Can you believe it? We made it back here in less than six months! Sure, it still took us two months but we are going to call it a victory. It turns out that a little short fiction may have been just what we all needed. After starting this challenge, we all ended up diving into various short stories and collections so look out for more of that in the future! For now, we are playing another round of She Made Me Do It with each other, featuring more short stories, graphic novels, and novellas.
Here's what happened with last month's recommendations...
Verdict: Like Flannery, I ended up reading Rash's entire collection, and it's good, with stories set in different times, with different tones. It's not surprising, however, that I didn't necessarily like the same stories Catie did. Those Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven broke my heart as well (drugs are BAD, people!). But I thought A Servant of History was a lot of fun too, and a nice reprieve from other dark stories.
As for Mo Willems' books, I pretty much read every book of his that my library had, including gems like Time to Pee! I think they are great fun for kids and I will definitely read them again and again, once my boy is old enough to understand them. Willems' are kids' book of the best quality. After reading a bunch of baby books already, I am sure of it.
I will read The Gorgon in the Gully one day, when it miraculously lands on my doorstep:)
I can't really rate everything I've read for this challenge individually. Let's say, they all got at least 3.5 stars from me. Most 4 and up. Thanks, Catie!
Verdict: Here I am feeling like the slacker of The Readventurer, because I only read one (ONE) of the fabulous picks Flannery chose for me. And they were all so short! I have no option but to hang my head in shame. Oh, and I should also probably mention that the one I read actually served double duty because it was, coincidentally, the selection for my book club this month. So I’m also kind of a cheater. Nevertheless! I really did enjoy Daddy Long Legs. Yes, it really does remind me quite a bit of my beloved Anne of Green Gables. In some ways, I actually (gasp!) liked it even more. Judy is practical and resourceful and scrappy in a way that dreamy Anne never could be. And while they both share a seemingly interminable optimism, Judy’s feels darker and more realistic next to Anne’s dreams of golden pavilions and starry nights. Anne had to come down to Earth to find her true love in the simple, reliable boy next door. But for Judy, finding love requires expanding her dreams and hopes out of her small world. However, there’s still the small (read: gigantic, unsurpassable) matter of the love interest. No one, and I mean NO ONE, could ever surpass Gilbert Blythe for me. So really, when compared to the Anne books, this series doesn’t stand a chance.
I did end up reading the second book in the series (Dear Enemy) as well. It was pretty charming, but there were just enough references to eugenics and the hiding away of disabled children to make me uncomfortable. If that sounds like something that would make you uncomfortable too, I’d suggest stopping after number one. Overall, this was another awesome edition of SMMDI. I give Daddy Long Legs a solid 4 stars.
Verdict: I had a great time reading all of these, and I am a huge, huge fan of these short recommendations. The first one I went for was Ethel & Ernest, as it was the first hold to show up at my library. The author wrote the short, illustrated book about his parents and their romance. I loved that he was able to capture simple living and a somewhat small-scale approach to life without it feeling at all insulting. My grandparents lived similar sorts of lives (or at least that was the appearance they gave a growing me) and it made me miss them and the stories they'd tell. Briggs' parents fell in love and together they experienced a lot of technological advancements as well as hard times during rationing and WWII. The book only takes about twenty minutes to read and I recommend it to anyone new to graphic novels/illustrated stories and anyone who wants to just smile at the story of a relationship.
Next, I listened to Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash, which was recommended to Tatiana in this SMMDI. Good thing I don't pay attention to what is recommended to who because I absolutely loved listening to this collection of stories. Each one begins as a regular story but has some sort of twisty ending. I had to rewind several of the endings to make sure I was getting the full weight of what was happening. I am definitely a Ron Rash fan after listening to this audiobook. I read another of his stories last week in an anthology and I now plan to read everything he's written.
It took a while for my hold on The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate to come in, but when it did I read it immediately. Firstly, it is always amazing to me when an author whose work I am reading lives in my general vicinity. I can't help wondering if I might've walked by them or seen them somewhere. This is especially true when the words they've written are lovely, as this story by Ted Chiang definitely is. Merchant is a sort of time-twisty sci fi fairy tale. I wasn't sure what I was going to get but I was very happy with how original Chiang's tale felt--sort of the middle east meets Replay by Ken Grimwood.
The last stories I went through were the two by Truman Capote. I was a bit underwhelmed by Capote's painting of Marilyn Monroe as a constantly cussing, insecure actress rather than the bombshell most of us know her as. I still liked the story but I think it lacked the depth and interest that, say, my other assigned story, Handcarved Coffins, had. Coffins is based on a true crime serial killer story. While I was riveted by the story, I have to admit that the lack of closure was frustrating. Also, this story would be an amazing episode of a television show or a movie.
