Short Stories

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Authors in Literary Fiction

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is a freebie, so I decided to go back to a topic I didn’t get to post: the top ten underrated authors or books in a genre. I’ve chosen books by ten authors of literary fiction. Some of these authors are well-known (and some aren’t but should be), but I’ve primarily chosen books I love and wish had a wider audience.

Crooked Hearts, Robert Boswell. This is the simple story of a highly dysfunctional family, beautifully told. The Warrens are a clannish bunch, unable or unwilling to change things due to the compelling bond they feel toward one another.

The Bright Forever, Lee Martin. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 (March by Geraldine Brooks took the honor), this novel is part mystery, part family drama. Told from alternating points of view, it follows the events over the course of summer in a small town when a young girl goes missing.

The Jump-Off Creek, Molly Gloss. If, like me, you were obsessed by books like the Little House series or stories of pioneers, you will enjoy this wonderful tale a of a woman who goes to live alone in the Oregon wilderness in the late 19th century.

Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Mary Gaitskill. Outside MFA circles, Gaitskill is most well-known for writing the short story “Secretary” that was the basis for the indie film of the same name starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. This novel is about the lives of two women whose lives intersect at a point when they most need each other. Trust me, there’s nothing chick-lit about this darkly comic (and sometimes just dark) novel.

Heat, Joyce Carol Oates. It seems like most people know Oates primarily for her novels, but few people realize what a terrific short-story writer she is. I find her stories tighter than her novels, which ratchets up the psychological tension for which she’s so well known to terrific heights.

Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett. Okay, so this one won the National Book Award. The thing is—maybe because it’s a book of short stories?—people seem to have forgotten about it, and about her. Barrett’s background is mostly in science, which she marries beautifully with historical fiction to produce stories that should appeal to a wide audience. If you like historical fiction but are afraid of short stories, this book will allay all your fears.

The Dart League King, Keith Lee Morris. This book surprised me so much when I first read it—it completely knocked my socks off. Russell Harmon is a self-proclaimed dart-league king in a small town. We get his story and the story of people in his life over the course of one long evening when the league championship is at stake. It’s got mystery, suspense, and dark comedy all rolled up into a heartbreaking, entertaining narrative. (My full review.)

Preston Falls, David Gates. This novel about a man’s midlife meltdown should delight any fan of Richard Ford or Richard Russo. I’ve never understood why Gates isn’t as popular as some of his contemporaries, because he writes with such a keen eye, compassion, and humor about everyday life. this book was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award (in 1999). Seems like so many award finalists (and winners) slip through the cracks, doesn’t it?

And a couple of authors whose works overall don’t seem to get as much respect as they should:

Larry McMurtry. Lonesome Dove gets attention, but then people tend to think of it as a Western. McMurtry has a wide canon that includes more “contemporary” literary fiction (Terms of Endearment, Texasville) and Westerns, among other less easily classified novels. He’s a first-rate storyteller who deserves more attention.

Lee Smith. I think Lee Smith gets the double whammy of being labeled a regional writer (Appalachia/Southern) and a writer of “women’s fiction.” Both labels are limiting and probably keep people away from her work more than they should, but also keep her from being considered “real” literary fiction. She has a lot in common with Kent Haruf in terms of themes, if not in style and location.

What about you? What works or authors of literary fiction do you think deserve more attention?

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant to Read (But Didn’t)

Last year I found myself adding books to my wishlist like a crazy person. I think there must be a mathematical formula somewhere that shows how the desire to read a lot and the inability to do so results in a sort of virtual book hoarding behavior. The result is that I added plenty of 2014 releases to my wishlist (and I bought and read several of them, including Long Man, The Enchanted, The Secret Place, The Paying Guests, and Fourth of July Creek) but didn’t get around to reading most of them. So for today’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish), I give you the top ten books from 2014 that I never got around to reading:

Bark, Lorrie Moore. Of all of last year’s releases, this is the one I am the most ashamed I haven’t read yet, not only because Lorrie Moore is one of my favorite authors, but because I actually own a hard copy of the book. In fact, I pre-ordered it in 2013 because I was so excited about it. Whoops.

