Since I didn’t read any short stories last week, I had to catch up a bit this week, so this is kind of a long post. I’ve been absolutely loving Neil Gaiman’s new book of short nonfiction, The View from the Cheap Seats, so there are quite a few pieces from there on this list. The last six on the list are stories I read for my Fiction Fundamentals class, and everything else I read is Neil Gaiman. I need to actually pick up one of my other short story collections are some point.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this post! I definitely had a good reading week, short-story wise. Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if you have any short story suggestions for me to read.
1. ” Troll Bridge” by Neil Gaiman (published in Smoke and Mirrors). ★★★★✩. This one started out a little slow for me, but I ended up really enjoying it. It’s about a man who encounters a troll three times in his life, and what he learns from the experience. I don’t want to give too much away in case any of you want to read it, but it was interesting, with quite a few twists.
2. “Don’t Ask Jack” by Neil Gaiman (published in Smoke and Mirrors). ★★★✩✩. This one is super short, and about a creepy jack in the box. It’s a family heirloom, but for some reason, the children hate it and won’t play with it. For me, it wasn’t anything super exciting, but I did like it.
3. “The Pornography of Genre, or The Genre of Pornography” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★★. I didn’t really know what to think going in – I, mean, just read the title – but I was very pleasantly surprised by this piece. It’s a look at genre from the perspective of a writer (more specifically, a genre writer), and I loved it! Definitely a great read for any writers or aspiring writers out there.
If you take them out – the songs from a musical, the sex acts from a porn film, the gunfights from a Western – then they no longer have the thing that the person came to see. The people who have come to that genre, looking for that thing, will feel cheated, feel they have not received their money’s worth, feel that they thing they have read or experienced has broken, somehow, the rules. – Neil Gaiman, “The Pornography of Genre, or The Genre of Pornography”
4. “Ghosts in the Machines: Some Hallowe’en Thoughts” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★★. This one was really fun! It examines why we feel the need to tell ghost stories, and what we find scary and why. I don’t know what else to say about it, but it was good. I definitely enjoyed it!
5. “Some Reflections on Myth (With Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics, and Fairy Tales” by Neil Gaiman. (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★★. YES! The more I read of this book, the more stories I mark (mentally) as must-reads for writers. This one is all about how we adapt myth, how myth evolves, and how we create our own.
6. “How Dare You: On America, and Writing About It” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★★. This was a cool read for any fans of American Gods, because it really went into the thought process behind that book. I enjoyed Gaiman’s reasoning behind wanting to write a book about America, and learning about how he came up with the concept for his book.
Slowly I realized both that the America I’d been writing was wholly fictional, and that the real America, the one underneath the what-you-see-is-what-you-get surface, was much stranger than the fictions. – Neil Gaiman, “How Dare You” On America, and Writing About It”
7. “All Books Have Genders” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★✩. I’ve heard this idea before from Gaiman, and I kind of like it. There are certain books that are, somehow, male (think The Martian or American Gods), and some that are distinctly female (like Stardust or Jane Eyre). That’s not to say that books can’t be read by anyone, just that some books give off that energy. Which is an interesting concept, and once I read it (probably about a year or two ago), it’s a thought that occasionally pops into my head while I read.
8. “The PEN Awards and Charlie Hebdo” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★✩. This was an interesting story about censorship, the media, and how writers play into it all. It also includes an interesting tidbit about a very controversial comic Gaiman helped write – Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament – and almost ended with a publisher in prison. And now I want to read it.
9. “What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book, Anyway? The Zena Sutherland Lecture” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★★. Like Gaiman’s exploration of genre, this is a deeper look of the differences between adult and children’s stories. It’s Gaiman’s attempt to answer the question: Is there a difference between adult and children’s stories? And, if so, what is it? I really identified with Gaiman’s idea that anyone can read anything (though his daughter, to whom he gave a copy of Carrie when she was eleven, might disagree). Children sensor themselves, because if they’re not ready to read it, they won’t understand it or they’ll find it boring. My parents are not big readers (read: they don’t read), so I was pretty much allowed to read whatever I wanted, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What makes a book an adult book is, sometimes, that it depicts a world that is only comprehensible if you are an adult yourself. – Neil Gaiman, “What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book, Anyway? The Zena Sutherland Lecture”
10. “These Are Not Our Faces” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★✩. This was such a fun little story! It was almost fiction, except it wasn’t. It’s about how writers go out into the world, pretending to be normal people, but, inside, they’re not. I can definitely identify with this concept. I’ve learned not to let my imagination (or curiosity) show, because it usually gets weird looks. If you’re a writer, you might really like this one.
11. “Reflections: On Diana Wynne Jones” by Neil Gaiman (published in The View from the Cheap Seats). ★★★★✩. I have never read a book by Diana Wynne Jones. Though I do own one. I listened to this story as an audiobook on my way home from work, and it made me want to immediately get home and pick up Howl’s Moving Castle. To an aspiring writer – me – this story made Jones seem like a must-read, a kind of secret Tolkien. I think it’s a lovely tribute, and I can’t wait to actually read one of her books now.
12. “Desirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin. ★★★★✩. Kind of predicable, but satisfying anyway. It’s about a woman who gives birth, only to discover that her baby has dark skin. Her husband blames her, telling her that she’s not white, and sends her away. I won’t give away the ending, but I’m sure you can guess.
13. “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. ★★★★✩. I actually read this story last year, and really enjoyed it (I did end up giving it the same rating this time around, if anyone is curious). I love the ambiguousness of it, and I’m a huge fan of Hemingway’s writing style. This is the only thing I’ve read of his so far, but it makes me want to read more!
The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings and bamboo beads, hung across the open door to the bar, to keep out the flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. – Ernest Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”
14. “Trust” by Dylan Landis (published in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014). ★★★✩✩. Meh, I feel like I didn’t get this one. It wasn’t bad, I just wasn’t really a fan of the style. And the story wasn’t all that exciting.
15. “Why I Write Short Stories” by John Cheever. ★★★✩✩. I liked it, but I didn’t really get much from this. I wish it was longer. But he still makes some excellent points.
16. “Stories That Define Me: The Making of a Writer” by Joyce Carol Oates. ★★★★✩. I don’t know what to say about this one, other than I liked it. I have read some of Oates’s novels, so it was interesting seeing how she addressed them, versus how she went about writing short fiction. The more short fiction I read, the more I realize short stories are completely unlike novels in everything but that they tell a story. It’s weird.
17. “The Writer’s Goal” by Guy de Maupassant. ★★★★★. I really enjoyed this one! It’s pretty much about what the title says it’s about, but it’s well-written and insightful. I think this is another piece any writer will benefit from reading.