Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather

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Ok, bear with me. I’m writing this from my phone, because I am currently internet-less. Which is fitting for this review, because I read most of this book on my phone.

Thursday night I couldn’t sleep, so I downloaded this short story collection to my nook app. I read about half of it before I was able to fall back asleep. I then finished it over the weekend in moments stolen out of my taskmaster-husband’s line of sight. We were moving over the weekend, hopefully for the last time EVER. The house is great, and we’re excited to work on some projects and (eventually) make it totally perfect for us 😀

On to the book!

Gao Xingjian is Chinese by birth, currently living in France. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. This short story collection has six stories. I thoroughly enjoyed the first four. The were short, beautifully written vignettes dealing with longing, loss, remembrances of the past. Great!

The title story seemed, at first, to continue the trend. Then it suddenly veered off into a long, weird, extended dream sequence. Fortunately, it at least somewhat prepared me for what was up next. The last story, “In an Instant,” was just bizarre. And creepy. Nightmarish. All full of imagery about rotting corpses and drowning in slimy water and a bunch more stuff that I’m trying to block out of my brain. *shudder*

I know there a a bunch of bloggers doing the R.I.P. Challenge. Based on the last two stories, which made up a good half of the book, I’d say this would qualify for all the creepiness factor one could want.

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Updated Fairy Tales

My Mother She Killed Me,
My Father He Ate Me

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
Edited by Kate Bernheimer

I first heard about this collection well over a year ago. The title was great, and it had selections from authors I’d been meaning to read for awhile (ahem, Neil Gaiman). I bought it shortly after, during one of my last visits to the Strand before I left New York. I started it back then, but mainly just flipped through it, picking out the stories that sounded interesting, leaving the rest for later.

Well. Later has finally come, and I’m kinda wishing it hadn’t. Turns out I read most of the good stories during my first go-round. A lot of the other ones felt like the author was trying to hard to evoke a theme, without really spinning a story. One of the great things about traditional fairy tales was they could be read on many levels – kids could get them, and adults could find elements to appreciate, too.

There were some very good selections. Amiee Bender’s “The Color Master” was excellent – an engaging story with a touch of magic and a sense of foreboding lingering in the background. Stacey Richter’s “A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility” probably wins the award for longest title, and is a fun tongue-in-cheek re-imagining of “Cinderella.”

Neil Gaiman’s story was good. It’s the tale of a girl whose sister turns into an orange monster, and it’s written in the form of the girl’s answers to some unknown questions of an unnamed interviewer. It definitely intrigued me enough to read more by him (I just picked up Neverwhere from the library today).

Honestly, though, it’s hard to judge the good stories on their own. Are they truly good? Or are the others so alike and so subpar that anything slightly original or interesting stands out like a shining beacon?

International Short Story Day

Today is June 20th, the longest day (and hence, shortest night) of the year (for the northern hemisphere, anyway). It’s also International Short Story Day!

I’m usually a full length book reader, but I do like a short story on occasion. Here are excepts from and links to two of my favorites:

Katherine Mansfield
stamp, New Zealand, 1988

Katherine Mansfield, “The Garden Party”

Away Laura flew, still holding her piece of bread-and-butter. It’s so delicious to have an excuse for eating out of doors, and besides, she loved having to arrange things; she always felt she could do it so much better than anybody else.

Guy de Maupassant, “The Necklace”

When she sat down for dinner at the round table covered with a three-days-old cloth, opposite her husband, who took the cover off the soup-tureen, exclaiming delightedly: “Aha! Scotch broth! What could be better?” she imagined delicate meals, gleaming silver, tapestries peopling the walls with folk of a past age and strange birds in faery forests; she imagined delicate food served in marvellous dishes, murmured gallantries, listened to with an inscrutable smile as one trifled with the rosy flesh of trout or wings of asparagus chicken.

What’s your favorite short story, or story collection?

I Discover Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper and other Stories
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Wow. I am so, so, glad I picked up this slim little volume of short stories last week at Bluestockings. A sticker on the front said “$2.50 – What a Steal!,” so I couldn’t pass it up. And it certainly was a steal. The title story is an excellent piece of psychological horror, rating up there with The Turn of the Screw  and  The Lifted Veil.

The gist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is that a young wife and mother is suffering from postpartum depression (or something similar), and is prescribed a period of quiet rest, free from intellectual pursuits, so that she may recover her nerves. Instead, the lack of stimulation helps her spiral further down into the depths of her illness. She becomes obsessed with the repugnant yellow wallpaper plastered in her sickroom.

     …There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.
     I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.

It is excellent, as are the other stories (which sometimes read as parables) in the collection. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is probably the least directly preachy, but Gilman still gets her message across loud and clear. Honestly, though, even when she’s at her most instructive feminist self, I remained in awe at the pure radicalness of her ideas. Talk about ahead of her time – she’s ahead of where we are in the United States today.