Bark: Stories

After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman. I actually bought this on sale last week, but I can’t read it until April. Laura Lippman’s books always entertain me.

After I'm Gone

Friendswood, Rene Steinke. Because it’s set in Texas, and sounds like one of those terrific narratives about family and community and what it means to belong to both.

Friendswood: A Novel

Some Luck, Jane Smiley. The truth is, I’ve only read two of Jane Smiley’s novels, A Thousand Acres and Moo, but I enjoyed them both so much that I am constantly meaning to return to her work.

Some Luck

Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle. I’ve read a few excerpts from this novel, and I’m drawn by the writing in addition to the fact that as a former World of Warcraft player, I am compelled by the exploration of creating other worlds inside of games, and how the desire to escape or control affects the “real” world.

Wolf in White Van

We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas. A story about a family trying to achieve the American Dream. Sign me up for that one.

We Are Not Ourselves

The Ploughmen, Kim Zupan. Lately it feels like the most compelling words to me are”lonesome,” “thriller,” and “the Plains.” This novel checks all three of those boxes.

The Ploughmen

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng. I actually received a free audiobook version of this novel. Question: when do you listen to audio books? I don’t have a commute, so the car is out. I tried listening while exercising, but my mind drifts. After listening to the first part, I know the writing is great, but I may have to get a “real” book to get through the whole thing.

Everything I Never Told You

Shotgun Lovesongs, Nickolas Butler. There are novels aplenty about four friends growing up and growing apart as the world intervenes, but it sounds like Butler has worked some magic on this timeless tale. And also, music.

Shotgun Lovesongs

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. I’ve heard nothing but raves abut this book. Sometimes that makes me feel less compelled to read a novel, but in this case I get the feeling that it’s as good as everyone says.

All the Light We Cannot See

*Images and text from Goodreads

Top Ten Tuesday: What Looks Good in 2015?

Today’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)—Top Ten 2015 releases we anticipate most—was a tough one, because I am still thinking about all the great books I never got around to in 2014. Last year I probably read fewer books for leisure than since graduate school, when Eighteenth century British epistolary novels and literary criticism took up all.my.reading.time. The good thing is that even though I only completed 32 books last year, over half of them were favorites (even though I only listed ten), and that’s remarkable for any reading year.

So even though I’m struggling to catch up with last year’s releases, I decided to look ahead and see what’s coming in the new year. Some new releases, such as books from Kazuo Ishiguro, Toni Morrison, and Kate Atkinson, probably excite most readers of literary fiction, so I’m not going to include those here. Instead, I’ve picked some less obvious choices that look intriguing. I give you books I am anticipating in 2015 (but will probably read in in 2016):

The Girl on the Train CoverThe Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins.  Okay, so this one is getting talked about all over the place, but it is a debut and the description is so compelling (to me, at least). I can already confirm I’ll be buying this one as soon as my self-imposed book buying ban is lifted, probably as one of my (2016) summer reads:

“Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. Its only a minute until the train moves on, but its enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”

Watch Me Go CoverWatch Me Go, Mark Wisniewski. Deesh is asked to move some barrels. He needs money. He doesn’t know or care what they contain, until he realizes just exactly what he’s moving, and who will take the blame. I’ve seen this compared to A Simple Plan, one of my favorite books of 2014. I tend to enjoy these “ordinary man pulled into a life of crime” stories:

“Jan, a young female jockey aspiring to win at horse racing and love, breaks her silence about organized crime to try to save the life of Deesh, an imprisoned black man she doesn’t know, whos been falsely accused of three murders. As Deesh and Jan recount the events that sent their lives spiraling out of control, they piece together the whole story and understand how they each fit into it. Suspenseful yet compassionate, Watch Me Go is a heart-stopping tour de force that examines how we love, leave, lose, redeem, and strive once more for love—and, ultimately, how regardless of how fast or how far we run, there is no escaping the daring impulses and human vulnerability in all of us.”

The Devil You Know: A NovelThe Devil You Know, Elizabeth de Mariaffi. This sounds like another fun read in the vein of Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, or Megan Abbott. I suspect this will be another summer fun book:

“The year is 1993. Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon who was killed in 1982, back when both girls were eleven. The suspected killer, a repeat offender named Robert Cameron, was never arrested, leaving Lianne’s case cold.

