More brief narratives

I recently mentioned that I had several collections of short stories in hand which I intended to get round to in the near future using the tag the Library of Brief Narratives. It’s my intention to include as many short story titles as I can bear throughout 2021, but to get off to a flying start by reviewing a couple of them in December.

I’ve already listed selections and collections with or including realist themes. Now, as a further amuse-bouche for you all, comes another listing of titles with a more speculative range of genres, from SF and fantasy through fairytales and on to horror and suspense.

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How to modernise classics

There’s a fashion for rewriting literary classics in modern dress, whether Shakespeare’s plays or Victorian novels, just as Ancient Greek plays were fair game for such treatment in the past, and as Norse mythology has provided such inspiration in recent years.

But much more remains to be exploited, not least the possibilities suggested by title manipulation. Here are some examples, offered gratis to anyone who feels they want to run with them.

Provided they include the acknowledgement “from an idea by …” on the title pages. Or not.

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To cut a tale short

Collections of short stories are, I’ve found, tricky things to review compared to a solid novel or longish novella. The reasons are as various as the pieces in the collection can be:

  1. there may be too many individual stories to cover them all in any detail;
  2. mere listing of the contents doesn’t, in my view, constitute a review but often that seems to be main option, which is a disservice to those hoping to decide whether to read the volume;
  3. the selection may be uneven in quality with any poor specimens bringing down the standard of the collection and thus one’s overall assessment;
  4. the variety in terms of subject matter, tone, length and order also make an overall assessment difficult.

But without reviews how is one to tread the labyrinth of the Library of Brief Narratives? I have a number of such collections in my purview waiting for my perusal and assessment so I have those paths to follow.

In the meantime, here is an overview of some of the collections I have reviewed, with brief commentary, for those (like, I think, Cath Humphries) hoping for signposts to new pastures. For this first of two posts I look at collections with a realist slant (links are to my reviews).

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Further reading

Artwork by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com.

Approaching the last two months of this extraordinary year — one which I’m sure is seared into our collective consciousness — I thought I’d briefly, with your gracious acquiescence, take stock.

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 70 titles so far in 2020, surpassing my modest target of 60 for the whole year. Bar one or two I’ve reviewed them all too, on Goodreads as well as here. As the year progressed (even as conditions globally regressed) I determined to be less constrained by goals and targets and challenges and go mainly for comfort reading, even if some titles weren’t necessarily comfortable reading.

So, as November and December beckon, what am I likely to have piled up by my elbow?

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Errant

Bastardised shop sign from Hereford (?)

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
— from An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope.

You may have noticed I’ve become a little bit obsessive in recent months: loads of books read — blog posts appearing every two days — reviews getting longer and wordier — strident statements occasionally appearing… If you’d wondered (if indeed you’ve happened to notice) then I think the time has come for a little bit of self-reflection on my part and an attempt at an explanation.

I think this flurry of activity comes as much from displacement activity as it does from genuine bookish pleasure. The reasons for that displacement aren’t hard to divine: the pandemic for one, which affects everyone; the crisis arising from global heating, which should be concerning everyone; and the nightmare political situation in too many countries which, closely bound up with the first two reasons, has divided everyone almost as much as any physical wall.

And because of all this I’ve alighted on the usually sage sayings of Alexander Pope.

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Going Gothick

A quick reminder that Witch Week begins in roughly three weeks time. This runs from Hallowe’en to Bonfire Night, an event first begun by Lory Hess on The Emerald City Book Review, and is an annual series of guest posts.

Inspired by a fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones (called, naturally, Witch Week) this year’s event features Gothick as a theme, the perfect choice for this season.

This year my co-curator Lizzie Ross is hosting (I hosted last year) and I will be pointing you to her blog LizzieRossWriter.com for the posts: here’s her advance notice of what’s to come. Offerings lined up cover a range of literary areas, including a group read of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, but there’s much, much more!


In other news, this arrived in the post this morning, a Certificate of Higher Education in Creative Writing Studies from Aberystwyth University

Six degrees

It’s the start of October tomorrow and thus apparently time for Six Degrees of Separation (#6degrees), a meme posted by many bloggers I follow, run by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

The idea is to start at the same place as other readers, then add six books to see where one ends up. It’s not a meme I normally do — I think I’ve only attempted it once before, and that was by liberally interpreting the rules — but I fancy a go now.

In October we start with a novella by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw,* a good choice for this time of year as it’s a classic ghost story. (Or is it?) Here starteth the chain of connections.

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This summer, in summary

Back at the beginning of June I opted to do Cathy Brown’s summer reading meme. This involved listing either ten, fifteen or twenty books one aimed to complete between the beginning of that month and the end of August.

Ever cautious I went for just ten titles, but in complete confidence that I would over the 93 days be close to not only reading but reviewing 20 books.

So how did I do?

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Globetrotting, bookwise

I’ve not thought of myself as particularly insular where history, geography and politics are concerned but I have been aware that for some years the literature I’ve tended to gravitate towards has been firmly Anglocentric, with occasional forays in the direction of North America.

