The 2021 Short-Story Reading Thread

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Lakey

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Do you like short stories? Do you want to read more of them, or more of a certain kind, or just to get to know the form a little better? Join the Short-Story Reading Thread for the coming year.

In this thread we read and talk about short stories in all genres. Come tell us about the short stories you are reading. We will also share links to interesting stories to read on line, so if you’re not sure where to start, you can count on lots of suggestions.

In last year's challenge we had a few intrepid readers who shared a sentence or two (um, or more :e2paperba) about each story read. That is not required, though it is appreciated! The primary goal is to read, so don’t fret if you don’t have time or inclination to write something about every story. If you’re reading short stories, you belong here!

You can also set challenges for yourself to read a certain number of stories, or more of a certain type of story, but that, too, is entirely optional.

Happy reading!

:e2coffee:
 
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Lakey

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And, here’s my plan for the year. In 2020, I aimed for 100 short stories, including 50 from the last five years. By year's end I will have hit those targets, so my challenge for 2021 is both more ambitious and more expansive. My goal is 144 short stories, with half of those coming from the last 10 years.

It's a slightly stretch goal, but twelve stories per month is only ~three stories per week, and that feels like it ought to be doable. And I decided that five years was too brief an (arbitrary) cutoff for my goal of reading more “new” or “modern” stories—the last decade is modern enough.

Okay—I am off to complete my 2020 challenge, but I’ll be back next week to start in on 2021. How about you?

:e2coffee:
 

Chris P

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Thanks for starting this again, Lakey! I'm in, of course, for the standard 100 stories. It seems strange to average one story every 3.65 days, but it's actually gone really fast in prior years.

I still hold out the possibility that the writing bug might bite me again after all these years, so if that happens I might curtail my goals significantly (and not shed a tear, to be honest :)) It's happened before, so who knows? That's the exciting part: anything can happen!
 

Lakey

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Having set an ambitious goal I’m getting started right away with a story over my morning coffee on January 1. Thanks to mrsmig for sharing a link to this one in a recent post on last year’s thread!

1. “It’s Not You,” Elizabeth McCracken, in Zoetrope, 2019
I liked this story! There was a McCracken story in the Story Prize anthology which a bunch of us read last year; I couldn’t remember it at all, and when I looked back at my post about it I understood why: I had found it a bit too self-conscious in style, such that the meaning was elusive. Paragraphs and images went in one ear and out the other. This story, “It’s Not You,” is not like that at all; rather, it’s a story I’d like to study for its arresting use of metaphors and images that are splendidly evocative without feeling forced or writerly. Also for tremendous use of oblique dialogue and oodles of subtext. Just a really terrific story all around. The narrator’s (acknowledged) self-loathing and wish “to obliterate myself, but I intended to survive the obliteration” put me in mind of Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which I just read a couple of weeks ago and absolutely loved.

Here we go:

1/144 stories read; 1/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

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Hah - since I pledged to read 50 stories and ended up reading 100, I'm going to stick with a 50-story goal for 2021 and see what happens. (In fairness, I upped my 2021 book goal from 30 to 50, and am also pledging to read 50 poems this year).

And Lakey, I'm so glad you liked the McCracken story.
 

Tocotin

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Hello!

I'm going to join. I finished the Katherine Mansfield collection last year, but couldn't post about it in time.

My goal this year is to read all short story collections I bought/downloaded in the last 2 years. I think there are maybe 6 of them. I'll check and post again.

Happy New Year to everyone!

:troll
 

Friendly Frog

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I am joining for a second year. I met last year's challenge but only just and the pandemic did not make it easy. I've thought about expanding my challenge, but decided against it as I really don't need something else to stress about.

So again my challenge will be: reading 5 anthologies or collections with authors I have not yet read before. Everything more will be a stretch goal that will earn me a praliné chocolate.

With the memo that I really must write down the books other have read that look interesting this year!

