Rescue Reading for troubled times Part 4
A lot of us are feeling distracted and unable to concentrate at the moment. My Rescue Reading series has lists of suggested short works and collections. Previous posts have included 10 female Australian short story writers you should read and 20th Century female short story writers. This week it’s a mixed bag of male short story writers.
Of course, most people would start with Chandler or Cheever. But I’m going to start with Chekhov.
Anton Chekhov – Lady with a Lap Dog and Other Stories, 1885-1899
Let’s start the list with a classic. What can you say about Chekhov? Doctor, writer, master observer. His characters feel as real now in their hopes, jealousies and betrayals as they were when he wrote them over a hundred years ago.
His ability to create comedy and tragedy within the same space is just one of the reasons his stories are worth reading. Apparently, after reading one of these stories, Gorky wrote to him that his own work seemed ‘coarse and written not with a pen but with a log.’ So, we’re all in agreement that he’s great at what he does!
Read, re-read and then read anything Francine Prose has to say about him in Reading like a writer and read them all again.
Rattawut Lapcharoensap – Sightseeing, Atlantic Books, 2004
It’s more than elephants, tourists and the sex industry. Some of these stories answer questions you may have had about what Thai locals think of the tourist influx to their islands and mainland. Others are universal in their subject but specific to Thailand in their setting. There’s a lot here about family and the bonds that bind them, both antagonistic and loving. Brothers growing apart, a father begrudgingly accepting his son’s help and a mother and son on holiday are just a few.
Junot Diaz – Drown, Faber and Faber 1996
These stories sling you straight into the jostle and vibe of Dominican communities from urban New Jersey to Santo Domingo barrios. They’re about family and friendship, love and territory, growing up and moving on.
Nothing flat or spare here. It’s all noise and colour and life. I promise that even the most distracted reader will be helpless to the pull of perpetual motion at work in these tales.
James Joyce – Dubliners, 1914
I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post that I attempted to read Ulysses and put it down in defeat. I’ve avoided Joyce since then. No need. This collection of short stories needs no more attention or concentration than any other on this list. It allows you a glimpse into what all the Joyce fuss is about. A few easy words and he’s created a character complete with their inadequacies.
There’s a lot about money and hardly anything about religion or politics. Make sure you’re warm when you read it, because it’s often wet and cold and no one has any money.
George Saunders – Pastoralia, Bloomsbury, 2000
Read Saunders for social realism in a parallel universe where people work fulltime as exhibits in a theme park, bodies come back from the dead and managerial-speak is the new vernacular. His stories seem to bring together the worst of the 20th and 21st Centuries in the best way. He’s clever, creative and always surprising.
Some of these may be out of print or hard to find. You can find the closest library copy of a book, anywhere in the world (I know, amazing right?), through world cat.