100 Stories in 100 Days

In an effort to become a better-read writer, I am going to read and re-read 100 stories in 100 days. Join me?(!) Most of these are available for free online. My method of selection is…slipshod? It’s some combination of writers I’ve been intending to read, stories I’ve meant to read, selections from anthologies and journals that contain or have contained other stories I like, and recommendations from other writers. (DO YOU HAVE ONE?) Sometimes they’re stories I like and just haven’t read in a while.

First up, a classic inspired by my workshop today: A&P by John Updike.

And for tomorrow, George Saunders’s The Red Bow.

For Sunday, Allan Gurganus’s My Heart Is a Snake Farm (one of my favorite stories) and Brock Clarke’s The Lolita School.

For Monday, Sea Oak, also by George Saunders.

For Tuesday, The Moon by Colin Barrett.

For Wednesday, A Lesson in Flight by Alex McElroy.

For Thursday, The Vane Sisters by Vladimir Nabokov.

For Friday, So Much to Burn by Ben Hoffman.

Let’s switch to numbers, shall we?

10. The Bet  and Lady With The Dog by Anton Chekhov.

11. Night Bus by Ada Udechukwu.

12. My favorite, WG Sebald. The second chapter from The Emigrants (not online), and this.

13. DFW’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

14. Michael X. Wang’s Further News of Defeat.

15. Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation (available as a kindle single).

16. Edward P. Jones’s A Rich Man.

17. Chris Offut’s Second Hand. (I loved this story so much; I could just read this on repeat for like the next three days.)

18. Lucky Chow Fun by Lauren Groff (from Delicate, Edible Birds). (Lauren Groff is everything.)

19. Vampires In the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (from Vampires in the Lemon Grove).

20. Reeling for the Empire by Karen Russell

21. Nirvana by Adam Johnson.

22. Bad Year for Apples by CJ Hauser.

23. A story by a pretty kick-ass Dominican writer I met at Sewanee, Brenda Peynado: Strings. I stole a few of these stories from the recs on her website, like a true creeper.

24. A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka.

25. Additional Information That May Be Important by DJ Thielke.

26. Lull by Kelly Link.

27. Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin. This story honestly makes me want to give up writing or trying to do anything, ever. What is the point, you know? We already have Baldwin.

28. The Sea Latch by Cara Blue Adams (not available online).

29. Dark Air by Lincoln Michel.

30. The Ormolu Clock by Muriel Spark (available through the New Yorker Fiction podcast). (Listening to this story twice in the last week has reminded me of how much I luuuuurve Muriel Spark. Now I have to put her on my long, long novel reading list so I can revisit her work. Ugh.)

31. Sun City by Caitlin Horrocks, author of one of my favorite stories, Life Among the Terranauts.

32. Another Caitlin Horrocks story: Murder Games.

33. An Honest Exit by Dinaw Mengestu.

34. Tree Line, Kansas, 1934 by David Means (NYer fiction podcast).

35. The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro.

36. At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald (From the Guardian’s short fiction podcast, as are the next few entries.) (Penelope is the most underrated Fitzgerald.)

37. Umberto Butti by Giuseppe Pontiggia

38. A Conversation With My Father by Grace Paley

39. The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield

40. A story that I love, The Garden Party, also by Katherine Mansfield

41. A Respectable Woman by Kate Chopin

42. A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud. by Carson McCullers

43. Tiger Bites by Lucia Berlin

44. The Thief by Kirsten Bakis

45. Not a short story, but recommended reading from a Karen Russell interview: The Uncanny by Freud

46. A Love Match by Sylvia Townsend Warner

47. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

48. The Children’s Grandmother by Sylvia Townsend Warner (available through the NYer fiction podcast)

49. The Jockey by Carson McCullers (available through the NYer fiction podcast)

50. Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken by Elizabeth Ziemska

More updates as they occur to me…

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A Thing I Read That I Loved: “Tin Cans” by Ekaterina Sedia

I am an old man—too old to really care. My wife died on the day the Moscow Olympics opened, and my dick had not done anything interesting since the too-optimistic Chechen independence. I shock people when I tell them how young I was when the battleship Aurora gave its fateful blast announcing the Revolution. And yet, life feels so short, and this is why I’m telling you this story.