Now twenty-one and living alone for the first time, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding out what really happened to Lianne. She leans on another childhood friend, David Patton, for help—but every clue they uncover seems to lead to an unimaginable conclusion. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large—and that he’s coming back for her.”

Find Me CoverFind Me, Laura van den Berg. Is it just me, or are dystopia/epidemic novels the new black? Many of the new releases seem to fit those descriptions. (Or else, Gone Girl—I’m waiting for the description that says, “This novel is Station Eleven meets Gone Girl.” It’s coming soon, I promise you.) Still, something about this description drew me, and I expect it might be a knockout:

“Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients;including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel.

As winter descends, the hospitals fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.”

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas (Margellos World Republic of Letters) CoverSuspended Sentences, Patrick Modiano. Modiano won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014. Do I need more of a reason than that?

“Although originally published separately, Patrick Modiano’s three novellas form a single, compelling whole, haunted by the same gauzy sense of place and characters. Modiano draws on his own experiences, blended with the real or invented stories of others, to present a dreamlike autobiography that is also the biography of a place. Orphaned children, mysterious parents, forgotten friends, enigmatic strangers — each appears in this three-part love song to a Paris that no longer exists. In this superb English-language translation of Afterimage, Suspended Sentences, and Flowers of Ruin, Mark Polizzotti captures not only Modiano’s distinctive narrative voice but also the matchless grace and spare beauty of his prose.
Shadowed by the dark period of the Nazi Occupation, these novellas reveal Modiano’s fascination with the lost, obscure, or mysterious: a young person’s confusion over adult behavior; the repercussions of a chance encounter; the search for a missing father; the aftershock of a fatal affair. To read Modiano’s trilogy is to enter his world of uncertainties and the almost accidental way in which people find their fates.”

The Half Brother CoverThe Half Brother, Holly LeCraw. It’s a campus novel. Enough said.

“When Charlie Garrett arrives as a young teacher at the Abbott School, he finds a world steeped in privilege and tradition. The school’s green quads are lined by gothic stone halls, students dart across campus in blazers and bright plaid skirts. Fresh out of college and barely older than the students he teaches, Charlie longs to find his place in the rarefied world of Abbottsford. He is particularly drawn to the school chaplain, Preston Bankhead, and Preston’s beautiful daughter, May. Then, Charlie’s younger half brother, Nick, arrives on campus. Nick is, quite literally, the golden child, with sandy blond hair and a dazzling smile. Teachers welcome him warmly, students stay late to talk after class, and May Bankhead proves susceptible to his magnetic draw. As Charlie sees the unmistakable connection between his first love and his half brother, he struggles with emotions far more complicated than mere jealousy. A terrible secret threatens to surface, and Charlie’s peaceful campus life is shattered.”

The World Before Us CoverThe World Before Us, Aislinn Hunter. This just sounds like all kinds of dark, twisted fun. (Yes, I just described the idea of reading about Victorian asylums and museum archivists as “fun.”)

“Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment during their outdoor adventure, she lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project—an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past—Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared some 125 years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a compelling portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own presently heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.”

A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me: Stories and a novellaA Hand Reached Down to Guide Me, David Gates. Because David Gates. You don’t need to wait for this book to read his work. Check out his short story collection The Wonders of the Invisible World or his novel Preston Falls. If you like Richard Russo or Richard Ford (“The Richards”), then you’ll like David Gates.

“Gates’s characters, young or old or neither, are well educated, broadly knowledgeable, often creative and variously accomplished, whether as a doctor or a composer, an academic or a journalist. And every one of them carries a full supply of the human condition: parents in assisted-living–or assisted-dying–facilities, too many or too few people in their families and marriages, the ties that bind a sometimes messy knot, age an implacable foe, impulses pulling them away from comfort into distraction or catastrophe. Terrifyingly self-aware, they refuse to go gently–even when they’re going nowhere fast, in settings that range across the metropolitan and suburban Northeast to the countryside upstate and in New England.”