Happy new year, all! Let the fun begin! :)
 

Lakey

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Welcome back to all my favorite story readers! I’m looking forward to another year of sharing stories with you.

My next story comes from one of our very own AW writers, the illustrious Elle. The link is to an audio production of the story on Spotify.

2. “The Light is Merely a Distraction,” Laure van Rensburg, in Unbound, 2021
A tense, moody, and rather sad story in which the end of a relationship—and of a web of friendships—looms in the darkness beyond the patio on which two couples drink wine and have a conversation that bursts with subtext. The use of detail and body language here is really spot-on. The story is mostly dialogue, mostly the four people sitting at a table, but the beats are chosen with meticulous care.

2/144 stories read; 2/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 
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mrsmig

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I finished up the 2020 Best American Short Stories anthology today, which gave me a five-story start on my 2021 goals:

1. The Hands of Dirty Children, by Alejandro Puyana. A story about two members of the Crazy Nine, a gang of homeless children in Venezuela. I didn't expect things to go well for the main characters, and it doesn't, but the writing is very good.

2. Octopus VII, by Anna Reeser. Tyler, a recent art school grad who got into a show with an impressive piece of metal sculpture, worries that the piece may have been his artistic peak. The way the sculpture of the title literally weighs Tyler down was handled very well, I thought, and the end of the story could be interpreted a couple of different ways. It felt a little long to me, but I liked it.

3. Enlightenment, by William Pei Shih. I just didn't care for this one. It's very long for a short story, the style is telly, and the main character (a rather prissy and pedantic retired professor) never engaged me.

4. Kennedy, by Kevin Wilson. A pair of nerdy gamer boys' lives are thrown completely off kilter by a school bully. As a general rule, I don't care for stories about bullying (they tend to be predictable), and this one was no exception, but the antag is so clearly disturbed and the bullying behavior amped up to such an extreme that the story actually upset me. I suppose one could say that such a strong reaction is the mark of a good story, but the level of cruelty juxtaposed against the utter helplessness of the two protags went over the top for me.

5. The Special World, by Tiphanie Yanique. Fly, a black college freshman, has always been something of an outsider, and his isolation makes him easy pickings for a cult-like campus religious group. I wanted to like this story better, but I felt like Fly should've been smart enough to realize what was happening. Then again, my college days are long past, and maybe kids that age are easier to sucker than I recall.

I'm going to give the short stories a rest for a bit - I got two new novels in my Christmas stocking - but I'll be checking in to see what others are reading.
 

Lakey

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A guy I know from Twitter who is a marvelous reader—he usually reads a couple hundred books a year, vastly diverse and interesting—announced the other day that he’s doing a story-a-day thread for 2021, reading 365 short stories. I immediately felt jealous and inadequate and thought of upping my goal. :D Then I came to my senses. My goal is already ambitious for me, and has to blend with a bunch of other goals I have going on at the same time. So no story-a-day commitments from me—for now.

3. “Temporary Dwellers,” Megan Kakimoto, in Qu, 2019
This is a pretty crisp story about teenage desire and connection. A girl who has a distant relationship with her mother is intensely attracted to a refugee girl that the mother has brought in to live with them. The two start up a relationship but there’s something disconnected and distant about it, despite the physical intimacy. I’m not sure the character of the refugee girl ever really comes into focus.

Another uncertain thing about this story, for me: It is set in the present (the kids have cell phones, for example), but what the refugee girl has fled seems to be bombings by the US military on the island of Kaua’i. I’m not sure if this is a real thing, or a metaphorical rendering of how dominated Hawaii is by military presence, or what. It made me feel kind of stupid, and Googling didn’t help. Anyone have any insight?

3/144 stories read; 3/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

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So, I lived in Hawai'i for four years and your description of the story piqued my interest enough to read it. I believe the setting is not the present, but in an alternate present or in the very near future. (The author references a Whole Foods cereal called "Drano," which doesn't exist, either.)

