[Reading Room] No More Than A Bubble by Jamel Brinkley

The Reading Room is a series of posts where I review short stories with a writers’ eye.

The opening

“It was back in those days. Claudius Van Clyde and I stood on the edge of the dancing crowd, each of us already three bottles into one brand of magic brew, blasted by the music throbbing from the speakers. But we weren’t listening to the songs. I’d been speaking into the open shell of his ears since we’ve gotten to the party, shouting a bunch of mopey stuff about my father. Sometime around the witching hour, he stopped his perfunctory nodding and pointed towards the staircase of the house. “Check out these biddies,” he said. Past the heads of the dancers and would-be seducers I too saw the two girls he meant.”

So what do we know from these opening lines?

Continue reading “[Reading Room] No More Than A Bubble by Jamel Brinkley”

[Reading Room] The Great Interruption by Wendell Berry

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This story was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2019, edited by Anthony Doerr

This story’s full title is The Great Interruption: The Story of A Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased To Be Told (1935-1978). It’s a great example of the benefits of writing a lot, and never trying to sound like anyone else.

The Opening

The style of this short story was a challenge, for me. Its long, complex sentences, so unlike most of what I read these days, slowed me down. In fact, I had to read a page or so, out loud, to get myself into the rhythm of the narrator’s voice.

Even the title was confusing—until I untangled it, when it became intriguing.

It read like Mark Twain, like Charles Dickens: of a time and place that is not mine.

But I knew straight away it was going to be worth it. Here’s how it starts.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] The Great Interruption by Wendell Berry”

[Reading Room] Natural Light by Kathleen Alcott

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This story was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2019, edited by Anthony Doerr

This story was dense and literary with a slow-build to a quiet conclusion. It was not to my usual taste at all. I didn’t much care for the protagonist. It had several elements that usually make me roll my eyes. And yet when I got to the end of this story, I immediately wanted to read it again. 

The language slowed me down, but not in a way that annoyed me. The exact meaning was often opaque, but through repetition, the author showed me how to read it and understand it. It was an odd experience, and I really liked it.

The Opening

I won’t tell you what my mother was doing in the photograph—or rather, what was being done to her—just that when I saw it for the first time, in a museum crowded with tourists, she’d been dead for five years.

Kathleen Alcott, Natural Light

Well. Isn’t that intriguing? We don’t know anything about the characters before this opening line, but all of a sudden we know quite a lot. 

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Natural Light by Kathleen Alcott”

[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman

This story is a great example of a short story that doesn’t follow a narrative structure but succeeds anyway.

Its full title is Theories of the Point of View Shifts In AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”

The Opening

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman”

[Reading Room] Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammet

Short review: I can’t believe I’ve never read anything by Dashiell Hammett before. I must be crazy. This was awesome. Totally got its hooks into me and stayed with me long after I read it.

Nightmare Town is the title story in this collection by the Noir master. Having mostly watched movies adapted from Raymond Chandler stories, and pastiches of Noir by others, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was, however, preparing for a reading at a Noir night, and thought I ought to do some research before I wrote a story to fit the theme.

Wow.

The Story

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[Reading Room] A List of Forty Seven Lies by Steven Fischer

I keep a spreadsheet of short stories I’ve read.  I make a note of titles, authors, where I found the story and a short comment about the story, to make these posts easier.

My notes, on reading this story, simply say: “Wow”.

A List of Forty-Nine Lies is a pretty intriguing title, and the story delivers immediately.

My name is not Levi. I am not afraid. The machines that hover in swarms over the streets cannot read the thoughts inside my head.

I am not running from them. I have nothing to hide.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] A List of Forty Seven Lies by Steven Fischer”

[Reading Room] The Death Ship by Richard Matheson

It’s tough to read Matheson’s stories now because his are the quintessential Twilight Zone type story (they were turned into several of the best TZ episodes) and have been ripped off, parodied and lovingly copied so many times that they feel cliched.

But concentrating on that takes away from the exquisite, concise, clear writing, characterization and big ideas of the original material. He really is a tremendously good writer.

His stories contain big ideas, thoughtfully dealt with in crisp prose that I could read until the end of time.

The Death Ship

This story was adapted into an early Twilight Zone episode. It comes from the early days of space exploration, when ideas were big and facts in short supply. Some of the assumptions in the story are suspect by today’s scientific standards, but that was never what these early sci-fi stories were about. (You know, unless they were written by Arthur C. Clarke, who also had a hand in inventing Radar, so he’s a bit of a special case.)

In this story three men in a space ship survey new planets, looking for new homes for the humans from the chronically overcrowded Earth. When they go down to investigate a particular planet, things start to get weird.

From that point on, the story is a purely about human nature and drama, with the space-faring backdrop becoming fairly unimportant.

That’s one of the things I find irresistible about science fiction. The writers hook you with the setting, with the gadgets and the ‘what ifs’, but then all the best stories end up being about the human condition.

They do what art is supposed to do: make life look a little bit strange, so that we can reassess our own position towards it. No matter which side of the political shouting match you’re on, it seems like that’s something our civilization could us at the moment, don’t you think?

What setting or story type could you use to reel in a reader who needs to see part of their own life with fresh eyes?

Read the story in The Time Traveler’s Almanac

[Reading Room] The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

Normally, my Reading Room posts are about a short story I’ve read, and what I learned from it.

Occasionally, however, a book comes along that I really think you should know about. This week, it’s The Business of Being A Writer by Jane Friedman.

Jane has been around the business of writing and publishing for a while now and really knows her stuff.

Here’s the start of the review I posted to Amazon:

I read a lot of self-help and inspirational books, and writing advice (heck, I write some). Most of it is the “Woohoo! You can do this!” type necessary to psyching yourself up to do the difficult business of wrangling words and sharing them.

This book is not one of those books.

This book is your older, wiser, best friend who loves you, and sits you down to say,

“Girl, I believe you can do it if you want to–you know I do. But first, let me show you what ‘it’ really looks like… Continue reading “[Reading Room] The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman”

[Reading Room] I’d Rather Go Blind by Jabari Asim

From A Taste of Honey – Stories by Jabari Asim, Broadway Books, 2010, ISBN 978-0-767679-1978-4

I knew a man who only read non-fiction because he “didn’t see the point” of fiction. Would it surprise you to know that this man was one of the least empathetic I never knew?

I firmly believe that fiction is more powerful than non-fiction, as a way to help us understand each other’s truths. So I used Black History Month as an excuse to seek out short fiction by writers of color. I  picked up this collection at my local library, and the first story in the collection has already confirmed my belief.

Opening Lines

“I’d Rather Go Blind” is the story of a moment in a pre-teen boy’s life during the ‘hot and forbidding’ summer of ’67.  In fact, that’s the opening line, Continue reading “[Reading Room] I’d Rather Go Blind by Jabari Asim”

[Reading Room] The Breathtaking Power of Dracula – Rolli

Read it online here

This is a flash piece I stumbled across on Twitter.

It was an interesting format: a screenshot/image of a formatted short story, attached to a tweet.

And it’s really odd. Delightfully odd. It’s the kind of thing that makes me go: Yes! See this? THIS is why I love short stories.

Normally I try to provide some Lessons For Writers with this little reviews, but today I think I’m just going to say: go and read this. It’ll take you a minute.

I particularly like the way he promises one thing, delivers something else, but doesn’t forget his promise.

Sometimes writing (and reading) are just…fun.

What do you think of the story? Leave a comment