Friday, July 2, 2010

The very first Book Report

I know I said I'd put this up yesterday, but what can I say, Miss, the dog ate my homework. Honestly though, this delay is actually due to a slightly more serious matter, a pinched nerve in my (good) left arm, that renders me slightly unable to do things, like type, lift, or chop, the two
latter making me have to take a day off work. And it's only July 2nd, the day the tourists ascend like locusts onto the Island. Happy, beer guzzling locusts. Anyways, I'm getting a massage later on tonight, and I hope that means I can work tomorrow morning. It's gonna be crazy.
The only chores I could do around the house were one-handed, which mostly meant taking up our garlic and peeling it and fixing hubby one-handed lunch. I might attempt some one-handed cleaning later on today. It has been perfect for lazing around reading though.
While I already told you about two of the themes I'd love to do a Book Report on, I'm actually gonna start on a slightly different tangent, though one that's very season appropriate: Summer Short Stories. Last summer was a particularly hectic one for us, and I ended up reading mostly short stories, instead of the usual heavy tomes that embody summer vacations (not that I'm ever gonna have a summer vacation again, America sucks that way).
Short stories are perfect for a busy time, because you can devour an entire one in a short time, and not be left hanging for a conclusion when other chores call. Having your breakfast on a picnic blanket in the sun, laying on your belly and polishing off a good short story, can almost lul you into thinking you don't have to go work, or weed the garden today. So that in mind here's my pick of the litter, some of which you may have heard about here already, still all perfect for the hazy, lazy days of summer:
(as you may know I kind of dislike the movie, but this cover is wonderfully pulp)

Way to start with the exception. Technically, Breakfast At Tiffany's itself is a novella, but at least the copy I have also features a three of his finest short stories, including my favorite The Diamond Guitar. House Of Flowers is also dih-va-ne, dahling. When it comes to this form, Capote is the master, turning out prose so eloquent it makes you weak in the knees.

Here it comes, the inevitable Lauren Groff-collection. No but seriously, while I find delicate, edible birds a little uneven, most of the stories are wonderful, unexpected and understated, and just sentimental and sincere enough that your hear will be broken. This collection contains the already classic Groff-stories Lucky Chow Fun, L Debard and Aliette, as well as my personal favorite, Watershed. In all honesty, I almost prefer her stories to her novel. She can be a little flowery, and the shorter form forces Groff to focus her considerable talent.
book cover of  Not the End of the World  by Kate Atkinson
Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson is, in my humble opinion, a near perfect collection of short stories, so close to perfect, in fact that it contains some of the finest (again, imho) short stories I personally have ever read. All the stories intertwine, but the two stories that end and begin the collection, are leave-you-breathless amazing, as is The Cat Lover. Read this collection and weep.
I have mentioned Julie Orringer's How To Breath Underwater here before, but I'd like to emphasize again, that if you have ever been an adolescent, this collection is pitch perfect exploration of many of the phases of that time in our lives. There's a story in it, Note To Sixth-Grade Self, that is so true that it's almost impossibly painful to read.
A lot of short stories of the resent years seem like the literary equivalent of mumblecore cinema (thank you New Yorker for explaining to us these microscopic cultural phenomenon that only effect the tiny island you hail from. And just to clarify things, no, it's not the centre of the Universe.), with it's emotional detachment, and preoccupation with the quirky, the personal, not the making sweeping universal statements at all. The main literary ambassadors of this style, which I have to say I much dislike both in film and books, are Miranda July (who's works I by definition loath, sorry) and (makes barf noises) Tao Lin. (I'm getting off topic here, aren't I. Barf noises and all...)

Joining these two over-appreciated mumblecore authors is a prodigious talent named Laura Van Der Berg, who's story collection, while obnoxiously vague in places, is also truly mesmerizing in others. Reading her story Where We Must Be one cannot help but wonder whether this is a generation unable to commit to anything, or anyone other than their ever shifting sense of self. Still there is a luminousness to these well-crafted tales that makes them well-worth reading, perhaps inspiring hope that some day soon, Ms. Van Der Berg will try her hand at portraying a world more tangible and less detached. What The World Will Look Like When All The Water Leaves us is a perfectly ethereal summer read, it is weightless as a cloud, and light as a warm breeze.
book cover of  The Summer Book  by Tove Jansson
From mumblecore to masterpiece, there is not a single flaw, or weak piece, in Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, and in spite the book's laconic tone, it is anything but disengaged. Great emotions are played out on Jansson's small stage, an island named Haru, in the Gulf of Finland.
Based on Jansson's mother and niece, just as Fair Play was based on herself and her partner, Jansson is a master of mundane, inserting every day events with magic and wonder. Short stories, or not, this is the one, true summer book for every summer.
Your intrepid reporter retires to read her book signed by the author, in her marvelous Missa-dress. Hope you get to do the same. And what are your book recommendations for this summer?


