Funny Girl

edited by Betsy Bird
First sentence: “A couple of wise women once said, ‘Joke-telling is the greatest superpower a gal can possess.'”
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Audiobook: Flying Lessons

flyinglessonsedited by Ellen Oh
Read by: An Ensemble of Narrators
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Content: The stories are all set in middle school, and some deal more explicitly with “older kid” problems. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’m considering moving it to the YA (grades 6-8) because I’m wondering if that’s more the audience.

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but when I saw the audio book of this one, I couldn’t resist. I’ve been neglecting reading books by non-whites this year (I shouldn’t be!) and I thought since diversity is the point of this collection, I’d give it a try.

And I loved it! Sure, I loved some stories more than others (The titular story, “Flying Lessons” was one of my favorites, as was “How to Transform an Everyday Hoop Court Into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Pena, and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” by Kwame Alexander, and “”Sol Painting, Inc.,” written and read by Meg Medina), but that’s to be expected. I loved that there were different readers for each story, which helped me tell the stories apart as well as giving them their own, distinct voice. I loved hearing the diverse stories, from the inner city, from the suburbs, from rural people to rich people to poor people to disabled people. It really did embrace the diversity that’s out there. Which is really the best thing.

Now to make sure that kids read it!

Reader, I Married Him

readerimarriedhimEdited by Tracy Chevalier
First sentence: “Why is ‘Reader, I married him” one of the most famous lines in literature?”
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Content: Some of the stories are sweary, including a dozen or so f-bombs spread out over several stories. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

First, a confession: while I’ve read Jane Eyre, I don’t love it. I’m not a huge Bronte fan, though I recognize the literary merit of their books. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from a short story collection that was built around one of the pivotal moments in Jane Eyre.

And, for the most part, I enjoyed this. I liked the ones that spun off completely from the idea of Jane Eyre, except for “The Mirror” which played with the idea that Mr. Rochester was a narcissist, an idea to which I can definitely ascribe. I also liked the parallels to the original in ” The Orphan Exchange.”

Other than that, I liked the ones that played with historical fiction — like “Since I First Saw Your Face” and “Reader, I Married Him.”  Though I think my favorite was “Self-Seeding Sycamore. ” I liked the play between the characters in the story; I think it was the only one where I felt there was actually chemistry between the characters.

So, while this was not a collection I would have picked up on my own (it was a book group book), I did enjoy it.


Summer Days and Summer Nights

summerdaysedited by Stephanie Perkins
First sentence: “There were a lot of stories about Annalee Saperstein an d why she came to Little Spindle, but Gracie’s favorite was the heat wave.”
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Content: Some stories are sweary (including f-bombs), some have drinking. I don’t think there’s any sex (maybe some references to it, but none actual.) It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Short story collections are hard books to talk about. Do you talk about the theme as a whole — ah, swoony summer romance, how wonderful it is? Or do you talk about individual stories, and how they resonate with you? (And how hard it is to actually read short stories? You get going and settled in the story and then it ends. *sigh*)

I did love that the stories by authors I knew absolutely fit them: Libba Bray of course would write a story about a haunted classic movie. Stephanie Perkins’, Nina LaCour’s, and Jennifer Smith’s stories felt like their books. Cassandra Clare’s was kind of lame (it was supernatural, sure, but underdeveloped). Some were definitely better than others: I really like Brandy Colbert’s story as well as Lev Grossman’s.  And surprisingly, Veronica Roth’s story made me tear up.

Is it something I’m going to come back to over and over again? No. But that’s the nature of short stories: they’re there, and they disappear as quickly as they come. But, I did enjoy the time I spent with it.

The Wonder Garden

by Lauren Acampora
First sentence: “John likes to arrive first.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs, but not as many as you’d think. Also some mild drug use and off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

If I had to choose a favorite way to read short stories (other than not at all), I prefer them to be interconnected ones. Ones where it almost seems like I’m reading a novel. So, I was immediately made curious about these with the words “intricately interwoven stories”. Yes, please.

And, at first I enjoyed this. One minor character from the previous story would show up as the protagonist in the next, giving layers to what had previously went on. Some stories were odd (the insect installation), others kind of weird (the accountant-turned-hippie). I don’t know if I was truly enjoying it, but I was interested.

But about 2/3 of the way through, it fizzled. I was tired of trying to remember which story what protagonist showed up in. I was bored with the way it interconnected. And the stories weren’t enough to keep me interested; I just couldn’t find myself interested in their lives, and the words just weren’t pulling me in.

It could totally be me: short stories and I aren’t always the best of friends and I may have just not been in the mood for this. But, it is possible that it may have just worn out its welcome.

Trigger Warning

by Neil Gaiman
First sentence: “There are things that upset us.”
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Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: This collection is fairly tame, ranging from simpler stories to more complex ones. I’d give it to anyone who has the attention span long enough to get through the stories and who likes short works of speculative fiction. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

I like Neil Gaiman’s writing. I do. I even actually think I like his short stories better than his longer works of fiction. But I think what I like best is listening to the audio of him reading his work. It’s only then that I feel I “get” what he’s trying to say.

Which means, that while I enjoyed this work of short fiction — and I did love some of the stories immensely. Namely, “The Thing about Cassandra” and “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” and “A Calendar of Tales” (September fits me quite nicely) and “The Sleeper and the Spindle”. All were elegant and lovely and charming and thoroughly enjoyable.

But there was something missing. And, thinking back on it, that something was Gaiman reading his own stories, enrapturing me with his interpretation of the written word.

Perhaps, then my enjoyment would have crossed over into love.

Fables for Our Time

by James Thurber
First sentence: “Once upon a Sunday there was a city mouse who went to visit a country mouse.”
Content: There’s nothing overt, and no swearing. It’d probably end up in the poetry section of the bookstore.

I think I’ve vaguely heard of Thurber before this book was picked for my in-person book group. But I’d never really paid him much attention. So I didn’t really have any expectations going into this.

It’s a series of short fables followed by illustrated poems (the poems are by other people). Pretty simple, right? The fables are pretty standard: animals doing human-like things. But the twist was that they had pretty… unusual… morals.

Things like “It’s not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.”

And: “Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.”

And: “Never allow a nervous female to have access to a pistol, no matter what you’re wearing.”

And: “The male was made to lie and roam, but woman’s place is in the home.” (The title of that one was “The Stork Who Married a Dumb Wife.”)

And at that point, I decided that Thurber — no matter what time period he’s writing in (the 1930s) is horribly sexist and doesn’t deserve to be read.

That’s a bit harsh. I get that these are satire (which I have a hard time with, anyway), and that they’re supposed to be stereotypes. But STILL. I was more impatient than amused. Stop it already with the sexist crap.