When all was said and done, I rate them as:
Ethel & Ernest: 4/5
Nothing Gold Can Stay: 4.5/5
Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate: 4/5
A Beautiful Child: 3/5
Handcarved Coffins: 4/5
A New Set of Challenges
Catie recommends for Flannery...
Fade To White by Catherynne Valente
What it's about: Two young people prepare for a coming of age ritual in a dystopian world where male infertility is common after a major nuclear event.
Why I think she'll like it: I'd like to personally hand this story to every single person who hated Ally Condie's Matched, and Flannery will be my first recipient (slash victim?). Told through frightening scenes of McCarthy-era like propaganda, this story is basically everything that Matched wasn't: believable, intelligent, scary as hell, and perhaps most importantly, contained within the bounds of a very short novella. Tatiana and I are both pretty huge Valente fans, and I think it's time for Flannery to join in! Bonus: there's a free podcast of the audio here.
Black Step by Daniel Woodrell
What it's about: An Iraq war veteran comes home and tries to cope with his new world.
Why I think she'll like it: This was my favorite story from this excellent collection released by Daniel Woodrell this year. I know Flannery enjoyed Nothing Gold Can Stay from our last round, and that makes me believe she might like this. Woodrell writes similarly gritty/dark stories about simple people, but his tend to be darker and more hopeless (in my opinion). This collection also has a spectacular audio version!
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
What it's about: Sedaris writes hilarious vignettes involving animals acting out basic human ignorance and stupidity.
Why I think she'll like it: I know Flannery is a Sedaris fan, and I was surprised that she hadn't already read this one. Also, after writing about my above two recommendations, I realized that I'd given her nothing but sad, sad, sad options. So here's a lighter pick. When I'm feeling crappy and depressed, there's no one like David Sedaris to make me laugh myself out of it. The print version of this book has awesome illustrations from Ian Falconer (of Olivia fame) but the audio has a wonderful cast of narrators, including Sedaris himself and the always salty Elaine Stritch.
Flannery recommends to Tatiana...
Iphegenia in Aulis by Mike Carey
What it's about: A girl, Melanie, and other children live in a pseudo-jail where they are confined to wheelchairs for most of their days. But why are they there?
Why I think she'll like it: It's a quick listen (it's a short story that is part of an anthology) and it is very interesting. I think Tatiana will like wondering what is going on as much as I did, though I wonder what she'll think of the ending.
Y the Last Man: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan
What it's about: The beginning of a graphic novel series about the literal last man on Earth.
Why I think she'll like it: This series is by the creator of Saga, which all three of us are reading and enjoying. It has a similar sense of humor to the Fables series and the Saga series so I think Tatiana will like that as well.
Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
What it's about: Two business partners, one Jewish, one German, during WWII. The German goes back to Germany and the friendship is strained and changed by the war and the Nazi regime.
Why I think she'll like it: SURPRISE! I WILL NEVER STOP RECOMMENDING THIS BOOK UNTIL TATIANA HAS READ IT! It is epistolary and has one of the most interesting back stories as well as endings I have ever encountered. Catie and I both 5-starred it. Will Tatiana be the same?
Tatiana recommends for Catie...
Hell is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang
What it's about: This story set in an alternative world where existence of God is unquestionable. God exists, so do angels, and Heaven and Hell, people can see them. However, Hell is nothing hellish, but almost the same as the real world, the only difference being the absence of God in it. What does it mean to people though? Do they all choose to worship and love God, knowing that He is real? Or it makes no difference at all and some can get by without ever acknowledging Him, like atheists do now?
Why I think she'll like it: Now that I've convinced Flannery to check Chiang out, I will try to get Catie to give him a chance too. I believe this religion-questioning story can definitely hook her. Plus, it has won all kinds of awards.
Wenlock Edge by Alice Munro
What it's about: A young, naive college girl who, after a very humiliating experience, executes a cruel and maybe regrettable revenge act.
Why I think she'll like it: This a part of Munro's Booker winning collection and a story that stuck the best in my mind (maybe because it's a little pervy?). I want Catie to sample this author and her very peculiar, signature way of writing short stories.
The Matter of Seggri by Ursula K. Le Guin
What it's about: A world where there is a shortage of men. However, it doesn't make them more powerful, but rather makes them victims of women.
Why I think she'll like it: Although Catie likes Le Guin, she hasn't read enough of her short stories, in my opinion. I would love to recommend each and every one work in this collection, but am choosing this one, in which Le Guin, in her usual fashion, turns upside down our perception of advantages of masculinity.