I’m interested in learning more about Gilman. She wrote an autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There are at least two biographies of her life: To Herland and Beyond: The Life of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, by Ann J. Lane, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, by  Mary A. Hill. Unfortunately, her wikipedia page shows that for all her awesome radical views on gender, she held some seriously problematic beliefs regarding race/ethnicity (why, 18th century feminists were you so full of fail when it came to intersectionality?)

A Short Story for Ghana Lit Week

The Prophet of Zongo Street

Kinna over at Kinna Reads is hosting Ghanaian Literature Week, and the list of #GhanaLit posts keeps growing. Kinna was kind enough to send me a couple links to Ghanaian short stories, as I had trouble locating anything in print in my area.

Last night I read “Mallam Sile,” a short story by Mohammed Naseehu Ali, which was published in The New Yorker back in 2005. As I read it, I realized I’d read this before, although  I couldn’t tell you when. I thought it was a charming story the first time through, and thought so again upon a reread.

The title character, Mallam Sile, is a tea seller on Zongo Street, a fictional community in Accra, Ghana. He’s from the northern part of the country, and is treated rather roughly and unkindly as an outsider. His customers have no interest in engaging him in conversation. Eventually,

The tea seller learned to swallow his words, and eventually spoke only when he was engaged in a transaction with a customer. But nothing said or even whispered in the shop escaped his sharp ears.

He’s an astute, successful business owner, but he’s lonely. It seems that he’s resigned himself to perpetual bachelorhood, until one day he makes a drastic change and finds a wife. Abeeba enhances his life in ways that he never expected – or did he? He may seem naive, but his actions have shown otherwise.
I enjoyed the realistic characterizations and the playful treatment of gender roles. I ‘d like to read more from Ali, especially if he continues along these themes. This story is part of his collection The Prophet of Zongo Street. Short story collections can sometimes be hit or miss, but if even a few are as good as “Mallam Sile,” I’d consider the book a success.

Order The Prophet of Zongo Street from an Indie bookstore near you. (Affiliate link: ie, I will earn pennies if you buy this.)

What to Read Next

I’m down to four unread library books, which is pretty good. I had nine checked out at once just a little bit ago – that’s a lot for me! Now my problem is deciding which one to read next. I chose three of these because they were available at my library and longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.

I can’t remember why I chose Binocular Vision (Edith Pearlman). I put in a hold request for it, so there must have been a reason. It’s a short story collection, and it looks pretty good. It’s also the one due the earliest, so maybe I should start it.

Technically, I’ve started A Cupboard Full of Coats (Yvvette Edwards) already. I picked it up from the library on Friday, and then went to my favorite Chinese restaurant to order takeout. While I was waiting, I read the first couple of chapters. I didn’t want to get too invested, though, because I was in the middle of two other books.

I’ve read mixed reviews of Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English. It looks like a quick read, though, so maybe I should just get to it right away.

The last option is Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Manangerie. It appears rather interesting – a circus/high seas adventure. Not something I’d usually pick up, but that’s why sometimes I like to read from some prize lists. I want to make sure I’m getting a good mix in!

Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?

Longing and Loneliness in the South

The Ballad of the Sad Café
Carson McCullers

I have a weakness for Southern fiction, especially from Southern women writers. I remember first being introduced to them back in high school. One of the titles that stuck with me was Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I don’t remember much of the specifics about the book, but I remember loving it.

I was in my favorite bookstore the other day when I came across The Ballad of the Sad Café. I figured it would be the perfect little book to take on my plane ride to Florida.  It includes the title novella, plus six other short stories.
All of the selections are a bit frightening. Not in a ghost-stories-around-the-campfire type of way, but in a haunting, exposing your innermost insecurities type of way.
In Wunderkind, McCullers spins a tale based on the demise of her own budding musical career. There is a thick fog of foreboding permeating the tale. From the beginning, we know things are not going to turn out well for young Frances.
McCullers’ descriptive ability shines here, especially when describing the music teacher, Mr. Bilderbach:

“The quick eyes behind the horn-rimmed glasses; the light, thin hair and the narrow face beneath; the lips full and loose shut and the lower one pink and shining from the bites of his teeth; the forked veins in his temples throbbing plainly enough to be observed across the room.”
Despite the beauty of the writing, the story stretches on, excruciatingly painful, walking us through each of Frances’ attempts, and failures. You feel how Frances must have felt at that last piano lesson – just please let this be done! Of course, that’s not a complaint – McCullers purposely makes you feel uncomfortable, and succeeds marvelously.
The two major themes throughout the book are love and loneliness. As far as love – what is it, who has it, what does it do to a person.  Loneliness – the universality of it. Together, they form the backbone of a fascinating collection.