Archive for the ‘Short Story Collections’ Category


I’ve once again broken the list of books I read into two posts – scientifically separated into ‘those I’ve typed up’ and ‘those I haven’t finished typing yet.’ Only 13 books read in June, and that’s including two audio books and two I did not finish. In my defense, I was on vacation for almost half that time, so I actually had a social life (but also time to read on airplanes. hmm)

Avram Davidson Treasury. I only read a few of the stories in this collection of horror stories (unsurprisingly recommended by Mr. Gaiman). Not bad, but not really my thing.

The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford. Most definitely my thing. Spufford examines the books he read as a child – after confessing that he is a devourer of fiction and an addict. Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, most of the books he discusses are books I also loved as a child – and he looks at how they shaped and fed him as a human being and helped make him the person he is now – while never being boring once. Loved it. Need to own this one and read it all the way through in one shot, instead of reading the first half in one week and then the second half two weeks later after returning from vacation.

The Scar by China Miéville. The night before I left on a multi-city, 12-day vacation, I was horrified to discover that I had no books to take with me. And by ‘no books’, I mean only one or two that looked interesting. Unbelievable. I was so worried about making sure I didn’t get fines for overdue books while I was gone that I forgot to stock up!

And then I remembered another of the great things about living in Portland – the bookstore at the airport is POWELL’S! And knowing that, I was able to sleep peacefully. Going to the airport early, as recommended by TSA, is no hardship when you can spend that (unnecessary, in this case) time browsing a good bookstore – with practically a mandate to buy something, since you have exactly two books to cover three days of flying in your 12 day trip. The Scar is one of the two books I bought that morning (Dune being the other – no, I’ve never read it. Yes, I know they can yank my sci-fi card for that) and the one I decided would be good Portland-to-Chicago reading material. And it was. Science-Fi-Fantasy-Otherworld fiction at its finest. It was strange to find that – while I didn’t really like or dislike the main character, Bellis, I could  not stop reading it. A convoluted, elaborate world – that apparently resides in a few other novels by Miéville – full of well-drawn human-people and nonhuman-people – and some very NON-human-nonhumans as well. This book rekindled a desire to read more sci-fi that I have yet to really indulge. But every time I see The Scar on the bookshelf, I want to go to the store.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Saffron Foer. This is the first novel by the fabulous JSF (who I heap praise on here, and who can be heard here) which I bought at the bookstore* closest to my big Sista’s house in New Hampshire – not realizing that I’d read it before (but thankfully did not actually own. Of course, if I’d owned it, I’d likely have remembered that I read it). Not as utterly fantastic as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but still crazy-good by any other standard.

This novel is the story of a girl in an old picture as imagined by JSFoer, and the story of someone, coincidentally, named JSFoer, who travels to Ukraine to do research on said girl, as told by the very-much-not-a-professional tour guide he employs while there. Amazing in its ability to fashion a beautiful story in such a strange way.

*Four books are still not enough, duh. And the Big Sista asked what we wanted to see/do, and I wanted to see and most definitely do the bookstore. It was a pretty good bookstore considering the very small population in the area. It had a big touristy focus that didn’t take away from the other sections, and even a small used-books section that I totally missed on our first trip there. (Second trip was because Little Sista had to return her broken booklight. For reals. Not my idea.)

Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones, III. In the category of ‘the strangest way in which Gaiman has materialized in my life without my seeking him’, I present the appearance of the graphic novel, Preludes and Nocturnes.

After a significantly-less-than-pleasant and not-even-close-to-timely trip from Chicago to New Hampshire, I arrived with both Sistas and one niece at Big Sista’s house at something like 4:30am (scheduled arrival: 11pmish). We were variously tired and lagged and hungry and trying to ready ourselves mentally for sleeping. I wandered into the kitchen because hungry was something I could probably remove from the list rather easily – and what do I find sitting on a side table in the hall? Preludes and Nocturnes – the first eight books of Gaiman’s Sandman series. Belonged to Big Brutha-in-Law, bought for him by a co-worker not long before that day. Trust me, at 5am it was a freaky coincidence. As a bonus, it was a book I had not read (having confused it with Endless Nights, which I had read). People wonder why I’m a little strange on the subject of Neil Gaiman.