There's Something I Want You to Do: Stories CoverThere’s Something I Want You to Do, Charles Baxter. I have a soft spot for Charles Baxter because his collection A Relative Stranger was an early favorite of mine. If you like Tobias Wolff (or again, The Richards—or David Gates!), then put Charles Baxter on your list as well. Read the story collections first, because that’s where he really shines.

“These interrelated stories are arranged in two sections, one devoted to virtues and the other to vices. They are cast with characters who appear and reappear throughout the collection, their actions equally divided between the praiseworthy and the loathsome. They take place in settings as various as Tuscany, San Francisco, Ethiopia, and New York, but their central stage is the North Loop of Minneapolis, alongside the Mississippi River, which flows through most of the tales. Each story has at its center a request or a demand, but each one plays out differently: in a hit-and-run, an assault or murder, a rescue, a startling love affair, or, of all things, a gesture of kindness and charity. Altogether incomparably crafted, consistently surprising, remarkably beautiful stories.”

Our Souls at Night: A novelOur Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. Favorite author, final book. RIP, Mr. Haruf.

 

 

 

 

*Images, links, and synopses from Powell’s and Goodreads. All links are unaffiliated; I receive no compensation.

Armchair BEA: Short Stories

This is a topic near and dear to my literary heart. For years I read short stories almost exclusively: collections, anthologies, literary journals, and magazines. I own every Best American Short Stories edition since 1995, when I first became interested in the form. I kept subscriptions to Tin House, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, One Story, Harper’s, and The New Yorker until the piles of magazines and journals threatened to crowd us out of our home. I’m always vexed when people tell me they don’t “get” short stories. They seem to believe short stories are either too dense and “literary” to be entertaining, or they expect them to be “bite size” literary experiences when they don’t have time to read longer works. Either way, the short story gets short shrift. (Go ahead, say that five times fast!)

When Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, it was a banner moment for the short story. Creative writing programs across the country have seemed to contribute to the popular idea (among both writers and readers) that short story collections are “starter” efforts for serious writers, a way for them to flex their literary muscle before they get down to the “real” work of writing a novel.  By awarding Munro—who writes short stories almost exclusively—with the prize, the Nobel committee also conferred a higher status to the short story, recognizing it as a distinctive and worthy form apart from the novel.

Like the best novels, the best short stories are character-driven. In other words, the plot derives from character, not the other way around, and for readers who are more focused on “what happens” than on underlying motives and behaviors that drive action, short stories might take some getting used to. Writers tend to focus more on language in short stories. That’s not to say that plenty of novelists aren’t concerned with language, but simply that in the short story the language must do much more heavy lifting than in the novel because of the shorter form. In that way, the best short stories have more in common with poetry than with novels.

If you are interested in reading short stories but you aren’t sure where to begin, anthologies are a great place to start because you’re exposed to different writers and can get a sense of what you as a reader expect and enjoy from stories. The Best American series of anthologies is wonderful (I am partial to Best American Mystery Stories in addition to the annual “literary” short story collection), as are The O. Henry Prize Stories and the Pushcart Prize Stories. Beyond that, I’ve listed some of my favorite collections:

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Love, Marriage, by Alice Munro

Rare and Endangered Species, by Richard Bausch

Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore

Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant

Cowboys Are My Weakness, by Pam Houston

American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell

After Rain, by William Trevor

Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett

The Collected Stories, Flannery O’Connor

Wonders of the Invisible World, by David Gates

A Relative Stranger, by Charles Baxter

Rock Springs, Richard Ford

Almost No Memory, Lydia Davis

Monogamy, by Marly Swick

Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill

An Amateur’s Guide to the Night Sky, Mary Robison

Female Trouble, by Antonia Nelson

Heat, Joyce Carol Oates

In the Garden of North American Martyrs, by Tobias Wolff

Delicate, Edible Birds, by Lauren Groff

I’m All Out of Love

Have you ever fallen out of love with an author? Recently on NetGalley I requested a book of stories by a writer whose stories and novels I used to love. I have read at least five of this author’s books (three collections, two novels), and one collection in particular I have recommended many times to people who were interested in reading short stories but were not sure where to start.

