Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

US strangeness

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cover of How I Came West74. How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

Fantastic. That kind of sums up how I feel about this collection of stories. Some of them really are just that good, others show features that decidedly belong in works of fantasy, and all 13 of them show great imagination. Issues of gender and/or sexuality come up in all of the stories, but these aren’t explicit tales; a worldly teenager shouldn’t be embarrassed by them. That’s about all I can say about all the stories at once, as they’re very varied. The character voice is very clear in each, even beyond the usually first-person narrator. Oh, and they’re all set in the modern US (hm, well one probably isn’t, but it isn’t clear that the narrator of that one really knows where within a continent she is anyhow).

This is a book I came across somewhat randomly, finding it in the BookMooch inventory of someone we were getting other books from at a time when we had points to spare (which we don’t now, but that’s a different issue) and I’m glad I took the chance on it. I think the first and title story is the most bizarre in its premise, but possibly the last story ‘Better Be Ready ‘Bout Half Past Eight’ is the best in my opinion. It tells a story from start to finish, and shows the characters coming to understand different perspectives on themselves and others.

A moment too long

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cover of Moments73. Moments by Nachman Seltzer

I was enjoying this collection of stories, but wouldn’t have said I was really engrossed in any of them. Then I missed my stop on the bus this morning! This is a bit of a big deal, since it doesn’t stop again for about 15 minutes or so after my stop, and then the line ends and I have to wait for it to go back again. Instead of being at class precisely on time, I was 50 minutes late, which I really really hate!

So I did enjoy the stories – some more than others, of course – although I can’t yet speak as to how practically inspiring they’ll really be. (The basic theme was the difference a moment can make in a life.) I have the sequel too, as well as another collection by the author, so more should come through.

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.



People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

In the beginning

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

This is one of those prize books I got awhile back.

Cover of Mrs Honig's Cakes

Cover of Mrs Honig's Cakes

25. Mrs Honig’s Cakes 1 by Pessie Frankel and Yocheved Leah Perkal

These stories have been running in the children’s section of the English language Hamodia for several years now, and they seem to be very popular. The framing story each week/fortnight involves a recurring set of little girls visiting the eponymous Mrs Honig, who provides cake and a story calculated to fit the current issues in their lives. The moral each time is fairly overt, without completely thumping you over the head. There are four or five collections of the stories by now, and I was interested to see the first couple, which set the scene of the recurring characters. I do think the writers have got better since these first stories (which is a good thing!), and there was a little stiltedness in parts of this book. They’re still generally fun stories, however, in an orthodox Jewish context.

Catching Up with Pesach

Monday, 28 April 2008

Day 8 of the Omer

I think I should be long asleep, but here I am, finally trying to let you know what I’ve been up to. Be warned that this may become a long post, given in order of the books I finished reading, and with related events discussed with them.

103. Just a Week to Go! by Yeshara Gold

This is the book I gave the kids last year when I stayed with them, and apparently they still like it lots, which is great. I got asked to read it to them a couple of times, and it’s still a good retelling of a child’s approach to Passover. They seemed to like this year’s book (the frog one), and the toys I made to go with it as well, so I was most gratified.

104. The Rav Shach Haggadah by Rabbi Asher Bergman & Rabbi Yaakov Blinder

I was thinking of just putting down the plain Haggada text as my book, seeing as I read it twice (once on each of the first two nights of Pesach), but then I challenged myself to read the entire commentary this year, rather than just some of it, as I normally do, so I’ve put the specific edition here. This isn’t a highly academic edition, whose comments more often use an anecdote or story by or about Rav Shach to make the point than give over a specific one of his teachings, but when read in its entirety has a lot to give over. I was well into Chol Hamoed before I finished it, but certainly didn’t find anything that would only be relevant on Seder night.

105. The Capital Ring by Colin Saunders

I finished walking the Capital Ring last Wednesday, and I have lots of pictures to put up of the walk, although I amn’t convinced I’ll get them up tonight. I’m really pleased to have done it, and in doing so to have finished the book too, of course! I think I’ll focus on the Thames Path next, and I’m going to count the overlap I did last week as part of that, considering it was about three miles, rather than a few hundred metres.