While there's always been some resistance to the US military presence in Hawai'i, and while the island of Kaho'olawe was a US bombing site from WWII until 1990, Kaua'i is a combination of farmland and tourist resorts with a fairly large resident population. It doesn't really make sense that the US military would choose it as a bombing range when Kaho'olawe (an island with no fresh water source and no residents) is still right there. A more interesting choice would be the island of Ni'ihau, which is largely owned by the Robinson family, has a very small and somewhat isolated population and some commune-like characteristics.

6. Temporary Dwellers, by Megan Kakimoto. Meh.
 
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Lakey

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So, I lived in Hawai'i for four years and your description of the story piqued my interest enough to read it. I believe the setting is not the present, but in an alternate present or in the very near future. (The author references a Whole Foods cereal called "Drano," which doesn't exist, either.)

That line tripped me up, too; coming as it did immediately after a mention of the girl leaving her hair all over the shower, I read it as she asked her mother to buy Drano, and a fancy cereal that is only sold at Whole Foods, even though the "and" was not present in the sentence.

While there's always been some resistance to the US military presence in Hawai'i, and while the island of Kaho'olawe was a US bombing site from WWII until 1990, Kaua'i is a combination of farmland and tourist resorts with a fairly large resident population. It doesn't really make sense that the US military would choose it as a bombing range when Kaho'olawe (an island with no fresh water source and no residents) is still right there. A more interesting choice would be the island of Ni'ihau, which is largely owned by the Robinson family, has a very small and somewhat isolated population and some commune-like characteristics.
This is helpful, thanks. The story could have done a better job of establishing the setting, especially if it's supposed to be in an alternative or near-future time. I love learning about places and cultural history as I read, but this one just left me scratching my head, because I tried to look up the context and came up empty.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

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That line tripped me up, too; coming as it did immediately after a mention of the girl leaving her hair all over the shower, I read it as she asked her mother to buy Drano, and a fancy cereal that is only sold at Whole Foods, even though the "and" was not present in the sentence.

Given how sloppily the Qu website formatted the story, also omitting a word is entirely possible.
 

Lakey

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The journal Cagibi has been kind enough to accept a story of mine for its next issue, so I thought I would return the kindness by reading a few more stories from their archives.

4. “ What We Found Inside the Whale,” Jared Green, in Cagibi, 2020
This story, about a young woman who is in love with her charismatic marine-biologist mentor, takes a magical-realist turn that I absolutely love. There’s some lovely writing in the story, too, but the imaginative thrill of the climax is the most distinctive and wonderful thing about this story. I really want to try my hand at writing a story like this, but I don’t know if I have the imagination to come up with a clever enough concept.

5. “Gladys Newbie,” Betty Martin, in Cagibi, 2020
An awkward teen spends a day out with some of the cool kids from her class. The girl is clearly anxious about bullying and peer pressure, but as it turns out all the kids are really nice; there is beer there but nobody loses control; she reveals some personal information about which she is deeply self-conscious and they are all really sweet about it; the boy she’s paired with is also very sweet and she’s excited to go out with him again. I suppose it would have been predictable had any of the expected things gone wrong in this outing, but as it stands I’m not sure what the point of the story is—that teenagers can sometimes be trusted to behave responsibly and with kindness? Maybe that is something that needs to be said.

5/144 stories read; 5/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 

Lakey

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A couple more from Cagibi today.

6. “Did You Also Get Lost?,” Giulia Moriconi, Cagibi, 2020
A magical realism story with elements that reminded me of the “town of cats” sequence from Murakami’s 1Q84. A young man on his way to visit friends for Oktoberfest gets detoured into a very odd sort of train station. The story is all right, I suppose. It could have used a light edit; there are a number of distracting grammar errors.

