Best American Short Stories

Sorry for the semi-longer-than-usual radio silence here. Been travelling, first for work and then for fun. I’m in Melbourne with Hassan now, finishing up our little vacay. It’s been great catching up with some of my old Clarion-mates in Brisbane and Melbourne. If only I could see everyone, though doing the Sydney-Wollongong-Perth-Adelaide-etc. circuit is probably a bit beyond my means at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get to have a full-on class reunion at Worldcon in Melbourne in 2010! I am publicly committing to a return-trip then….

best-american-short-stories-2008Finished up Best American Short Stories 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. A good read, as always with this series. About a third of the stories had some sort of speculative element, which seems about in line with the recent trend. These are the ones that seem to be lasting in my memory:

“The Year of Silence,” Kevin Brokmeier.  You know those moments at a party, when everything so happens to go quiet all at once? One of those moments happens to an entire city, and then the city decides that silence is where it’s at.  An interesting surrealist (can you tell?) story that breaks a lot of rules in unusual ways, e.g., by narrating from the POV of a city.

“Virgins,” Danielle Evans.  Two teenage girls dealing withing their sexuality.  A nicely complex story, and one of the few in the book about the lives of people of color.

 “The King of Sentences,” Jonathan Lethem.  Two unknown writers go in search of a pulp fiction writer so brilliant they’ve dubbed him the king of sentences.  An entertaining read about hero worship and the odd layers of fame.

“Child’s Play,” Alice Munro. Typical Alice Munro brilliance, this story will haunt you afterward.  

“Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” Karen Russell.  Karen Russell can even make vampires new, interesting, and literary.  What if vampires didn’t need blood at all to survive?  What if, say, lemon juice did just as well?  What does it mean when you’ve learned you’re a monster, but you don’t have to be? 

“Puppy,” George Saunders. Another haunting tale, with a brilliant voice.  Saunders really takes you into his characters heads – and often it’s quite a creepy place to be… 

Any time you have a series like this, it’s nearly impossible for it to live up to its name, but this series comes pretty close, especially in recent years with editors like Rushdie, King, and Chabon, who have been bringing in a wider range of voices.

Satisfying Book Experiences of 2008 (Part I)

I was thinking of doing a post on my favorite books to come out in 2008, but the truth is I’ve only read maybe three or four books newly published this year, so I thought I’d steal a page from the clever Matthew Cheney and just post about some of my more satisfying book experiences in 2008, regardless of publication date. 

Best American Science Writing 2007Best American Science Writing 2007 . Last year for Christmas my parents gave me this book, and at first I was annoyed because what I’d actually wanted was Best American Short Stories 2007.  But as per usual, my parents’ wisdom–whether intentional or haphazard–led to good things.  I read every article in the book in just a few days.  The one that sticks out most in my mind was a piece by Atul Gawande about why Cesarian operations have become so common.  Before surgery and anesthesia came along, forceps were the usual way to handle an obstructed birth – and some double-blind studies still show that forceps may be safer for the mother.  The trouble is, these studies only showed how forceps performed in the hands of a highly-skilled doctor who’s very experienced in using them.  So Cesarians have become the norm, basically because it’s easier to maintain quality control on a mass-scale – and many lives have been saved as a result.  The book is chock-full of articles like this, which appeal to my science-fiction-ey nerd brain and my public-policy nerd brain at the same time.

st-lucys-home-for-girls1St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. At some point in the past year or so I saw Karen Russell read at KGB, and she totally blew me away.  This is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read, period.  The stories include a minotaur traveling west on the wagon trail with a group of pioneers, an “Out-to-Sea” retirement community, and the eponymous school for girls raised by wolves.  My favorite was “Haunting Olivia,” a touching and understated story about two brothers using a special pair of goggles to search for their sister’s ghost. Russell’s stuff is usually marketed as literary – probably because she’s so damn good with the words – but her surrealist motifs, strong characters, and quirky humor will appeal to anyone who loves slipstream-ish writers like Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler.

More satisfying experiences from Ann Patchett and Etgar Keret below the fold.

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