I have promoted this website as a source for nonfiction book reviews, including textbooks and reference books. Though I have spent much of my life in the book business – as a bookseller, publisher, author, and collector – I have never read much fiction or literature, at least not since schooldays. This has resulted in the continuous consternation of my friends, especially folks like the fiction buyer at BOOKSTOP (and now at Barnes & Noble) who were always suggesting I read this or that novel.
It’s not that I have never enjoyed fiction – I still remember how much I liked Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities.
My excuses are these: 1) I am a very slow reader – see my post about how I digest a book in 15-30 minutes – so even a not-so-thick novel takes me weeks to read; 2) I am an information junkie and I find I learn more, faster, from non-fiction books; 3) My attention span is not long enough; 4) If I want a good story, I watch a movie; and 5) If I want to fantasize, I study a map or atlas and dream about being “at the end of the road.”
I sometimes think that, sooner or later, I will get “into” literature and have a compulsion to acquire a library of all the great works, and start working my way through them. Probably starting with Dickens.
In the interim, given my short attention span, I do enjoy a good short story. Today’s recommendations are some of the very few fiction books you will ever see on hooversworld.
I recently discovered two series of books which are perfect for me. Sudden Fiction are books which contain very short stories, usually no more than 1750 or so words. The Flash Fiction series, edited by some of the same folks, are even shorter, at about 750 words or less. Edited by various individuals, these two series come from one of my favorite publishers, W. W. Norton. These stories genrally run from one to four pages: even for me, a very quick “read.”
The stories are diverse, from sensitive to surprising, they are by authors with a great range of viewpoints, and they are all bite-sized. I am now getting in the habit of snacking on two to three each night before I go to sleep, in place of cookies and milk or sedatives. If you buy the books on Amazon, the stories cost 10-20 cents each, a real bargain these days.
Since I am talking fiction – and books of readings – I will also recommend to you The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, edited by Alan Kaufman, Neil Ortenburg, and Barney Rosset (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2004). This one is perfect for baby boomers who fondly remember the 60s and 70s, beat generation members or people who wish they were there, radicals and rebels at heart, and anyone who likes the film Easy Rider. The book contains short to medium clips of fiction and non-fiction by over 150 authors including Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Jack and Jan Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Carlos Castaneda, and even Hunter S. Thompson. This certainly is an “adult” book but it sure is a fun read if you, like me, qualify.
Lastly, I have to include my all-time favorite short story writer. The competition out there is fierce, from Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson, from William Saroyan to George Ade to O. Henry. But my fave is the prodigious Saki, real name H.H. Munro. You may remember his classic The Open Window from high school literature class. His very short, very English stories are full of twists, turns, and subtle humor. I have been reading through these stories since I was a teenager, and hope to stretch them out for many more years, gradually working through his complete works. I am rarely disappointed, and urge you to give them a taste if you have not already digested them.