Monday, June 15, 2009

The Adventures of Reading

Reading short stories has always been an adventure for me. I’m never quite sure what I will encounter. Some of the best examples of this genre are found in Houghton Miflin’s yearly publication called “The Best American Short Stories”. Each year Houghton Miflin chooses a well known author to be the “guest editor”. A Houghton Miflin editor in charge gives the guest editor about a hundred and fifty stories chosen from recent magazine publications and the guest editor chooses twenty stories that he feels are the “best” to be published in this year’s volume.

The “Best American Short Stories - 2008” was edited by Salmon Rushdie the acclaimed author of “Midnight’s Children”, “The Moor’s Last Sigh” and many other fiction and nonfiction works. I was very impressed by the richness, diversity and strength of this collection. Many of the stories have a strong element of surprise and/or suspense, which caused me hold my breath as I turned the pages. And most of them are truly imaginative. Some of the authors are well known, such as Alice Munroe, Tobias Wolfe and T.C. Boyle but for some it is their first published work. The common thread in this selection of stories is originality and surprise.

One of my favorites is a story by the famed short story writer, Alice Munroe, called “Child’s Play”. It is about two pre adolescent girls at a Christian summer camp in Canada. It is told as a flashback as one of the women is near death and the other is a world traveled, published author. The story pulls you in with straight forward, chatty prose and then stuns you with an ending that is frightening and hard to believe. Another strange and haunting story is Katie Chase’s “Man and Wife”, a story about an arranged marriage between a nine year old girl and a grown man, told by the child as she is contemplating her future. The strange part about the story is that it all seems so normal but you know it is not.

A story I particularly liked is Nicole Krauss’ “From the Desk of Daniel Varsky”. It is about an American poet who inherits a desk from a Chilean writer and somehow the life and fate of the writer living in Chile becomes part of the poet’s life in New York. It is a moving story that leaves you to wonder what real or imaginary effect the desk had on the protagonist.

I could go on and on about these wonderful stories but do yourself a great favor and read them, or give the volume, as a gift, to someone who loves to read. They will really enjoy it and probably want to discuss the stories at length.

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