I was excited about this new story collection. (And I’ll confirm that I am not talking about Lorrie Moore’s Bark, which I own in hardback but have not even opened yet.) The first story was one I had already read when it was published elsewhere. I remember thinking it was okay. On second reading, I was even less impressed.

This author does tend to visit the same themes over and over again, but a lot of authors (Alice Munro, for example) do that successfully over the course of an entire career. I can appreciate this, as long as I continue to see the author handling certain themes or subject matter in new ways—when I can see the author has turned the thing this way, and then again that way, and realized that perhaps long-held ideas were misguided, or the result of pride or vanity or anything, really.

What I found in this new collection was that this author seems to have stopped seeing things through the prism of age or changing culture or world events and is instead viewing them through a single lens, one with an old prescription. I feel as though I have seen these characters before, in these same situations, responding in the same ways, and it leaves me thinking, “Really? Again?” It’s like watching an old friend repeatedly make the same mistakes. Or maybe it’s the way I’m reading? My expectations were too high, perhaps?

I am being purposely coy and not naming names (or even revealing gender) because I feel that I can still recommend the author’s past books. But I’m afraid I won’t be reviewing this one, and I’ll never suggest it.

Favorite Reads of 2013

Better late than never, I suppose, I’ve put together a list of my favorite books of 2013. I’ve noticed a lot of people have mentioned that 2013 was a particularly dry year for them, and a lot of prolific bloggers have confessed to reading fewer titles in 2013 than in years past. For me, 2013 was a particularly good year for reading. I only read 38 books, which shocks me, but this year I started a new job that hasn’t really left me with much of a life outside work–and what life I’ve had has been mostly filled with stressing out about…work. That’s something I am determined to change in 2014, so no point in spending a lot of time whining about it, but it may take me some time to get my reading mojo back.

Another weird thing happened at the end of the year: after I finished The Goldfinch and The Little Friend, both by Donna Tartt, I found it impossible to stick with any other novel I picked up. I started no less than ten different books only to find myself becoming restless and disinterested. I cannot fault any of the books I picked up, and I plan to finish all of them at some point, but I just couldn’t seem to keep things going (see above: stress). In November I got through two non-fiction books, though: Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised (which I recommend if you enjoy quality television–I haven’t seen all of the shows he discusses in the book, so I skipped those chapters, but I’ve seen most of them, and I follow Sepinwall’s reviews online pretty religiously for shows I watch) and Ann Patchett’s The Secret of a Happy Marriage. I enjoy the way Patchett writes and have always enjoyed her non-fiction, but…well, the truth is, this book of essays is probably best read in small doses if you want to keep liking Ann Patchett (and I do). Reading all of these essays together in almost one sitting, I thought she came off as both a bit smug and full of first-world problems. While I appreciate her for opening an independent bookstore, for example, she seems (ingenuously) unaware that the book store is probably a success both because her name is attached to it and because she has rather deep pockets to help keep it going (at one point in the book, she talks about writing a $130,000 check–I’m sure many independent bookstore owners across the country wish they had ready access to such capital).

Anyway, without further ado, below are my favorite reads of 2013. I’ve added links for books I wrote about, and added a few notes for books I never got around to reviewing.

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell

Benediction, Kent Haruf

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner. This made many big-name “Best of 2013″ lists this year, and I stand with those who think all praise is well-deserved. This book worked for me because I liked the narrator so much–she’s the quintessential quiet outsider who both longs to be a part of the art world and also sees the shallowness of both her longing and the art world itself.

Serena, Ron Rash. This dark, dark novel is set in western North Carolina at the start of the Depression. George Pemberton has brought his new bride Serena home to his timber camp. Serena is ruthless and ambitious, and George is completely under her spell. A dark twist on the idea that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, this novel has a Shakespearean quality that makes it both eloquent and gripping.

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, Paul French. Last year, The People Who Eat Darkness, the story of a young British woman who went missing in Japan, made my list of favorite reads. Midnight in Peking tells the true story of a young British woman found murdered in 1937. The mystery has never been solved, and the story is as chilling as any modern tale I can imagine.

Night Film, Marisha Pessl

Lamb, Bonnie Nadzam

Cartwheel, Jennifer DuBois

You Are One of Them, Elliott Holt

The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt

Open Secrets, Alice Munro. Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, and this book had been lingering on my shelves far too long. It’s Munro. Enough said.

