Saturday, December 8, 2012

Day 8: I Think it's Shorts Weather

Welcome to Day 8 of our 24 Days of Books. Many of you are big fans of short stories -- me too! So today I thought I'd talk about a few of the fabulous new collections published recently. Inevitably I will miss some great ones, but this is a good start -- any one one of these would make a terrific gift.

If you ever get a chance to see northwest author Sherman Alexie in person, do it. He is the most amazing speaker: smart, funny, smart, opinionated, smart, provocative -- did I mention smart??  But if you can't see him in person, for goodness sakes read his books. [By the way, the Multnomah County Library system picked two of Alexie's books for the 2013 Everybody Reads program: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (winner of the National Book Award for Young Readers) and Ten Little Indians, a collection of short stories.

Alexie's newest book is another collection of short stories, Blasphemy, in which he unites fifteen beloved classics with fifteen new stories in one sweeping anthology for both devoted fans and first-time readers. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly had this to say:  "Alexie hammers away at ever-simmering issues, like racism, addiction, and infidelity, using a no-holds-barred approach and seamlessly shattering the boundary between character and reader. But while these glimpses into a harried and conflicted humanity prod our consciousness, there’s plenty of bawdiness and Alexie’s signature wicked humor throughout to balance out the weight."

Alexie, who currently lives in Seattle, is a bold and irreverent observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Blasphemy is published by Grove Press ($27).

Alexie is good, but you can't talk about short stories without talking about Canadian author Alice Munro, who thank goodness has a new story collection out this year:  Dear Life, published by Knopf ($26.95). As in all of her writing, in each story she illuminates the moment a life is forever altered by a chance encounter or an action not taken, or by a simple twist of fate that turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into a new way of being or thinking.The book ends with four pieces set in the area where she grew up, and in the time of her own childhood: stories “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.” Munro has an unparalleled gift for storytelling, meaning this collection is not something you should miss -- and that would make a wonderful gift.

My favorite story collection of the year is Birds of a Lesser Paradise, a debut collection by Megan Mayhew Bergman. Bergman’s powerful and heartwarming collection captures the surprising moments when the pull of our biology becomes evident, when love or fear collides with good sense, or when our attachment to an animal or wild place can’t be denied. I started reading the first story and after just a few pages I was hooked, and knew I had happened upon a short story writer that I hope to be taking pleasure in for many years to come. Author Jill McCorkle called Bergman "a brilliantly gifted writer who recognizes and highlights life's fragilities in a way that will leave your heart aching while also finding those bits of hilarity and absurdity that bring uniqueness to each and every creature.” The paperback edition of the book has just been published by Scribner ($15).

This year we were blessed with a debut book from a Portland author, Natalie Serber, who gave us Shout Her Lovely Name, a collection that explores the relationships between mothers and daughters -- described by one reviewer as "equal parts love and sandpaper." (Yes, that does sound familiar.) The collection is heart-felt, insightful, and yes even funny. Author Antonya Nelson says, "Coming of age is a painful and beautiful experience in Natalie Serber's hands. These are funny and poignant pieces, building a book that feels novelistic in sweep, yet true to the precision and direct aim of the short story." (Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt; $24)

A discussion of wonderful short story collections of the year would be incomplete without including the much-lauded author Junot Diaz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. His new collection of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, explores the haunting, impossible power of love – obsessive love, illicit love,  fading love, maternal love. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in this collection lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. According to NPR, "The dark ferocity of each of these stories and the types of love it portrays is reason enough to celebrate this book. But the collection is also a major contribution to the short story form... It is an engrossing, ambitious book for readers who demand of their fiction both emotional precision and linguistic daring." The book was named a finalist for this year's National Book Award. (Riverhead; $26.95)

As always, you can find many more holiday gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. See you soon!

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