MOST of that. It’s perfect. It is.

After all that it’s a little, well, awkward to now mention my actual favorite short story is not by Lorrie Moore; it is by Flannery O’Connor. Listen, it’s not easy to pick one O’Connor story, so I may change my mind later. "Good Country People." The thing about this story is you’ve got a woman who you sort of want to feel bad for because she has a prosthetic leg from a childhood accident, but she really is not very likable because she feels and acts pretty superior to everyone around her. She has a PhD and the country folk just aren’t up to her standards. Well, she meets a Bible salesman and she wants to uh… spend some time with him in the barn as the kids say. [They really do say that in my podunk hometown.  The auction barn was the place to party when I was in high school.  And more than one girl lost her virginity behind an auto repair garage.  I'm surprised more babies are named Ford or Mercedes in classy Woodville.  I digress....] Classic ending. Not one of the more gory O’Connor stories, but I would say it's actually her sexiest story. And by sexy there is a barn in the story….how’s that?

PS: Second favorite O’Connor story: "The River" which will break your heart (actually this may be my favorite...see it's hard to pick one. I hate this.)


GREAT book.
You should read it.
Many of my favorites overlap with Gianna's.  I've already written of my love for "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" here, and I also think that Amy Bloom is a story genius, particularly with "Silver Water."  There's a chilling, Gothic story called "How Far She Went" by Mary Hood that will make you hold your breath at the end.  Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily" is required reading; I mean, Miss Emily's been sleeping with the corpse of her boyfriend for years.  You can't really beat that.  I love Annie Proulx's collection Close Range, which gave us "Brokeback Mountain."  Nam Le's The Boat and Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter are two amazing debut collections that declared two major talents emerging on the literary horizon.  Jhumpa Lahiri and Alice Munro are genre masters.

My favorite short story, though, is "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  A story with Gothic tendencies, a woman's increasing insanity, and feminist relevance?  Yes, please.  (For the record, "feminist," contrary to the current backlash with women who seem afraid they won't land a man, is not a dirty word.  Neither is "liberal."  Moving on....)  A young married woman, struggling with hysteria (depression), is taken to the country for a rest cure.  Her husband positions her in an upstairs room in a house.  The room is decorated with a distinctive, ugly, yellow wallpaper.  As the woman's isolation becomes more and more extreme, she slips further into madness and the wallpaper becomes her fixation.  It's a creepy, compelling, perpetually relevant story.  It's also one that I heard read to me by my mother's students when I was a kid.  Yes, my childhood was screwed up.

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