I GET A FEW REQUEST FOR BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS every now and then, and I've been meaning to do a post on it for a while. I feel like the beginning of a new school year is makes it an apt time to do so (I start teaching fall semester in three weeks!). I have to say that I have ever-changing tastes, but I also have a few mainstays that hold a permanent place on my bookshelves. I'll be compiling a smorgasbord of books/writers/anthologies that I love here.
Like I mentioned on my Instagram feed, I've been on a short story collection kick for quite some time, seeing as how I got my masters in Creative Writing, short fiction. I wrote, read, and lived short fiction for years and I think it'll be my one true love in terms of my fiction medium. My greatest inspirations or George Saunders, Flannery O'Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, Chekhov, Carver, Joan Didion, Aimee Bender, and loads more. Let's not forget Haruki Murakami. Now he is one who isn't really known for his short fiction (although you should definitely check out After the Quake). My favorites are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood.
I mean... Come on. Why couldn't I have written this?:
I tried to remember when I had last seen fireflies, and where it might
have been. I could see the scene in my mind, but was unable to recall
the time or place. I could hear the sound of water in the darkness and
see an old-fashioned brick sluice gate. It had a handle you could turn
to open and close the gate. The stream it controlled was small enough
to be hidden by the grass on its banks. The night was dark, so dark I
couldn't see my feet when I turned out my torch. Hundreds of fireflies
drifted over the pool of water held back by the sluice gate, their hot
glow reflected in the water like a shower of sparks.
I closed my eyes and steeped myself in that long-ago darkness. I heard
the wind with unusual clarity. A light breeze swept past me, leaving
strangely brilliant trails in the dark. I opened my eyes to find the
darkness of the summer night a few degrees deeper than it had been.
I twisted open the lid of the jar and took out the firefly, setting it on
the two-inch lip of the water tank. It seemed not to grasp its new
surroundings. It hobbled around the head of a steel bolt, catching its
legs on curling scabs of paint. It moved to the right until it found its
way blocked, then circled back to the left. Finally, with some effort, it
mounted the head of the bolt and crouched there for a while,
unmoving, as if it had taken its last breath.
Still leaning against the handrail, I studied the firefly. Neither I nor it
made a move for a very long time. The wind continued sweeping past
the two of us while the numberless leaves of the zelkova tree rustled
in the darkness.
I waited for ever.
Only much later did the firefly take to the air. As if some thought had
suddenly occurred to it, the firefly spread its wings, and in a moment 7
it had flown past the handrail to float in the pale darkness. It traced a
swift arc by the side of the water tank as though trying to bring back a
lost interval in time. And then, after hovering there for a few seconds
as if to watch its curved line of light blend into the wind, it finally
flew off to the east.
Long after the firefly had disappeared, the trail of its light remained
inside me, its pale, faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness
behind my eyelids like a lost soul.
More than once I tried stretching my hand out in the dark. My fingers
touched nothing. The faint glow remained, just beyond my grasp.
I think that's a good measure of whether or not I like a writer/book: if I wish I'd written it, which is rare. Anyway, right now, I'm reading 1Q84 by Murakami, which is a real endeavor, but I'm liking the challenge considering my attention span these days. The pacing-- and expectations-- of a novel compared to a short story is very different.
I'm also reading books aloud with J this summer, and we like to go outdoors sometimes and read. Recently, we went to the Claremont Colleges to find some peaceful spots to read. We found a pretty great secluded location in Scripps, with perfect ivy-covered walls, a non-obnoxious fountain, and crazy trees that wrapped around columns. Like another world.
Scroll down to the end of the post for a condensed list of recommendations. I'd love to hear some of yours in the comments!
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
- Willful Creatures | Aimee Bender
- Anything by Etgar Keret, but most recently Suddenly a Knock at the Door (he's on the magical realism side, as is Bender, which I LOVE)
- Pastoralia | George Saunders (Anything by him, too. He's really funny and satirical at times, but not in a pretentious way)
- Tenth of December | George Saunders (this one is a collection of stories spanning a few years, so you can get a good sampling of him. So FUNNY and charming and perfect)
- Everything That Rises Must Converge | Flannery O'Connor (that good Southern Gothic; read her essay collection Mystery and Manners too)
- Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been | Joyce Carol Oates
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love | Raymond Carver (I teach some of these stories in my classes)
- David Foster Wallace for those who are willing to sit down and tackle him
- Hot Pink | Adam Levin (NOT Levine; so strange and funny. He's a McSweeney's author. It's a publishing house founded by Dave Eggers. Read him too. If you know anything about me, you know how much I love McSweeney's. Look it up, love it up. McSweeney's Internet Tendency is so hilarious and smart and witty.)
- No One Belongs Here More Than You | Miranda July (and everything else she does is magic too)
- Self Help | Lorrie Moore ("How to be a Writer" and "How to be an Other Woman" are perfect. 2nd person mastery)
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake | more Aimee Bender!
- The Great Gatsby is not to be ignored
- Anything Murakami
- Fever Chart | Bill Cotter
- Confederacy of Dunces | John Kennedy Toole (super funny; I'm pretty sure that a movie is coming out starring Nick Offerman!)
- (Some) Steinbeck and Hemingway. I'm sometimes of the mindset that they're a little overrated, and then at the same time I'm blown away by them.
- ANYTHING Vonnegut. His 8 rules for writing are like the commandments.
I have so so much more. If you want more, ask! I'm willing to provide. What are some of your favorites?