At the beginning of February, I wrote about making an effort to read more short fiction. Part of my inspiration has been a project by Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand to read a short story every day. I haven't been as dedicated or consistent as that, but I have been enjoying a short story with my breakfast more mornings than not.
Ann has been keeping track of all her reading, with wonderful write-ups of each story on the BOTNS blog, and that's where I'm finding many of the stories I read. Since I already spend a lot of time tracking and reviewing novels, I decided to take a more relaxed approach and not worry about recording what stories I read or where the suggestions came from. The one thing I do want to document is the short stories that really stand out for me.
These are the stories I read during the first part of the year that made the biggest impression:
→ In my review of Sherman Alexie's work, I noted that my favorite story in the collection I read was "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor" (PDF). It's about how a wife reacts to her husband's cancer, and it's very funny and very sad at the same time. After thinking about how much I liked it (compared to most of the rest of the collection), I realized that somewhat oddly, the story has a similar theme and tone to the favorite story I mentioned last time, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" by Amy Hempel.
So far this year, the Alexie book is the only short story collection I've read, but I anticipate getting to more of these soon.
→ "Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, which led me to learn that a novelette is a work of a length between a short story and a novella. I loved so many things about this story. It has an amazing premise: "The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures." It's wrenching and hilarious (do you sense a pattern in my tastes?), and it's full of geeky details that make the world of the story a comfortable fit for me.
→ In "Nine Inches" by Tom Perrotta, chaperoning a middle school dance leads a teacher to consider the life he might have had. This one is more sad than funny, but I was drawn in by how realistic and sympathetic the characters and situation felt.
→ "One-Horned & Wild-Eyed" by Manuel Gonzales is about what happens when two men who have been friends since childhood encounter an unearthly creature. I liked how the story attained a good mix of the mundane and the fantastical.
→ "Nanny's Day" by Leah Cypess speculates on the future of child custody battles. It's a tense, gripping story and sort of a legal thriller. This was my favorite among the nominees for this year's Nebula Awards, but I read and liked all the other nominated short stories.
→ "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin is a quite short story that manages to make a couple of satisfying turns in the space of a thousand words.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ Edan Lepucki at The Millions asks novelists what they try to figure out with their first drafts: "What, I asked them, do you need to know before you begin? And what do you try to solve as you're working on that first draft? Their answers were as brilliant and as varied as I expected."