Sunday, May 31, 2015

On my nightstand: Short Stories

My friends Angie,  Lara, and I have been offering each other a different challenge each month this year. I love the challenges! They usually involve something I want to do, but wouldn’t make time for without the external obligation I feel to my friends (classic obliger mode, according to Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies).

I chose our May challenge: to read one short story every day in May.

Lara is a ferocious reader and has done various reading challenges in the past (reading 52 books in one year, reading #24in48, and the instigator of our Book Bingo FB group). I’m usually wary of any reading challenge, as my inner rebel comes out. I like to read whatever and whenever I want, but like Book Bingo, this one allowed me to choose my titles. In the end, I settled for reading 31 short stories in May---as some days I didn’t find time and then caught up on the weekends.

Here's what I read, in the order I read them, with the top 10 in bold:

1. "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri
2. "Reflections of Luanne" by Marjorie Holmes
3. "My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age" by Grace Paley
4.  "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor & “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
5. "Advanced Beginners" by Melissa Banks
6. "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. "Sexy" by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. "A Real Durwan" by Jhumpa Lahiri
10. "I Knew You'd be Lovely" by Alethea Black
11. "Mrs. Sen's" by Jhumpa Lahiri
12. "The Third and Final Continent" by Jhumpa Lahiri
13. "This Blessed House" by Jhumpa Lahiri
14. "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" by Jhumpa Lahiri
15. "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing" by Melissa Banks
16. "Wants" by Grace Paley
17. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
18. "Poison" by Roald Dahl
19. "The Office" by Alice Munroe
20. "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin
21. "Immigrant Story" by Grace Paley
22. "Conversations with My Father" by Grace Paley
23. "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" by Grace Paley
24. “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” by Amy Hempel
25. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
26. “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton
27. "Sixteen" by Maureen Daly
28. "Homage To Switzerland" by Ernest Hemingway
29. “The Happiest I’ve Been” by John Updike
30. “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olson
31. “The Roads Round Pisa” by Isak Dinesen, and her “The Deluge at Norderney”

This year’s Book Bingo requires an anthology of short stories all by the same author, which is why I finally read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. It didn’t disappoint, despite a decade's worth of hype. I have to admit, only a few of the other titles are new to me. I reread a few that I used to teach (Eleven and Poison), and a few from my mother's high school lit book, one of the most meaningful gifts she ever gave me.

Before I knew the word typography, I was fascinated by it in my mother's anthology from Siena High School.

Most were old favorites, but these were new to me: Hemingway’s "Homage to Switzerland.” Alice Munroe’s “The Office,"“I Knew You’d Be Lovely” by Alethea Black, and two of Grace Paley’s stories about her father.

Some think rereading is a crime since there are more great books than time to read them all. I find that silly. Reading is not a race or a conquest. Nabokov supposedly said the best reading is rereading, and I firmly side with him. A few weren't as good as I remembered them ("Roman Fever"); some were even better ("Revelation").

I hadn’t read “Sonny’s Blues” in years, but it took me back to the awe I felt reading it at 17, in Dr. Harold’s Literary Analysis class during my first semester at Loyola. I remembered bringing it home the following weekend for my mother to read, and her reaction: “You can actually see the music.” 

At 17 I was clueless about many things, but I did know that this was magic---that Baldwin could make marks on paper and years after that, the people he imagined could show up in my own mind just by my looking at those same marks on paper. And when the writing is good, as it is with Baldwin, those people become part of my story too, people I carry with me.

Reading is magic.

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