This book is the set-up of the character and world of the Sandman (also known as Dream, Morpheus and many other names in time and space). I think I went online and reserved Absolute Sandman 1 after reading it, but it may have been before that. This books is also the reason I was cranky (here) when I finally got AS 1, because I’d read the eight of the 20 stories already and had to wait forever again for AS 2.

The Lonely Polygamist by Barry Udall. Reviewed here.

Avram Davidson Treasury – I only read a few of the stories in this collection of horror stories (unsurprisingly recommended by Mr. Gaiman). Not bad, but not really my thing.

The Child that Books Built – Francis Spufford. Most definitely my thing. Spufford goes through the books he read as achild – after confessing that he is a devourer of fiction and an addict. Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, most of the books he discusses are books I also loved as a child – and he looks at how the shaped and fed his as a human being and help make him the person he is now. Loved it. Need to wont this one and read it all th way through in one shot, instead of reading the first half in one week and then the second have 2 weeks later after returning from vacation.

Alabaster by Caitlin R. Kiernan is a book of short stories about Dancy Flammarion (what a terrific name!), an albino girl who’s been tapped by some mystical/alien/supernatural forces to fight for the good guys – but this is no fairy tale or super-hero yarn. She’s a young girl who has lost her family, and wanders the world with a big knife in her duffel bag, waiting for the ‘angel’ to tell her where to go next, which monster she has to kill. Meanwhile, she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from and may have to walk that 100 miles to the next town.

Kiernan is incredible. Her descriptions are spare on physical details and heavy in emotional weight. She sketches a separate universe in convincing broad stroke simply for the sake of hinting at (but by no means explaining) why Dancy has been tapped by these angels for the ugly job she’s had thrust upon her. I read Alabaster in May, and loved her writing so much I put some of Kiernan’s other novels on hold.

Silk is a frightening novel of strange deaths and creepy things hiding in the shadows – oh yeah, and spiders.  I feel like the book needs a warning label: DANGER: Reading this book may cause you to become arachnophobic, and arachnophobes may require hospitalization.

Horror really isn’t my genre any longer, but Kiernan’s writing is so fantastic I loved it anyway. I think – for me at least – the haunting comes from her writing, not from the plot. I was hooked to the end, and had figured out just enough of what was going on (this lady does not spoon-feed her readers, no sir) that I had to stick around and find out the rest. And while the plot was basic, Kiernan’s treatment of it was a perfect blend of detail and broad strokes.

Phrases like this one describing Savannah, Georgia:

the old city laid out wide and flat where the Savannah River runs finally into the patient, hungry sea. The end of Sherman’s March, and this swampy gem was spared the Yankee torches, saved by gracious women and their soiree seductions, and in 1864 the whole city made a grand Christmas gift to Abraham Lincoln.

reach out and smack you without interfering with the pace of the story. Me, of course, I stop and read it over a few times, letting it dance around my head and make pictures, teasing me with the idea that writing phrases like that is a goal I could live with.

I admit, most of the evocative phrases (that come immediately to mind) deal with darkness and what hides inside – and doesn’t always stay safely hidden – so her books are not recommended for those who can’t watch scary movies for fear of nightmares. I imagine her stories would have the same effect – as much for what she refuses to describe as for what she paints so tangibly for you.

I think I liked the short stories better because they were more about the language than the plot. Without the need to carry the story for more than a few thousand words, the focus is on making each word do the job of three, and the result (in Kiernan’s capable hands) is a joy to behold. I think that Chabon was the last writer whose dexterity I felt so impressed by, though they have little else in common. I also enjoyed getting to know Dancy over the course of those stories, and cared about her more than I did the characters in Silk, though I liked them well enough.

