Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Short Story Salon

Short stories have been the substance of my literary diet for most of this week ... which in my world is a pretty good thing, since I adore them. Into this week fell a collection that I thought was just okay, another that I am loving, and another that I am still plodding through.  Oh, and a novel where the main character is an Iowa Writer's Workshop alum who has only one published short story to his name 12 years post graduation.

Let's work backwards from the beginning of the week, with the novel.   

It probably isn't going to wind up being one of my favorite books of the year, but I still kind of enjoyed John McNally's novel After the Workshop.  It's a different kind of book, as I wrote in my review of this one earlier this week.  I got a kick out of the references to Book Expo America and to blogs, and there were some funny moment in a dark humor kind of way, which I always like.

Then it was onto the first short story collection of the week, Something is out there, by Richard Bausch, a new-to-me author.  I found this collection to be a little lukewarm.  While there are some good stories in this one ("Byron the Lyron," "Reverend Thornhill's Wife," "Something is Out There") my issue was with the writing itself, which felt flat to me.  I liked the premise of several of the stories, especially the ones mentioned above, but I kept being reminded of the old writing adage "show, don't tell" with these stories.  It felt too much like Bausch was telling us too much instead of letting his characters do the talking. 

Yesterday morning, Boo and I spent about an hour and a half in Starbucks while Betty was at acting class.  I was surprised he was content for that long. I had to ply him with a banana chip cake and a fruit salad, but it was worth it because while he read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I was able to read the first two wonderful stories ("Mule Killers" and "Phantom Pain") in Lydia Peele's Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing.

I'll tell you, I am loving this collection and Lydia Peele has now become one of my new favorite writers to watch.  She has a wonderful style that I am enjoying immensely.  This is her first book, and I happened to pick it up in the stacks at the library.  It was then that I noticed that it is a Harper Perennial book, which have not disappointed me yet with the ones I've read (The Financial Lives of the Poets, The Queen of Palmyra). The only bad thing I can say at this point about Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing is that there are only eight short stories.

I. Want. More.  

And yes, I am still hanging around with our girlfriend Louisa May and her earliest stories.  This week I read "Ruth's Secret," "The Cross on the Church Tower," "Agatha's Confession" (loved, loved, loved this!), "Little Sunbeam" and "Marion Earle, Or, Only an Actress!" It's interesting; I'm finding myself more drawn to Louisa May Alcott's more gothic or thriller types of stories.  Maybe it's the influence of the R.I.P. Challenge on me.

Speaking of things that should R.I.P., my relationship with The Elegance of the Hedgehog is on life support.  At this point, this book can't end soon enough. Honestly, I'm not sure why I haven't pulled the plug yet. (I normally don't have a problem with abandoning a book that isn't working for me.)

I think it's because I am at that point where Rene and Paloma are finally going to meet and since people say this is the juncture where things pick up speed, I'm hanging with this one in hopes of a payoff at the end.  I'm also going to switch to the print version because if I'm not enjoying a book on audio, I try to give it a fair chance in print.  But oh my word ... I know this is a character-driven novel and all that, but Rene and Paloma are annoying the crap out of me and making me feel stupid every time I press play on my CD player in the car. There are enough things in my life for me to feel like an imbecile about, so I certainly don't need that in my reading (or listening).  Lee from Reading With My Ears' post "Prickly" sums up exactly what I am finding problematic with this book.

Oh! One more thing.  It might not sound like a big deal to those who regularly read over 100 and even 200 books a year, but this week I reached my 50th book of the year.  My 2009 reading total was 56 books, so I am thrilled that I am probably going to exceed that.  (Next weekend's Read-a-thon will help push that along.)

Hope you're having a good Sunday and enjoying a good book (or short story).

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Anonymous said...

Ooh! I have a copy of Reasons For and Advantages Of Breathing on my shelf! I'll try to get to it soon, if you loved it that much.

Congratulations on 50 books! I'm not one of those super speedy readers either. I'm in the 60s for the year, and I count audiobooks. I think everyone has to find the right balance for them. If I got through 200 books a year, I'd be a frazzled mess, plus I wouldn't enjoy or even remember any of the books! As long as you're really enjoying your reading, I don't think the overall number is so important.'s fun to keep track :-)

Trisha said...

I really need to get into short stories more; I've had such mixed experiences with them that I don't jump on the chance to read them.