summer reading II: story collections

IMG_0951With the intention of reading a story a night, a reader asked yesterday about story collections. I love that idea. No brand new collections to suggest, I’m afraid, but here are three great oldies:

Women & Fiction, edited by Susan Cahill, published in 1975. “Short stories by and about women.” Doris Lessing’s “To Room 19,” Jean Stubbs’ “Cousin Lewis,” Virginia Woolf’s “The New Dress,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation,” Carson McCuller’s “Wunderkind”….Try to avoid the very pink 2002 Signet Classic edition.

You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, published in 1994. “Contemporary American writers introduce stories that held them in awe.” There’s a great story in here by Paul Bowles, “A Distant Episode,” chosen by John L’Heureux. Also, Annie Dillard chooses a James Agee story. Bobbie Ann Mason chooses a Tim O’Brien story. Lorrie Moore chooses a John Updike story….This is a good, solid book.

The Story Behind the Story, edited by Peter Turchi and Andrea Barrett, published in 2004. “26 stories by contemporary writers and how they work.” I was fascinated by Stephen Dobyns’ explanation of how he wrote his story, “Part of the Story.” He was inspired by Raymond Carver’s method. “…the first sentence had come into his mind and he just followed it.” Also, stories by Margot Livesey, Charles Baxter, Andrea Barrett, Robert Boswell….

Others worth mentioning:

  1. Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike
  2. Best American Short Stories 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie

Then there’s The New Yorker and One Story.

As far as the initial question, I assumed anthologies, but here are two new single author collections:IMG_0978

  1. My Father’s Tears by John Updike, out today and reviewed in WSJ book review mentioned yesterday.
  2. Do Not Deny Me by Jean Thompson, out June 9th. Loved her collection, Who Do You Love. Also reviewed in WSJ book review mentioned yesterday.

Of the single author collections I’ve read in the last couple of years, I would recommend:

  1. Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill
  2. Last Night by James Salter
  3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  4. Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti

So many good stories, apparently I could go on and on…

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last night

Last Night is a slim volume of ten stories by James Salterimg_1264 James is his real name.  Salter is a pseudonym adopted because he was in the air force when he began to write. He was a fighter pilot who flew with Buzz Aldrin, Ed White and Gus Grissom.  In July of 2004, just before this collection was published, I heard him read from one of these stories, “Such Fun.”  He was 79 at the time.  Someone in the audience asked him about what he liked to read.  His answer: “I don’t read for pleasure anymore.  I read because I want to see how they did it.”  He said he writes longhand first and then types.

From his story, “My Lord You,” here’s an example of Salter’s ability to say so much with so few words (the wife was in the bathroom getting ready for bed):

“–Tired? her husband asked as she emerged. It was his way of introducing the subject.  –No, she said.”

In “Platinum,” look for another example of his ability to say it without saying it….

Again in “My Lord You,” an example of Salter’s ability to create a world with a few details:

“The hallway was dim.  Beyond it was a living room in disorder, couch cushions rumpled, glasses on the tables, papers, shoes.  In the dining room there were piles of books.  It was the house of an artist, abundance, disregard.”

Also, in “Bangkok,”:  “The rooms had high ceilings, the bookcases were filled and against them, on the floor, a few framed photographs leaned.”

In “Such Fun,” an example of his wit:

“There was not much more to her than met the eye, but that had always been enough.”

In “Give,” Salter does what he is so good at–writes about marriage.

My three favorite stories:  “Give,” “Bangkok,” and “Last Night.”