Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genre Reading Group recap

These short stories did not find us short of words!

It was a varied group, with some of us enjoying the format and our selections and others not finding the same satisfaction. There were old stories, new stories, happenings on far-flung shores, and some not too far from our own doorsteps with characters we feel like we know or to whom we may even be related! The short story, when done well, is like a scrumptious little picnic basket unpacked at leisure and enjoyed at the same pace. When not done well, or to the reader’s taste, it can be at best annoying and at worst infuriating.

How do you feel about this format? What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Our discussion centered on the following:

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
From Publishers Weekly
A writer of Munro's ilk hardly needs a hook like the intriguing title of her 10th collection to pull readers into her orbit. Serving as a teasing introduction to these nine brilliantly executed tales, the range of mentioned relationships merely suggests a few of the nuances of human behavior that Munro evokes with the skill of a psychological magician.

Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger
From Publishers Weekly
Freudenberger saw her first story, "Lucky Girls," published in the New Yorker's 2001 debut fiction issue and subsequently received a reported six-figure sum to round out the collection with a bunch more (at that time unwritten) works. The gamble has paid off, at least from a critical perspective: the five long stories in this collection are thoughtful and entertaining. Most take place in Asia and feature Americans living abroad.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Nigerian-born Jesuit priest Akpan transports the reader into gritty scenes of chaos and fear in his rich debut collection of five long stories set in war-torn Africa.

Crash Diet by Jill McCorkle
From Publishers Weekly
In this peppery, potent collection by McCorkle ( Ferris Beach ), 11 memorable women, ranging from high school student to retiree, confide details of troubled relationships. Without fail, their voices, hopes and sorrows hit the mark; it's easy to empathize with them and to uneasily recall moments when our own lives have mirrored theirs. Optimism and sorrow are here in equal measure.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection.

Any book by Ellen Gilchrist
Winner of the 1984 National Book Award for Fiction for her collection of short stories, Victory over Japan, Ellen Gilchrist has been declared “a national treasure” by the Washington Post for her various works, which at present constitute a collection of twenty-three books. She has received numerous other awards for her work, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Fiction. A Mississippi native, she currently lives in Fayetteville (Washington County) and is a faculty member at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
From Publishers Weekly
The rituals of traditional Indian domesticity, like curry-making and hair-vermilioning, both buttress the characters of Lahiri's elegant first collection and mark the measure of these fragile people's dissolution. Frequently finding themselves in Cambridge, Mass., or similar but unnamed Eastern seaboard university towns, Lahiri's characters suffer on an intimate level the dislocation and disruption brought on by India's tumultuous political history.

The Dog of the Marriage by Amy Hempel
From Publishers Weekly
"[W]as there anybody who wasn't here to get over something too?" wonders the narrator in the sublime "Offertory." Not in this book, Hempel's fourth collection (after 1997's Tumble Home), as unnamed narrators struggle with breakups, disillusionment, loss. Though it's not the most accessible of collections, it's deeply affecting, as Hempel paints a fictional world that is sharp and lonely but also marked by beauty and unexpected generosity.

Follies by Ann Beattie
From Publishers Weekly
Odd but subtle coincidences, missed connections, strained family relations—these are the major dynamics in Beattie's latest collection of nine stories and a novella.

Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates
From Publishers Weekly
As evidenced in this collection of nine stories, Oates's imagination is still fertile, feverish and macabre. These females are killers, either by their own hands or through manipulation. To be sure, they have provocation: abandonment, betrayal, abuse, the loss of reason to passion or obsession.

The Southern Woman by Elizabeth Spencer
From Publishers Weekly
Every good Southern writer interprets the essence of existence in that region in a distinctive way, and Spencer, whose career has spanned 60 years, is one of the most distinguished of a group that includes Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor. Her fiction is as much a record of 20th-century American life as it is particularly "Southern" in cast. The largest section of this new collection of her work is devoted to her stories set in the South, and the social themes are finely wrought.

Four Short Stories: A Great Storyteller at His Best with Drawings by Henri Matisse by W. Somerset Maugham
The stories in this volume were published in the late 20’s and early 30’s in various magazines and small volumes. They were collected in this work in 1970. Maugham writes of the darker parts of human existence: adultery, murder, suicide, alcoholism, and the like. His stories are beautifully written, but depressing.

East and West by W. Somerset Maugham
Volume 1 in The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham. Volume 2 is titled The World Over. This is an epic body of work. There are 30 stories in the book, bringing it to nearly 1000 pages. Dense, complex, dark, and delicious.

March's topic is travel writing so pick a book and make plans to join us! Call or email me for more information!

Happy reading!

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