There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs but no excuses — all I can say is that it’s particularly shameful to me that a childhood growing up in what was then called the Far East, plus a subsequent sprinkling of study in some of the so-called Romance languages of Europe, hasn’t led to a broader familiarity with world literature.

So . . . Reading All Around the World. I’m not actually doing this challenge, but a recent-ish post by Lory caught my eye and I thought I’d check where, bookwise, I’ve already travelled in this year of grace, two-thirds of the way through twenty-twenty, with 52 titles under my belt.

Not far, it turns out.

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The Ruin of Books and Sarcasm

Cover generator: https://nullk.github.io/penguin.html

Alex, who blogs on fantasy and science fiction at Spells and Spaceships and tweets as (at)BlogSpells, posted this fun tweet recently:

Create your YA novel title:

The _______ of ________ and _______

1) type of place you like travelling to most — forest, church, castle etc.
2) Last thing you held in your hand other than your phone
3) thing you’re most scared of

Mine, as you can see, came out as The Ruin of Books and Sarcasm which I fondly thought had the enigmatic feel of titles like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance.

I also used this cover generator to produce a suitably official-looking Penguin Classics title using a photo of part of a mural I saw in Bristol.

Here is a summary of the imagined blurb on the back cover, which may or may not encourage you to go out and buy it — virtually of course!

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An unscrupulous passion

Inverted Commas 17: a Lust for Books

Freddy recognised the truth of what he said. She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books.

Freddy is the 14-year-old Fredegonde Webster from Robertson Davies’ 1951 novel Tempest-Tost, the first volume in his Salterton Trilogy. She has heard that the late Dr Savage’s library of “4300 volumes of Philosophy, Theology, Travel, Superior Fiction and Miscellaneous” is to be offered gratis to clergy of all denominations on a particular day, with the proviso that they must remove books personally. And now her lust for books has been fired up.

As well as being the date of Tove Jansson‘s birthday every 9th August is designated Book Lovers Day. I cannot let any further time pass without belatedly marking the occasion with further relevant quotes from the sixth chapter of the Canadian writer’s novel.

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Somewhere to go

Those lovely bloggers at Reenchantment of the World, Ola and Piotrek, were recently gifted the Real Neat Blog Award because, I’m guessing, their site is regarded as real neat (which it is). As part of these types of blogging awards one is often required to answer a series of questions, which Piotrek and Ola in tandem duly did here.

You may know that I eschew such exercises if ever I am nominated, sometimes because an additional requirement is to nominate more bloggers in a kind of virtual pyramid scheme, other times because the questions just don’t appeal, but mostly because I prefer to generate posts from a stimulus I myself have chosen.

But just occasionally, regardless of whether I’ve actually been nominated, something indefinable about the questionnaire does appeal, and that was the case here.

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The Inside and Out Book Tag

I borrowed this tag from Bookforager — who borrowed it from other bloggers — who had no idea where it came from — so that’s the accreditation done.

I’m not a habitual tag-user on this blog — many tags, especially those ubiquitous blogging ‘awards’, seem designed to elicit the kind of private details (name of pet, favourite place) that fraudsters seek to ferret out — so I only introduce such Q&A posts sparingly, and only when I like the tone of the questions.

As here, in which the prompts are all book-related. And, even better, there are only eight questions, substantially less than on a tax form…

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Novels about gardens

Kirsty from The Literary Sisters recently reposted one of their pieces with the title Books about Gardens, which I was so taken with that I’m going to do my version, now, at the height of summer.

As the title suggests, I’m going to refer to books I’ve read, with links to any reviews, that have dealt one way or another with gardens in the modern era. I could have included references to gardens in the wider sense — the Middle Eastern concept of the paradise garden, or Thomas Browne’s 1658 overview The Garden of Cyrus, or turf mazes and labyrinths and the wildernesses of landscape gardening — but I’ve chosen to limit myself mostly to fiction, with just a couple of excursions beyond the paling.

Additionally, I note that these are in the main the grand gardens of English country houses or urban mansions rather than the more modest domestic examples of town terraces and the suburbs or examples from abroad. It’s something I need to address in a future post, whether they exist, say, in Mesopotamian mythology, in Chinese culture, the global tradition of public open spaces or Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories.

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Worlds apart

Gliffaes Country House Hotel walled garden © C A Lovegrove

Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife wends a different path from its predecessor Northern Lights in that instead of the reader inhabiting Lyra’s world for the duration one now starts moving from world to world.

The UK editions help us keep track of these different worlds with the author’s symbols in the margins of each page: the silhouette of a hornbeam tree for Will’s world (and ours), a dagger motif for the Cittàgazze world, the alethiometer standing for Lyra’s home world and a starburst symbol for the world in which Lord Asriel is building his fortress, the one intended for the republic of heaven.

Within these worlds representing different spaces in the boardgame of Pullman’s imagination the author moves his pawns and knights, his rooks and bishops, his kings and queens. Inevitably during the game some pieces are removed permanently from the board.

Warning: spoilers ahead

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