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt. I did it! I finally read The Little Friend, after five or six attempts. I picked it up because I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of The Goldfinch and had handed over my copy of The Secret History to my husband to read. I thought I might as well give this one another shot, and I’m so happy that I did, because somehow it finally clicked for me. As a matter of fact, I was almost reluctant to set it aside when The Goldfinch arrived. Set in Alexandria, Mississippi in the 1970s, The Little Friend is the story of Harriet Cleve Dufresnes, a 12-year-old girl who decides that the death of her older brother Robin was no accident and sets out with her friend Hely to find his killer. What Tartt does so effectively in this book is paint a vivid and complex picture of life in the deep South. If you’re interested in novels about the South, and want a more accurate and less cliched (and funnier, deeper) portrayal of the racial and class inequalities that persist in small Southern towns than you might find in a book such as The Help, then pick up The Little Friend.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. I am not going to say much about this one, because so much has already been said. I found it completely engrossing and enjoyable. Tartt is a world-builder, which I think is why she has lately been compared so often to Dickens. I’ve seen some reviewers who seem to want to pick apart the book–why, for example, would terrorists bomb an art gallery? I don’t know. Why, in reality, do they bomb discotheques? The book isn’t about terrorism. It’s about loneliness, isolation, friendship, and perhaps on some level the power of art to sustain us in the strangest ways.

All Hail Alice Munro! All Hail the Short Story!

Unless you live under a rock or simply do not care about literature at all (why are you here, by the way?), then you probably know by now that Alice Munro was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. I heard the news this morning on NPR. I gave a whoop and started to cry; I was so happy to hear the news because Alice Munro is my favorite author, and I know I’m not alone!

“This is quite a wonderful thing for me. It’s a wonderful thing for the short story.”—Alice Munro

But another reason to be happy is that this is such a significant award given to a writer dedicated to the short story form. I did not know, until I started this blog and became acquainted with other book bloggers, how many readers–even readers of ‘serious’ literature–have an aversion to the short story. I’ve often wondered why that is, but the attitude is not an uncommon one, even if the reasons are singular and unique.

“Because I work in the short story form, this is a special thing, to get this recognition.” —Alice Munro

Earlier this year, an article on Gawker took American writer George Saunders to task for never having written a novel. The premise? Real writers write novels…enough playing at all this short story business. Short stories are for MFA theses. They are for dallying and tinkering with between writing real books. They are not serious literature. That story garnered quite a bit of criticism when it was published, but hopefully now we can begin to put the debate to rest (or at least lock it in a closet where we can’t hear the muffled cries of outrage).

In honor of Ms. Munro being awarded the prize, I thought I would share a list of some of my favorite short story collections.  I hope you find something you like here.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Love, Marriage, by Alice Munro (Favorite stories: “Post and Beam” and the title story, soon to be a movie starring Kristin Wiig. Candian actress, director, and activist Sarah Polley also made the film Away from Her, which was based on “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” the last story in this collection.)

Rare and Endangered Species, by Richard Bausch

Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore

Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant

Cowboys Are My Weakness, by Pam Houston

American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell

After Rain, by William Trevor

Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett

The Collected Stories, Flannery O’Connor

Wonders of the Invisible World, by David Gates

A Relative Stranger, by Charles Baxter

Monogamy, by Marly Swick

Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill

An Amateur’s Guide to the Night Sky, Mary Robison

Female Trouble, by Antonia Nelson

In the Garden of North American Martyrs, by Tobias Wolff

Delicate, Edible Birds, by Lauren Groff

“Well I hope [the prize brings a new readership], and I would hope this would happen not just for me but for the short story in general, because it’s often sort of brushed off you know as something people do before they write their first novel, and I would like it to come to the fore without any strings attached sort of. It doesn’t have to be a novel.” —Alice Munro

*Alice Munro quotes from her telephone interview today with Nobel member Adam Smith. You can listen to the call in its entirety here.

**Image from The New York Times

***Updated 10/14/2013 to add link for short story, “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” now available on The New Yorker site.