7. “Fish in Hiding,” Ryne Walker, Cagibi, 2020.
Okay story about a young woman trying to cope with the trauma of having been mugged. There’s something in here about the isolation of modern city life for the young; the woman lives alone, and seems to have only two friends: her coworker at a coffee shop, and her weed dealer. Another young woman in her apartment reaches out to her and there seems to be the potential for a friendship there. She also has a cat, and the truth is that the story doesn’t really resonate for me emotionally until the cat goes missing. There is a challenge when writing stories about types of trauma that have been written about many times—the responses are universal and relatable, but they are also familiar, and the writer has work to do to make them fresh and surprising at the same time. This story contains moments when that happens.

That’s probably enough Cagibi for now. When my story comes out I will read the other stories in the issue because I’d like to know who I’m rubbing elbows with. “What We Found Inside the Whale” is by far the best story of the bunch I read this time around—if I’m in an issue with other stories like that, I will be very pleased.

7/144 stories read; 7/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 
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mrsmig

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My curiosity was piqued by your description of "What We Found Inside the Whale," Lakey, so I hurried to read it. And you're right - it's a wonderful story. Gorgeous, detailed writing. Thank you so much for the recommend, and congratulations on your inclusion in the next issue of Cagibi. Please be sure to let us know when it's available.

7. What We Found Inside the Whale, by Jared Green. Terrific.
 

Tocotin

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Okay, I finished the Tokyo Centennial Tales vol. 1 story collection I started last year.

The first story of this year, by Kunikida Doppo (1907), was a very sad one. (I’m not sure how to translate the title, I’m sorry – “A death from poverty”??) I knew what it was about when I started reading, but still it managed to shock me in both pleasant and unpleasant way. It’s a very straightforward story of one poor worker named Bunkō, who is sick and can’t work, and since he spends the paltry money he’d earned on food and shelter (he doesn’t have a permanent place to stay), he quite literally doesn’t know what to do with himself. People who surround him – the patrons and owners of a little eatery, his younger fellow worker and his father – are only barely better off, but pity him and try to help. But his situation is so hopeless that not much can be done. Finally a tragedy happens to kind people who took him in and fed him, and in his mentally and physically weakened state, it is this tragedy that might or might not have triggered him to take his own life. The story was crisp, well-paced, and easy to read, and in spite of all the naturalism, there was something hopeful in the sympathy and selflessness with which the characters treated each other. I’m definitely going to read more of this author.

The second one was “Asakusa Park” (1909) by Kinoshita Mokutarō. He was an interesting figure, as he was also an accomplished dermatologist specializing in leprosy studies (he was opposed to segregating of leprosy patients into special sanatoriums), art historian, and a researcher of Japanese Christians. He researched leprosy in Manchuria and in French Indochina, where he went with the Japanese Imperial Army and later was awarded the Légion d’honneur from the Vichy government. (I wanted to know more, but the Japanese Wikipedia entry was vague and there was nothing about any controversy… but his biography feels unsettling to me.) The story itself was a loose string of musings and observations by the narrator, who talks about his visits to Sensōji Temple in Asakusa and the surrounding park. I’m glad to have read it, but it took me forever due to a lot of Buddhist terms I had to look up in a dictionary. The imagery was vivid enough that I still have a picture of Tokyo as seen from the uppermost floor of the Ryōunkaku (aka the Cloud-Surpassing Tower), which was Japan’s first skyscraper. It’s stories like these that make me want to go back in time.

The third story was “Behind the jail” (1909) by Nagai Kafū, who is a very popular writer (I used to really like him, and I do think he is good). It is a semi-autobiographical story about a young guy who just returned home from France, and doesn’t know what to do with himself, and stays at his parents’ home in Ichigaya. He describes in detail the weather, the garden, the changes of seasons. There are really beautiful descriptions in there, some of them comical and symbolic, for example when he talks about his fancy French books and clothes getting all moldy and yucky due to the rainy season. He’s watching his poor neighbors living in tenement barracks nearby, as if they were animals. He nearly spies on them, and speculates on their lives and on how different they are from him and his family and friends. There is a curious moment, when he describes abuse inflicted on cart horses, and is shocked to see that the Japanese started to abuse animals just like Westerners; he says that he thought that only Japanese Christians do that. I’ve never seen this sentiment anywhere else! BUT. What was a total surprise for me was that the jail in the title is actually Ichigaya Jail, aka Tokyo Jail. A lot of the novel I’ve just finished and am currently editing is taking place there! So this is a great find for me and I’m super happy about it.

