• A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    Betty Smith

    i’m surprised i never read this when i was younger, and reading it now, i wish i had read it then. it’s a coming-of-age story set in williamsburg (long before it was hip and fucked up) at the turn of the century. there are so many wonderful things about this book, even just the little details that are little asides from the story i assume are lifted from real life experiences. i’m pretty sure it was elissa who told me i should read this last summer when i’d just moved to brooklyn — i think because of the part about the piano left behind by its owners because it wouldn’t fit down the stairs.

    the metaphor of the ailanthus...more

  • Circling the Drain

    Amanda Davis

    it’s kind of morbid that i sought this book out after reading Davis’s obituary in march. she also published a novel entitled Wonder When You’ll Miss Me.

    the stories are either pretty good or pretty darn good, occasionally with these fantastical elements that are really interesting. a couple of stories read something like folk tales or fairy tales. it’s just bizarre that this is now half of her life’s work.

    definitely a good read for the short story obsessed....more

  • Across the Bridge

    Mavis Gallant

    the april 2003 issue of Harper’s had a review of the two new collections of Gallan’s stories—being published by The New York Review of Books (one of which has just been released) — and called her an “unknown master.” at first i felt like reading the review had pushed my expectations too high; while the first three stories were interesting, all centering around the same family in montreal with some interesting language dynamics, they weren’t as altogether astounding as i’d assumed they would be. then in the middle a couple of the stories were just amazing and i understood where the reviewer was coming from.

    at times Gallant’s style reminds me a little of Alice Munro,...more

  • Sister of My Heart

    Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

    last summer, during my total short story fixation, i read The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, also by Divakaruni — it’s probably one of my favorite collections, so i was curious to read something else by her.

    this novel is such a well-spun story, each chapter just barely resolving, strongly pulling into the subsequent chapter. ceasing to read became a very purposeful action. the chapters alternate points of view of two cousins who are, some people think, unnaturally close. the alternating is done so well — their voices are so unique but still tied in to each other that the story doesn’t jolt between them. the full ensemble of characters are dynamic and everything is nicely focused. there are no loose bits of...more

  • The Sweet Hereafter

    Russell Banks

    i managed to rent this movie right when my roommate received the book as a gift. i didn’t really care for the movie at all. so much of the story seemed painfully undeveloped, major events slipped in casually and then never referenced again. reading the book, it’s a novel i would not have predicted to be hollywoodified, so i guess i would have expected the results.

    basically this is the aftermath of a tragic school bus crash that leaves few survivors. the book is told through a sequence of narrators, and it’s all very internal. everything that makes this story interesting can’t possibly be translated into a film — without massive voiceovers, from which we are spared. the...more

  • Invisible Cities

    Italo Calvino

    i just read this for the first time this past autumn, so this may constitute the fastest desire to re-read a book yet. it is just so vast and focused, beautiful, brilliant. it’s pointless for me to describe it as the words will probably just sound trite. a definite favorite.more

  • The Name of the Rose

    Umberto Eco

    i read a rather obscene amount of agatha christie in junior high, and i really haven’t read anything in that vein until this murder mystery, set in an italian abbey in the year 1327. this is a weightier story than most of those books i read back then — the history is amazingly researched. every detail is placed meticulously. the story takes place over just seven days, so it’s the equivalent to “real time” or even some kind of magnified time.

    the postscript, written three years after the book was initially published, is probably the best part of this edition. after reading through over 500 pages of story, even though the ending is no letdown, eco’s collection of thoughts on the novel...more

  • The Middleman and Other Stories

    Bharati Mukherjee

    directly after reading an alice munro book and the fantastic murakami collection, a moderately good group of short stories unfortunately suffers from comparative disappointment. this book had been recommended to me, and i just read and enjoyed jasmine a few weeks ago, but most of the stories here have a painful lack of development. the stories tend to rest too much on “comic” interactions between characters, which lack the necessary depth to feel like the stories go anywhere rather than sounding natural and lighthearted. everything ends up feeling very stagnant from start to finish. Mukherjee has wonderful insight on the lives in immigrants in the US, but sometimes this focus seems forced so that in the...more

  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

    Alice Munro

    alice munro’s short stories are always so well-contained — rich with detail but no unnecessary words. as a collection, these stories are less linked than others of hers, but the stories have common themes to keep them together, most predictably relationships. munro’s style is so careful, subtly stunning. most times “nothing really happens,” but there’s so much going on. every so often there is a moment of such breathtaking vision into her characters but otherwise it’s possible to take for granted how well-crafted each one is.

    i noticed this time that her stories are usually set in a somewhat archaic, but not very distant past — never quite “present.” only once in this did i feel that the story was painfully short and almost truncated....more

  • After the Quake

    Haruki Murakami

    i’ve been kind of hesitant on murakami — partially a wariness of the “genius” label often partnered with him. also because the few books i’ve read (Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart) had these weird female characters that creeped me out. friends of mine who had read other works by him related having similar responses, so i didn’t go out of my way to read much of his work. though last summer i read Underground, his nonfiction book about the Tokyo gas attacks where i found even some of his commentary of interviewees gave me that aversion reaction. recently though, The New Yorker printed a story of his, “Ice Man,” which is a great story and absent of any creepy-feelings-inducing aspects. so...more