  1. Great new feature! I love Summer Book. I'll have to investigate the others. I just bought a copy of Collette's Gigi and The Cat today which look like two good short stories. I also love Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys and Dorothy Parker's short stories.

  2. The title makes it seem inappropriate, but A Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin is one of my favorite books to read in summer. The book is in three parts, a summer bookended by winter, so it works for both seasons. It's set up like Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris, with parts 1 and 3 taking place on the same day, and part 2 being the flashback. The plot is simple, but of course it never is.

  3. Aw, the rosebud dress! It's so so cute with your floppity sunhat :D

    Ugh, I wish I were a faster reader, there just never seems to be enough time! I'd love to check out all of these. I've read The Summer Book, previously recommended, it is wonderful.

    I'm currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for my book club (I've been managing at least one book a month for that) and I'm liking it but I keep getting distracted so it's been slow going.

    One book that I'd like to revisit this summer is a book called 'The Gifts of Unknown Things' by Lyall Watson. It takes place in the mid-seventies and it's about the author's experiences while spending time living with the indigenous people of a small island in Indonesia. It blends science and mysticism, a theme that always has interested me, and while it has been quite a few years now since I read it and my memory of it is pretty vague, I do remember really enjoying it. Anywho, I thought you might too :)

    P.S. Hope the massage did the trick and your arm is feeling better. Have fun at the parade tomorrow!

  4. That dress is so pretty! I was going to reccommend to you Katharine Mansfields short stories....Can't wait to try out some of your reads.

  5. Oh, the dress is marvelous, and I thank ye highly for the recommendations! Breakfast at Tiffany's is up for vote in my book club right now.

    While pointing my browser in your direction just now I thought that I must tell you about the book I am currently reading (and Heather as well):

    The dress is so pretty.

  6. I agree, that dress is to die for!!!! the books seem like they'd be such good reads, but I too find myself short in time (mom of 10 month old twins) but maybe someday...:)

  7. yay! the much anticipated books blog post! I've never really read a collection of short stories come to think of it? i'm realizing that I'm really enjoying memoirs of late....

  8. i love those stories by julie orringer. saw that book on a coffee table when i was housecleaning in sebastopol in 2004 and went straight out and bought the book (hardback! i never do that) and devoured it. they are luminous. i can't wait to find and read The Summer make it sound like utter magic. as you probably know, i'm obsessed with annie dillard right now. the book i'm reading (The Living, a novel) is totally NOT good for quick summer reading, but i'm so engrossed it doesn't even matter. i have a few pages left and it is breaking my heart to get to the end. that's a rare treat in a book.

  9. Patrick White's The Tree of Man changed my life after I discovered it last year in Australia. If you haven't already I'd check it out.. x

  10. "I have mentioned Julie Orringer's How To Breath Underwater here before, but I'd like to emphasize again, that if you have ever been an adolescent, this collection is pitch perfect exploration of many of the phases of that time in our lives. There's a story in it, Note To Sixth-Grade Self, that is so true that it's almost impossibly painful to read."

    That story just kills me, reduces me to heaving tears and laughter.
    Have you read Orringer's novel, The Invisible Bridge? I did, in one 20 hour airplane flight sitting. Heaving tears/laughter ensued.
    But her book of short stories is the one I have given to all of my closest friends, that I can't even read aloud because it affects me so deeply.
    big love!

  11. yes! thanks so much for finding my blog and leading me to yours! i think i have stopped by before but my computer took so achingly long to load that i gave up. today, speedy success!

    so excited about the short story recommendations (another thing i recently blogged about, though not as delightfully thoroughly as you have).

    and, yes, leather work! i have actually been working with leather for years, but in more raw and ragged forms with fringe and hand stitching and such. the stamps --yup, tandy-- are newer to me, and like everything, a journey. sometimes i am not convinced about them, but i've been having fun nonetheless.

    now i have to get back to devouring your blog (i have already discovered we also share an affinity for old undergarments as must see what i wore to the shop yesterday, will post soon).

    yikes, i've written a short story. thanks again, and take care.

  12. I think you would love W.P.Kinsella's stories. They are lovely!!!

  13. Yay for the champion of the short story!