Here is the list (maybe incomplete) of the story collections I bought in recent years and haven’t got around to reading yet, but intend to read this year (in no particular order).

1. Southpaw by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán
2. Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women by various authors
3. Beggars on Horseback by F. Tennyson Jesse
4. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells by various authors
5. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James
6. 25 Gates of Hell: A Horror Anthology by various authors
7. Carnacki, the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
8. An Assassin’s Letter Should Be Delivered by Horse Cart by Yamada Fūtarō (the title is my extremely lame attempt at translating 斬奸状は馬車に乗って and it might change upon my finishing the book.)

I have no idea why I have three horror anthologies, honestly. I haven’t decided yet what to read next, but since there is so much horror in there, I think I’m going to start with one of those.

:troll
 

Lakey

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Tocotin, thanks for sharing all of that. Every time you make one of your information-rich posts it reminds me how ignorant I am of Japan. For instance, that interesting fellow who was honored by the Vichy government—I don’t think I know much about how the Japanese actually worked the other axis powers in WWII. I think of the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific, and just don’t know that much about how the two fronts connected or informed one another. It makes sense that if he was in Southeast Asia he’d have had contact with French (or Vichy French) authorities, but I never thought about it before.

Here’s another question: How do you find (if at all) that Japanese aesthetics and style inform these stories? I’ve always learned reductive statements like “Japanese art and poetry is very concerned with nature,” and I both know these statements are incomplete and also don’t know anything at all about Japanese prose. Do you find that, for instance, the aesthetic of haiku has any relation to dominant Japanese prose styles of the period you’re reading? If there are ways in which the Japanese stories are different from various types of European and American stories you’ve read, ways that you can identify and articulate, I’d love to hear about it.

Also cool about Ichigaya Jail. When you said “his parents’ home in Ichigaya” I thought “that place name is familiar to me.” When I got to the end of your paragraph I knew why!

:e2coffee:
 

Tocotin

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Here’s another question: How do you find (if at all) that Japanese aesthetics and style inform these stories? I’ve always learned reductive statements like “Japanese art and poetry is very concerned with nature,” and I both know these statements are incomplete and also don’t know anything at all about Japanese prose. Do you find that, for instance, the aesthetic of haiku has any relation to dominant Japanese prose styles of the period you’re reading? If there are ways in which the Japanese stories are different from various types of European and American stories you’ve read, ways that you can identify and articulate, I’d love to hear about it.

That's such an interesting question! I hope I'm able to answer this in not too many words.* Honestly, I'm not an expert in Japanese literature at all, and it is such a vast thing that I don't know where to start. I will say this: I don't think there is much difference between Japanese and Western short stories of the period I'm reading.

My current period, Meiji, (1868-1912) was a time of intense Westernization of literature, especially prose. Some of pre-modern poetic forms (like haiku) endured, but as far as the prose goes, nearly everything changed, from genres to themes to the language itself. That's because the writers spearheading the changes were hugely influenced by Western literature – especially men writers, who studied foreign languages, often spent time abroad, and were au courant with new literary trends, with Western philosophy, psychology, etc. The authors of the three above stories are good examples. Kunikida Doppo was one of the main proposers of naturalism in Japan, Kinoshita studied German language and translated German literature, Kafū studied and worked in the US and France and was an admirer of French literature. They have a lot of references to Western literature in their works (in Kafū's story there is an excerpt from Baudelaire in French), allusions to European history, Greek mythology, Christianity. Now women writers of the time were more likely to be influenced by the pre-modern Japanese literature – Higuchi Ichiyō and Tazawa Inabune, for example, still wrote in classical Japanese, Ichiyō's themes were similar to those in popular Edo fiction, etc.

