Fiction

Short End of the Stick

OrientationI have to admit, even as someone who has great appreciation for short stories, I often find it hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm for reading them as I do when approaching the pleasant immersion of a novel. But I've proven myself wrong so many times, as I take up a book with a sense of duty and find myself thoroughly enthralled instead. Short stories are perfect for those with a hectic schedule (or a short attention span); they offer condensed, pithy prose and plot, and they can often alert you to a new talent before everyone's going crazy for their debut novel. I was inspired to write this post by Daniel Orozco's Orientation, which I just read. "Officer Weeps" in particular is one my my favorite short stories ever. His characters are weird and liminal--a woman on a late-night cookie binge, an ex-dictator, a pair of officers falling in love amidst an odd vandalism streak--and he presents them with hilarious and terrible brevity. Here are a few other collections that I really enjoyed, written with a similarly strange focus and an equal blend of heartbreak and humor.

End of an Era: Read on Hogwarts Grads, Read on.

14 years ago, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in the United States. Kids who started reading that book in elementary school are now onto college, or have even graduated from college. So Harry Potter and his wizardly friends mark the end of an era on Friday, with the opening of the final film.

Foreign Fiction

There was a dustup not too long ago about Tim Parks' suggestion (in the NYRB blog ) that foreign writers are adapting their prose--even if it's still written in their native tongue--to the structure of English. He contests that it has gotten easier to translate novels because "contemporary writers [have] already performed a translation within their own languages". Whether or not this is evidence of the English language's unfortunate dominance and bulldozing of local culture, or a natural adaptation among writers wanting to communicate as widely as possible, is left somewhat up in the air. It's an interesting argument, but I wonder how much relevance it has to most readers.

Gone With the Wind turns 75

I ran across an article this morning that mentioned that Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind turns 75 this month. In June of 1936, Mitchell published this now classic saga while recovering from a broken ankle. It was an instant hit, and brought immediate fame to the Atlanta journalist.

What is it about? Well....er...I haven't actually read it. "I'll never go hungry again!", right? But I only know that from the movie. It is high time to put this book on my to-read list.

What Happened on Fox Street

Well, what did happen on Fox Street? Lots of things, it turns out. 10-year- old Mo Wren is out of school for the year, but she is not exactly having a relaxing summer.  She has to deal with a best friend who visits for the summer, but who may have changed more than Mo realized.  She must constantly babysit her 5-year old sister Dottie, the "wild child," while their dad is working long hours at a job he doesn't like.  She still misses her mom, who died a few years before.  In the meantime, one older neighbor is keeping Mo busy with strange errands, and another may be having too many medical problems to stay in her house.

Freedom

If you listen to politicians and talking heads speak, you'll instantly recognize that "freedom" is a particularly powerful buzz word in American culture. Franzen achieved notoriety for a famous run-in with Oprah about his book The Corrections being included in her book club. He complained that this might scare men away from reading his book, so Oprah withdrew the nomination. In another bizarre twist, last fall a fan stole the author's eyeglasses and offered them for ransom. In this mega-novel of 562 pages, Franzen tackles the theme of what constitutes freedom in our closest relationships. He writes about a family, the Berglunds, who helped transform an old St. Paul neighborhood into a thriving community.

Dancing Men - and Women!

I enjoy a good mystery - and when it involves a code to decipher - it just doubles the fun with two puzzles to solve in one story!

In the graphic novel mystery Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Dancing Men, master detective Sherlock Holmes receives a picture of stick figures with their arms and legs positioned in different ways so it looks like they are dancing. The stick figures are appearing around the home of Mr. Cubitt who asks Sherlock Holmes if he can determine what the pictures mean. Holmes examines different samples of the drawings and believes they are a code used to communicate messages in secret. When Holmes travels to Mr. Cubitt's home to inform him of what he has learned, Holmes encounters another mystery: Mr. Cubitt has been murdered! Immediately, Holmes begins questioning the servants and looking for other clues that will reveal the identity of the murderer.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Wedding planning, ghost vans that mysteriously disappear into the veldt, a perfect pair of heels for a wedding, what's not to like about Alexander McCall Smith's latest in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series? If life has you feeling blue, this is the perfect book to lighten your mood and take you away from your problems. Botswana, is that far enough? A country where they measure wealth in cattle rather than dollars, and people still have the time to chat in a tree's shade.

The Water Seeker

"What would you do if you knew you had a special gift - a sixth sense - that was passed down from one generation to the next? A gift that could help people in times of need, but one your father often saw as a trap. Would you use that gift?" The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt is the story of Amos Kincaid, a boy who could find water where it lay beneath the land, unseen by ordinary eyes.

The True Meaning of Smekday

I had a great time listening to The True Meaning of Smekday, the recipient of the 2011 Odyssey Award. (The Odyssey Award is presented by the American Library Association to the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the U.S.) How can you not love a friendly, tongue-clacking "Boov" alien nicknamed "J.Lo" (because Boovish names are unpronounceable by humans) who becomes the unlikely companion of an intrepid 11-year old car-driving heroine named Gratutity (nickname "Tip")? Throw in a cat called "Pig," a flying car called "Slushious," and other colorful characters, along with some strange, funny, and occasionally horrifying events - well, the result is a futuristic road trip like you've never imagined.

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