– See more at Electric Literature

Some books I’ve read recently, Spring ’15 edition.

wimsey

I have been reading the Lord Peter Wimsey books, by Dorothy Sayers. They are a time-suck great, if you are into Golden Age mysteries and British nonsense. The best thing about them is that unlike, say, Hercule Poirot, you get a sense of Lord Peter evolving  and having his own story over the course of the books, quite separate from the mysteries. He’s a bit of a throwback to Sherlock Holmes in that he isn’t formally a police detective or even a PI, really, he’s just a morbid, rich guy who likes puzzles and often questions his own cold-bloodedness.

doerr

I also listened to All The Light We Cannot See, which I thought was so beautifully written. When I finished it, I thought: I enjoyed this so very much, but what keeps it from feeling like a great novel? Reading William Vollmann’s review of it, and also a couple of interviews with the author, I think it’s that Doerr couldn’t quite trust his readers not to need a hook: something thrilling and mysterious beyond his wonderful characters, Werner and Marie-Laure and their loved ones. So he introduces this (ok, irresistable) subplot with a cursed diamond and the Nazi obsessed with it. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work in terms of making the book readable, and moving things along, but it ends up feeling sort of clunky against the more slow-burning and organic main story: Werner and Marie-Laure being drawn inexorably closer and closer. Doerr’s writing reminded me of David Mitchell, another writer who is so good, but also walks the line between literature and popular fiction. I’m always thinking (and rethinking) about the difference between what I think a great novel is–a work of art–and a great story. Sometimes, I think it’s that one focuses on things that happened that were exciting, and the other on how things that happened affected people and how those people allowed other things to happen and what that says about all of us. I really liked this explanation of the distinction, from the NYer’s review of Mitchell’s newest novel:

“As the novel’s cultural centrality dims, so storytelling—J. K. Rowling’s magical Owl of Minerva, equipped for a thousand tricks and turns—flies up and fills the air. Meaning is a bit of a bore, but storytelling is alive. The novel form can be difficult, cumbrously serious; storytelling is all pleasure, fantastical in its fertility, its ceaseless inventiveness. Easy to consume, too, because it excites hunger while simultaneously satisfying it: we continuously want more. The novel now aspires to the regality of the boxed DVD set: the throne is a game of them. And the purer the storytelling the better—where purity is the embrace of sheer occurrence, unburdened by deeper meaning. Publishers, readers, booksellers, even critics, acclaim the novel that one can deliciously sink into, forget oneself in, the novel that returns us to the innocence of childhood or the dream of the cartoon, the novel of a thousand confections and no unwanted significance. What becomes harder to find, and lonelier to defend, is the idea of the novel as—in Ford Madox Ford’s words—a “medium of profoundly serious investigation into the human case.”

December of Disappointments

I read a lot in December, and most of it was…not that great. While I was in Granada, I picked up and read Tariq Ali’s Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, and it was so full of anachronisms (most of them food-based). He wrote like five sequels though, so no one should feel bad for him, really. Least of all me.

I didn’t want to let the year go out, however, without mentioning that I finally got around to reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. I previously panned Blackout and All Clear, two of her other books, but I loved this one so much that I might give them a second try (but probably not, let’s be real). It’s a riff on Jerome K. Jerome’s classic Three Men in a Boat, and to my (confused?) mind, there was something very Wodehousian about it, too. It was a delightful comedy and so refreshing after Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, which on top of not being all that well written (I thought the characters were so flat…probably because there were like 100 of them) was also pretty grim. All in all, a nice, gentle 500 pages to ease you into the New Year.

Next year, I’m looking forward to traveling (I keep misspelling travelling/traveling) a lot, running another 10K, and reading some of the many, many books on my kindle and packed into every corner of my house, which include, in no particular order:

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis

Celestina by Fernando de Rojas (finishing it, anyway)

Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff

Eric by Terry Pratchett

Swann’s Way (again, finishing…I actually love this book, but it has very little forward momentum, you know? It almost invites you to step away from it and come back after a walk.)

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

The Life of St. Teresa of Avila

Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard by Georges Simenon

The Origin of the Brunists by Robert Coover

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Lazarillo de Tormes by I Can’t Remember

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, for some reason

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (probably not)

Either/Or by Kierkegaard (again, why?)

Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel

Sometimes, I look through my kindle and I feel like I must have been drunk when I bought myself these books.

I can’t get behind this.

Guys.

Why is the loafer for ladies a thing again? Do people remember the 90s fondly? Because I remember them GROSSLY. It was a GROSS time to be wearing clothes. These 90s trends are the worst.

Look at these madewell jeans.

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It looks like that model found those jeans in the trash. And she’s a model! Imagine these on the lumpyproletariat (sorry, but I’m one of them) that actually shops at America’s malls.

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Is joke?