One thing only comes to mind, and that's the semi-biographical character of some of the stories (the last two, for example), which can be tied to the so-called I-novel genre. The I-novel originated in Japanese naturalism movement and is a type of a story written in first person, in which the author uses some events of their own life, and writes the novel seemingly without a plan or structure, with a lot of digressions, asides, and musings. But other than that, I haven't noticed anything I haven't seen in European or American stories.

I know that it sounds irrelevant to the question, but there is an enormous gap between pre-modern and modern Japanese literature mainly due to the fact that the pre-modern literature was written in classical Japanese (which changed subtly since the classical Heian period, but still was not the same as the spoken language), or even classical Chinese, or a mix of both. Respectable poets and writers – men – wrote in Chinese. The whole aesthetics and symbolism was tied to these two languages. In Meiji there was a successful literary movement to replace these old written languages with vernacular Japanese, to improve literacy and education, and therefore to speed up modernization. In addition to that, the popular literature of the previous Edo period went out of fashion, because it was deemed barbaric and uncivilized (not only that, but kabuki theatre, which has very close ties with it, was nearly abolished altogether as the relict of feudalism). Whole genres just vanished.

What is known to the West and to modern Japanese people today as "typically Japanese" prose, is mostly the literature of the Heian imperial court (from about 1100 years ago) because a) it was refined enough to be popularized and translated both into modern Japanese and foreign languages, b) because it is taught in Japanese schools. These stories are about impermanence of all things, they are melancholy, sometimes tragic, their language is subtle, the emotions understated, and they often contain a lot of poetry. BUT this is only one side of the pre-modern Japanese literature. The other side is the popular literature of the Edo period (1600-1868): ghost stories, adventure stories, romances, stories about courtesans and criminals, moralistic Buddhist stories, etc. These are almost unknown in the West and largely unknown in today's Japan, because in Meiji period they were deemed barbaric and uncivilized. You won't find Edo period lit – almost 300 years of it – on the school curriculum! It does have stuff of great literary merit, some of the leading authors have their own Wiki pages, but it is not what you would think "typically Japanese" – the stories are sensual, violent, bawdy, vulgar, dramatic, funny, dynamic, very over the top. You would be hard pressed trying to find something tame enough to teach Japanese children and youth. They are also extremely difficult to read. I'm only barely familiar with Edo literature outside of kabuki theatre, but these popular stories often share themes with kabuki plays. As you might know, I wrote a book set in Meiji period. I have learned a lot about plotting and twists from kabuki, I have used a lot of kabuki tropes, and frankly I'm worried that someone will tell me that these are not Japanese enough.

So – I don't think there is a set of characteristics unique to the Japanese literature as a whole. There is a lot of truth in that statement about the role of nature in traditional Japanese art and poetry, but – I don't think that it's all that different from the "Western" literature... I think that maybe it's just that the symbolism is different, and when Japanese poetry gets translated, the symbolism has to be additionally explained? And it's perhaps worth noting that the forms in which nature is allowed to appear in poetry, for example, are highly codified and rigorous. For example, haiku cannot function without an allusion to the season, meaning that it has to have a seasonal keyword, otherwise it's not a haiku but a senryū; and if you use, let's say, the word akebono (daybreak), it means you are writing about spring. No one cares that there are daybreaks in winter and summer too, it's spring in your poem, point blank period. And haiku is not as rigorous as other poetry forms, because it is a lowbrow type of poetry! It's so interesting that it is considered such a pinnacle of literary elegance in the West. In Japan it's treated as a sort of a word game. Children are taught how to write haiku in 3rd grade.

There is an interesting literary form combining haiku and prose, called haibun, often used in diaries, travelogues, essays and such, but not so much in short stories.