106. Stories of Spirit and Faith: Fascinating Tales from Life in Aleppo by Rabbi David Sutton

Now this is an interesting read, for the history, the interest, the inspiration and the wonder it inspires. It consists of anecdotes and true tales of the Jewish community of Aleppo, or Aram Soba as it was also known, in Syria, of the 19th and 20th centuries (of the civil calendar), and the members of that community (and their descendants) who moved to Israel, America and other places. Certain Rabbis and other community leaders come up over and over again, and these are given a brief biographical sketch each at the end of the book, but even so enough information is given in each story that one should be happily able to dip in and out of the book as one wishes.

My own style of reading such books tends to be to open it at random once or twice, and then if the book catches my attention to read it from cover to cover, but I think part of the reason books of short stories and inspirational pieces do well in the Jewish community is that they can be perused in so many ways, to suit each reader, especially those who do not have/take the time to concentrate on a longer work.

107. Cranford and other stories by Elizabeth Gaskell

I didn’t manage to see more than snippets of the recent widely acclaimed BBC production of Mrs Gaskell’s novel, but I picked up the new edition produced to go with it, and I’ve really enjoyed the tales therein. The narrator’s voice is always well judged and very telling, whether overtly but oh-so-gently sarcastic (as much of that narrator as of those others described) in Cranford or “Mr Harrison’s Confessions” or in remembered loving obsequiousness in “My Lady Ludlow”.

We are shown small worlds where social form pretends to be the most important thing, since so often financial status has not kept up with inherited social rank, and yet personal relationships can win out in the end, so long as the niceties are not all pushed asunder in one fell swoop. These small islands of feudalism (particularly in “My Lady Ludlow”) are inexorably being pushed away, or at least remoulded, by a changing wider world of Revolutions political and Industrial, and I find it fascinating to see the downsides of these put so forcefully, coming from an education system (across several countries) which has always put these forward as wholly positive.

As someone who does fibre handwork by choice, I can appreciate that industrial spinning and weaving were great threats to those women who made a living through decorative and useful piecework, and yet as someone who has never yet used handspun yarn, let alone made it herself, and the vast majority of whose clothes and other fabrics are machine made (even if I do by either fair trade or second hand wherever I can) I would not want to entirely turn back the clock on this progress. Regulate it for workers’ safety and environmental impact, and ensure those workers are well paid, definitely. Educate people to know where their food, clothing and shelter comes from, probably. Stop technology going further than suits me personally, certainly not!

But what really struck me, from both this book (a story within “My Lady Ludlow”) and A Tale of Two Cities is how differently these middle and upper class English people saw the French Revolution from the way I learnt about it (mostly in modern France, it must be said). In both books we are shown that episode mostly as it affects minor French nobility, and given as our heroes good people who happen to be aristocrats and were not involved in the excesses cried against all of their kind, who have earned the loyalty of faithful retainers and whose main objective is to get their families out of France. While Dickens does show some right among the revolutionaries, and Gaskell uses a very clearly biased reporter, certainly neither is showing quite the version I was told aged eleven, in Paris on Bastille Day

108. Overheard in Dublin Again edited by Gerard Kelly and Sinead Kelly

Just to lower the tone a little… ;p

I was given this by my dear brother, and it is funny. Rather un-PC, but usually in an affectionate, or at least accepting way. At least, that’s the way I choose to read it. It’s a selection of entries made to the Overheard in Dublin site, which is apparently one of a whole stable covering cities and countries around the world.

Right on track

Friday, 15 February 2008

I appear to be averaging one book per day since beginning this blog, which isn’t bad, if I do say so myself.

45. Stories with a Twist by Nachman Seltzer

These are good, uplifting stories, well retold. (All but two are true stories, with the originator cited; the two are modern fables.) Seeing as I’ve read them all now, they’ll make a nice Shabbos treat for my housemate.

Good Shabbos!

Telling Tales

Thursday, 31 January 2008

33. Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: a story-maker’s journey by Michael Morpurgo

I haven’t read as much Morpurgo as I’d like, especially after reading this self-annotated anthology/memoir of his writing. I cried several times at his stories (and doing so made me forget a small bit of physical pain) and got a real sense of the author, man and boy. While it could easily be dipped into, this is certainly an anthology that rewards being read cover to cover.