A special treat today, Gentle Readers! Our friend over at The Serial Bookseller has agreed to swap blogs. Yes, I know it's called "guest-posting," but it's really swapping blogs. The Serial Bookseller is responsible for a healthy portion of my reading list, and I like to think I am responsible for a big chunk of his. It's his fault that I love "The Rithmatist" (Sanderson, see my post here) and "A Monster Calls" (Rothfuss) and "The Night Circus" (Morgenstern) among others. It's my fault that he likes "The Codex Alera" series (Butcher) and "The Warded Man" series (Brett) and the novels of "The Change" (Stirling), among others.
Now that I no longer work at a bookstore, he is my go-to guy for new authors. Perhaps he will become your go-to guy for new blog posts!
We, by the way, are posting over here today, on his blog. Hermia and I will be expounding on the joys of Walter Moers' "The City of Dreaming Books." Join us! --Naomi
Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a short story using only six words. His response was as follows.
For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.
Heartbreaking, powerful, and remarkably efficient. We all, for the most part, acknowledge Hemingway as a master, a literary genius. And yet, for all his full length work, this is the story that I've found causes the greatest amounts of ooh's and ah's. While this is one of the more popular urban legends (It never was conclusively proven that Hemingway wrote it) there are thousands, millions of others floating around that the vast majority of us are not privy too.
Think of your favorite author. Or the one whose book you are currently dying waiting for. I am willing to bet that there are other stories by that same author that you don't know exist. Small diversions, bite size tales, that can for a short time fill the void. Or, even better, tiny portals into the worlds unexplored and authors previously unread. There are three such authors where my first adventure with them was via a very short story. And they opened me up to a world, well three really, filled with hundreds of new stories.
The first such author was Neil Gaiman, many a moon ago. I picked up his collection Fragile Things because the first story contained within, A Study in Emerald, was a brilliant take on Sherlock Holmes, with a healthy heap of HP Lovecraft added for good measure. Further on in I found other charming or dark or mysterious stories that helped me to fall in love with Gaiman's work. Instructions provided us a brief and poignant set of directions on how to handle your first quest. The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Ms. Finch uses Gaiman and several of his friends as characters and tells about an unlikely and somewhat poorly done circus with an astonishing final act. And the last and longest story, The Monarch of the Glen, is a novella following Shadow, the lead of his massively successful and dizzyingly wonderful novel American Gods tale two years hence. Truth be told, I read Monarch before AG, and there were several fairly big spoilers within. You have been warned. Gaiman's world is so creepy, so delightfully like a dream gone strange, and Fragile Things (Or Smoke and Mirrors, his other book of short stories) is a perfectly encapsulated introduction to his work spanning novels, comics, movies, and soon video games as well.
The second author on the list has a somewhat similar style, but perhaps stands alone in history for his twisted tales of a world gone sideways. Quite simply, his name is Ray Bradbury. Worried about the ripple effect of killing a fly when you travel back in time? Bradbury's Sound of Thunder. The Simpsons ripped it off for heaven's sake. Video games will make children numb to violence and disrespectful? The Veldt. Anyone remember a tale they read in middle school about the sun shining only two hours every seven years? A classic tale of the terror of childhood bullying? All Summer in a Day. Bradbury, in addition to his novels, has written over 600 short stories. Six. Hundred. Never tell me there isn't anything to read. They are beautiful, poetic, prophetic, utterly and totally brilliant. His legacy resides in nearly every author of the last two generations that has set out to tell science fiction. He is the giant on whose shoulders we stand. And all of his stories are well preserved and readily available. I bid you happy hunting.
Finally, I was very recently (within the last week) introduced to another author who, sadly, has had nearly all of his books go out of print. R.A. Lafferty. Described once as "the maddest, the most colorful, the most unexpected writer alive." Gaiman once described his stories as being impossible to properly imitate because, "you could always tell it was a Lafferty story before the first sentence was done." You'll find his go at it in Fragile Things as well. It's called Sunbird. Lafferty was a writer that defied classification, but in the broadest sense he wrote mostly science fiction. While most who have read him know him as one of, if not the best, short story tellers of the 60's and 70's, his is probably best described as a neglected legacy. It is difficult to find his collections. You can find some of his works on Wikipedia. I recommend starting with Slow Tuesday Night. It made me a fan of his for life. As for books, if you find yourself holding any of them, consider yourself lucky. Nine Hundred Grandmothers is considered his best, and Does Anybody Have Anything Further to Add? is wonderful.
Short stories can be powerful things. They are pieces, bits, odds and ends. But within their pages, a few thousand words at most, they can change us. Even now I have told you what to look for in several important works from three transcendent authors. And it only took me 874 words. Please, if you have a favorite, share it in the comments. We could all use a dose of tiny stories from giant men and women from time to time.