I haven’t finished reading a novel since early March. I have however, in amongst reading about beekeeping and computer networking, been getting through approximately 1.3 short stories per day, on average.Donald Barthelme is so good – inventive and funny and weird. Here’s the beginning of his story ‘The Great Hug’:
At the last breakfast after I told her, we had steak and eggs. Bloody Marys. Three pieces of toast. She couldn’t cry, she tried. Balloon Man came. He photographed the event. He created the Balloon of the Last Breakfast After I Told Her – a butter-coloured balloon. “This is the kind of thing I do so well,” he said. Balloon Man is not modest. No one has ever suggested that.
-The Great Hug by Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories.
His writing is quite difficult to analyse, difficult to explain what his stories are about or what they make your brain feel – which is why I put in an example. You should read him. Read some Donald Barthelme. I’ve just finished his Sixty Stories collection, but his Forty Stories collection is good also.
I’ve also been reading The Penguin Book Of The British Short Story, backwards (I do usually read books forwards). This is because it is arranged chronologically and I wanted to use it to travel back in time, so I started with Zadie Smith and ended up back at PG Wodehouse. This was Volume 2 – Volume 1 then continues back (if you are, like me, reading it backwards) from John Buchan to Daniel Dafoe. I was going to pick out some favourite stories and write about what the do, but I think that might dwarf this post so maybe another time.
There is one story in Gerard Woodward’s new collection Legoland that I think would fit seamlessly in at the end of The Penguin Book… The Family Whistle is the kind of perfectly weighted story, with the reveal so carefully and subtly done, that it seems like the kind of piece of work you might show students as an example. I would recommend checking it out. And whilst I enjoyed the rest of Woodward’s collection, there was something about it that just didn’t live up to his best piece – too often he would start with bright, strange ideas that just didn’t finish with any punch.
I am currently enjoying Joanna Walsh’s collection Vertigo, and of course The Penguin Book Of The British Short Story, Volume 2.