*I failed

:troll
 

Chris P

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*I failed

Quite the contrary! This was fascinating. And you say you're no expert in Japanese lit! With what little I know about the history of that part of the world, all of that makes sense. Incidentally, any time I've delved into the literature of a particular region (Russia, Africa, etc.) or time period (Greeks, etc.) I'm struck by how familiar the stories and way of telling them are. We're just people, after all. What we do doesn't change with place or time (not to mention how the stories of the past inform how we tell our stories today).

Speaking of stories, I've not really gotten started on any short story reading this year. Between news, non-fiction, and a couple large reading projects I've not delved into any short fiction. But that will change, I'm sure.
 

Lakey

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What Chris said — that was incredible, Tocotin — thank you SO much for taking the time to share all that knowledge with us. :e2flowers

Chris, there’s plenty of time and I’m confident you will jump back in later! :) It has been quite a year already, hasn’t it?


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Friendly Frog

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You don't need to be an expert to have something interesting to say! I found your explanation very enlightening, Tocotin. :)


First of the five anthologies for this year is Fiction River Presents: Space Travellers. Eight stories.

I forgot I got two Fiction River Presents last year in a story Bundle. So it was a nice surprise to already have a short story anthology ready in 2021.

Bit of a disapointment, this one. I find it hard to determine why I didn't love it. It had a lot of things going for it. The stories weren't bad, far from it, I didn't hate any of them but most of them just left me a bit 'meh'. Maybe because so many of the characters were flawed people and I found very few I sympathised with. And even while most of the main characters were human, the stories were varied enough. It just for some reason didn't hit my wow-button. Having already read one story elsewhere may have attributed a little as well as I considered that story the weakest of the bunch.

It started out with the best story: Tendrils by Leigh Sauders, which tells an adventure of a space squid stowaway on a human spaceship. Perhaps it raised my expectations too high because the following stories IMO didn't really compare.

Moonfall
by Lisa Silverthorne is a very competent story from the view point of Ground Control as they guide their ROV across one of Jupiter's moon. I'm a big fan of the Mars rovers, and this is right up that alley. Just the ending felt a little too contrived to end on a high note, which is a shame because I'm also a big fan of happy endings.

The stories Hot Jupiters and Ice Dogs, both featuring human explorers travelling towards a space anomaly who run into trouble along the way, were too open-ended for my taste, which made me wonder what exactly was their point. Especially Ice Dogs made me feel like I didn't get it.

Embedded,
about a journalist embedded with soldiers in a war on another planet, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (otherwise always a sure hit for me) left me disappointed because I saw at least two in-story ways to have prevented the tragedy that takes place.

1/5 anthologies or collections of authors I haven't read.
 
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Lakey

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Friendly Frog, I want to read that story about the space-squid stowaway!

For me today, two recent stories from the journal Carve, to which I have unsuccessfully submitted in the past.

8. “Further Maths,” Toby Lloyd, Carve, 2021
This story sucked me right in. It is about a bunch of teen boys who are all keen on and talented in mathematics. In what struck me at first as a tiresome trope, their teacher is mean and inappropriate with the students, who therefore worship him. But part of the story’s arc is the narrator’s eventual disillusionment: “Fat Fuck is not a kind man pretending to be a bastard, just a bastard being a bastard.” The story pivots its focus to an obnoxious class clown who suddenly begins acing math tests. The narrator gets a glimpse into this boy’s life and is rattled by it. The story ends a little abruptly; I’m not quire sure it was a satisfying ending but I really do like the story.

9. “A Simple Case,” Nancy Ludmerer, Carve, 2020
A cute story. It’s first-person narrator is a court reporter; she mixes her narration with the testimony of witnesses in a hit-and-run case. As much as I enjoyed reading the story, though, I can’t quite put the elements together in a coherent meaning. It hits on themes of motherhood, maternal rejection and disappointment, and grief, and I can see the parallels between what’s narrated about the hit-and-run case and what is narrated about the court reporter’s backstory, but I’m still not quite sure what those parallels say.

