Continuing on with short story week (which has somehow spilled into its second week, oops), I thought I’d give another shout-out to one of my new favorite books, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (you can check out my review of the book here). One of the key components of this book is that every chapter is preceded by a recommendation for a short story. Since I’m a sucker for a reading challenges (still making my way through the Rory Gilmore Challenge, though I’m years away from finishing), I was quick to read through the list and thought I’d share my impressions (or you could pick up a copy of the book to read Fikry/Zevin’s thoughts on the subject).
First, here’s the list of short stories:
- Lamb to the Slaughter – Roald Dahl
- The Diamond as Big as the Ritz – F. Scott Fitzgeral
- The Luck of Roaring Camp – Bret Harte
- What Feels Like the World – Richard Bausch
- A Good Man is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor
- The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County – Mark Twain
- The Girls in Their Summer Dresses – Irwin Shaw
- A Conversation with My Father- Grace Paley
- A Perfect Day for Bananafish – J.D. Salinger
- The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allen Poe
- Ironhead – Aimee Bender
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver
- The Bookseller – Roald Dahl
First of all, this is a weirdly curated collection of stories. For a book that heavily revolves around a volume of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane, there is only one Poe story, yet there are two by Roald Dahl. And then, because of the inclusion of Dahl, you can’t call it a collection by American writers. Then, the list is almost entirely male writers (except for Grace Paley and Aimee Bender), so arguably there isn’t a gender component. And while most of the stories were published between 1920 and 1980, you still can’t call it a grouping based on time period since Poe, Twain, and Hart were publishing in the late 1800s, and Bender’s story “Ironhead” wasn’t published until 2005. The only thing that I found to even sort of tie the stories together is that every author has also published a novel, play, and/or other written work, but I think that has more to do with the nature of those who publish short stories than anything else.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the collection of short stories, because I did! I even liked the Salinger story, and I’m not what you’d consider a Salinger fan. It just bugged me that the stories didn’t have much to do with each other, in tone, content, or any other observable fact. Instead, it seemed like a collection of Gabrielle Zevin’s favorites. Reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry you get a better sense of the connection between the stories and how they (sort of?) represent growing up, but as a collection on its own it doesn’t stand up so well.
Back to the stories themselves… I wanted to write about my favorite, but I really couldn’t pick one. “The Bookseller” was good, and one I hadn’t read before, but I also enjoyed “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County” immensely, even though I’ve read that one a few times. I also couldn’t really pick a least favorite, since there wasn’t a story on the list that I truly didn’t like. Maybe it’s just that it’s harder to critique a shorter piece, or maybe I just have similar taste to Zevin.
Now, onto something that isn’t quite related, but that I couldn’t help but share. I don’t own many collections of short stories, so I looked to the internet and my local library to complete this reading challenge. Almost every story was available at the library, and the few that weren’t (either not owned or checked out when I visited the library), were in the public domain and therefore all it took was an internet connection to hunt them down. There was one exception: “Ironhead” is only available in print in her collection entitled Willful Creatures. No biggie, until I found out that the copies owned by the library have all been lost for at least two years. My next solution was to try and find it on the web (dubious legality aside, I guess), but this was a no go. No bookstore in my area had a copy I could covertly read while pretending to browse, and I wasn’t really interested in spending the money on the book to read just the one story. So, in a last ditch attempt to track it down, I tried to find Willful Creatures through inter-library loan. Viola! A copy was hunted down, and a request sent to the library that could send it to me. A few days later I get a message asking if I really want to read the book, since someone will have to track it down from the storage/stacks area where it’s been hiding (reminder, this is a book that was only published in 2005). So, I responded with “yes, I would like to read it,” and within 3 days I had it in my hands. I promptly took a picture, since it seems that I will never gaze upon this book ever again.*
*(Tardis not to scale).