All of you who are in the writing world have probably either (a) read this yourself or (b) had it recommended to you by a friend and intend to get to it soon. By “this” I mean A.O. Scott’s tribute to the short story in the NYT yesterday, entitled, fittingly, ‘Brevity’s Pull.’ Some of his praise, of Cheever and Barthelme, for instance, includes a rather grandiose swipe at the longer form:
Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose.
That’s okay. Everybody is allowed to take a swipe at us word-mongers now and then. So I am going to take up the chant and salute the art form of the well-written short story. To begin with, join me in checking out this e-review cum book club set to take us closet short-story lovers by storm: Andrew’s Book Club, the love-child of Andrew Scott, has a simple goal, described below.
Each month I will select two short story collections to be released that month, give or take a few weeks. One will be from a NYC publisher, while a second selection will spotlight a book from an indie or university press. Buy at least one of these books each month. 12 books a year (24 if you buy both selections) is not too much to ask. It would be great if you also supported your local independent bookstore. But you may prefer Borders or Barnes & Noble, or maybe you live in the middle of nowhere and rely upon Amazon or Powell’s. But buy the story collections. If your bookstore doesn’t have the book, order it. Talk to the owner about the book, and about how much you love to read (and buy) story collections. Put your mouth where your money is.
Furthermore, here’s a list honoring some of the best short-story writers I know:
Lynn Freed, whose novels need to be recovered from and in the best way imaginable, also has a gem of a collection, The Curse of the Appropriate Man (Harcourt, 2004). Claire Messud wrote an insightful review of the collection in the NYT when it came out, describing Freed thus: “As these stories amply illustrate, she is…one whose style and preferred subject are eminently well matched, whose spare, classic prose exposes hidden acts while pointing obliquely at hidden thoughts.”
Childhood & Other Neighborhoods(University of Chicago Press, 2003), is a collection by Stuart Dybek, one of those writers who carry off being brilliant, modest and present in lowly rooms crowded with future literati hopefuls with great panache. There’s an interview with Dybek in the SmokeLong Quarterly.
And, of course, a story-teller whom I love listening to, Tiphanie Yanique. You can read her award-winning short story, ‘How to Escape from a Leper Colony,’ in the Boston Review, and read an excerpt and purchase her, again, award-winning story ‘A Saving Work’, from Kore Press. A close-up-your-jaw-sister essay can be found on Persephone Speaks, the Kore Press blogspot. Tiphanie’s work when it becomes available in the bookstores will ignite the sales desk. I guarantee it. For now, catch her where you can.
Signed: the sonata/symphony gal who loves all her étude-composing pals.