9/144 stories read; 9/72 from the last ten years.

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Tocotin

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Thanks for the kind words, Lakey, Chris, and Friendly Frog!


So I started reading Carnacki, the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson. The first story, "The Gateway of the Monster", has the main character, who is sort of a supernatural Sherlock Holmes, investigate a haunted room in a huge mansion whose owner asked for help. The room, called the Grey Room, has a grim past – one of the owner's ancestors was killed there, as were his wife and child (not at the same time, which is important). The investigator goes about his job in a very matter-of-fact way, preparing divers contraptions (powered by electricity, no less – it's the beginning of the 20th century, or as the character says proudly, Twentieth Century!), pentagrams, even cameras and guns. ("I had my revolver in my hand; but it seemed an abominably useless thing.") I really liked how he was convinced that it was all real, how he tried not to show how terrified he in fact was, and how he dealt with his fear – I thought the descriptions of his mental state were fantastic. I also really like the language. The ghost was more terrifying before it showed itself – as it is often the case – but it did not show itself completely, which was a good thing. All in all, it seems to be an enjoyable collection and I'm looking forward to the next story.

:troll
 

Lakey

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I recently acquired a couple vintage issues of women’s magazines, to browse for research for my McCarthy-era stories. One thing I love about women’s magazines of this era is that they contained lots and lots of fiction; that’s not something one sees too often today. People had a different relationship with reading and with intellectual aspirations in that era than they do today. This morning I read a couple of stories from a 1949 issue of Redbook. This issue contains no fewer than five short stories, plus a segment of a serialized novel, and what claims to be a complete “book-length novel” (about 42,000 words by quick estimate). That’s a whole lot of fiction delivered with the mouthwash advertisements and articles like “What You Should Know About Diamonds” and “New Summer Lingerie.”

While lots of well-regarded midcentury literary writers—especially women—got their start selling stories to women’s magazines, my general expectation going into this exercise is that stories of that quality would be the exception, and that the stories I would find in a random issue would not be terribly notable. My expectations were met entirely. But I had a ton of fun reading them and thinking about them.

10. “Farewell To Yesterday,” Rose Feld, Redbook, 1949
Not a terribly good story but it touches a theme I’ve seen in other post-war stories: Affairs between American soldiers and European women, particularly ones that produce children. The best-selling novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit covers this ground as well. Anyway, in Feld’s largely implausible story, the wife of one such American soldier travels to France to find her husband’s lover and demand that the child be turned over to her, to be raised in the United States. I wish I could read this is a critique of the woman’s unconscionable American arrogance, but the character is supposed to be entirely sympathetic. The ending is particularly weak, for it contradicts a flashback that could have been trivially tweaked to set up the woman’s final epiphany. Alas. It’s an interesting piece of post-war middlebrow Americana, if not a great bit of writing, and I’m not sorry I read it.

11. “House on the Hill,” Robert Carse, Redbook, 1949
After reading this story, I actually have a bit more respect for Ms Feld’s story. In this story a young architect, Tim, gets his first real commission, to build a house for a businessman’s daughter and her golden-boy fiancé. Naturally Tim falls in love with the girl, and has to work through his anguish and jealousy as he designs the house he dreams of sharing with her. Eventually the golden-boy turns out to be a grand old cad, and Tim gets his girl. As usual for me with stories like this, the context is more interesting than the story itself. One of my favorite books, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, was written at exactly this time, and its protagonist, Guy, is also an architect on the cusp of his first big opportunity. It was, after all, the post-war boom, and suburbs were being built like mad. Guy likewise builds a house on a hill for himself and his dream girl—a woman he’s actually engaged to—though things don’t go quite as well for him as for Tim. At any rate, it’s an interesting little hint at zeitgeist; it makes me wonder if there were other architect protagonists from this period of great American construction.

11/144 stories read; 9/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 
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