Alabaster is sometimes considered Young Adult fiction since Dancy is somewhere around 15, but Silk is definitely adult fiction (due to the inclusion of some ugly drug use and one sex scene that’s more than just hinted at – and I guess some [idiots] would say because that sex scene is between two women).

I found Kiernan via Neil Gaiman (what, you’re surprised? He has a real thing for the horror genre done well), but I think she’s my favorite recommendation so far. It’s funny, but many of the books/writers that Gaiman recommends… well, they really aren’t my thing. And I feel guilty for not loving them.  Which is ridiculous, of course. I don’t even love everything he’s done (least fave – Anansi Boys), why would I love every single book he’s ever liked? And of course, he’s let me off the hook – he also thinks it’s silly to expect everyone to like the same things all the time (he said so many times in his blog, no instance of which can I find right this minute so as to link to it). However, many of his other recommendations (artists and musicians, mostly) I’ve adored (Lisa Snellings!  – I must own a poppet).

Footnote: as I was writing this entry, I went looking for a copy of Alabaster I could call my own (having read a library copy) and was dismayed to see it out of print, with the least expensive copy being a used hardback for $60. However, my anger soon turned to joy when I found a $5 eBook copy and had it on my PC & my iPod in less than 10 minutes – and that while having to choose formats, download an app and figure out how to work it. And if my computer crashes or whatever, I can always download it again. I’ll never give up my paper books, but who can argue with that?

The River Where Blood is Born by Sandra Jackson-Opoku – this is a multi-generational book, complete with gods and tricksters looking on. Much like some of my favorite Alice Walker (yes, this one starts in Africa as well). This will get a full review soon.

Best European Ficition 2010, which I reviewed for BookBrowse.com (I did like it, despite my avoidance maneuvers).

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon– this book was recently returned to me from a friend who had borrowed it. A novella of Sherlock Holmes’s final investigation. Chabon never disappoints, and I don’t even like Sherlock Holmes.

Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean – the story of a woman who survived some of WWII by living (with the rest of the employees & their families) in a museum in the USSR. The story bounces back and forth between her current life in the U.S. Pacific NW – while she is suffering from Alzheimer’s – and her memories of that war-torn winter in… Leningrad, naturally. Lots of interesting questions about memory and what is real, and the power of the human spirit to survive just about anything, and the way myth and art assist in that survival.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme– I read this because I loved the Julia Child portions of the Julie & Julia film, and this book did not disappoint. The film clearly captured her exuberance and passion for food, France and her husband that shines through this book. Takes us from their arrival in France through the second edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the creation of her television show. Co-written by Child and her grand-nephew.

Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong– which I reviewed here.

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman. This is the story of an Indian girl…. that I didn’t finish. I got through maybe two chapters, and it just wasn’t working for me. I don’t entirely blame the book – the character was mildly interesting up to the point where I stopped reading. But it was not capturing my interests enough to hang onto it (this was about the time I started reading Neil Gaiman’s blog, so I blame him at least partially for my distraction).  It was a library book, so I returned it without finishing it.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.  This is the book I read instead of A Disobedient Girl. Neil was blogging about the audio book or something, so I had to go re-read my copy. Pratchett is a witty, fantastically funny author, and I’ve already told you how much I adore Gaiman. I remember finding this book and being thrilled – I’d only read Neverwhere by Gaiman at that point, but I’d read at least half dozen Pratchett Discworld books (Small Gods was my favorite at that point, and still in the top three) and was excited to see the two of them together. My only complaint in this otherwise hilarious comic romp through the apocalypse is the rather anticlimactic ending. Funny, funny, funny book. I can remember feeling compelled to read parts of it to friends because I needed them to know that I wasn’t imagining things, it really was that crazy.

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Looks like I only finished seven books in April.  Seems like a slow month (especially since I’ve already read eight in May, and it’s only the 19th). What was I doing? Oh right, I was avoiding Best European Fiction 2010. Also, I read a year’s worth of Neil Gaiman’s blog. I’m not proud of it, but it does indicate how much free time I had on my hands.