Monday, December 29, 2014

Reading and Writing Review 2014


Reading and Writing Review 2014 (includes fiction standouts: novels, novellas and collections/anthologies)

Books and Novellas (left the cutoff at 50 pages) Read in 2014

Vampires in the Lemon Grove Karen Russell (collection)                                    
The Best Australian Stories 2014 ed Amanda Lohrey  (anthology)
                                     
The Art of Fiction  John Gardner  (expository)                                                  
Arthur and George Julian Barnes                                                                           
The New Veterans Karen Russell (novella from Vampires in the Lemon Grove originally in Granta (Winter 2013)                                                                       

Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami                                                                 
Stoner John Williams                                                                                           
Halfhead Bay Nam Le (novella from The Boat)                                                 

The Neanderthals Rediscovered Dimitra Papagianni & Michael Moore (expository text)                                                                                                    

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz                                             

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brian Sanderson  (novella from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                        

Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois (anthology)

The Elephant Vanishes Haruki Murakami (collection)                                   
The Boat Nam Le (collection)                                                                             
Dinosaurs, a Very Short Introduction David Norman (expository text)       

Tehran Calling Nam Le (novella from The Boat)                                             

The Windup Girl Paolo Bacigalupi                                                                     

The Children Act Ian McEwan                                                                            

Lies My Mother Told Me Caroline Spector (novella from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                            

Kisses by Clockwork ed Liz Grzyb (anthology)                                                    

Jasper Jones Craig Silvey                                                                                        

Eclipse Four Ed. Jonathan Strahan (anthology)                                             

Falconer John Cheever                                                                                          

Virgins Diana Gabaldon  (novella from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                    

Bombshells Jim Butcher (novella from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                 

Flesh and Blood Michael Cunningham                                                              

The Book Thief Markus Zusak                                                                            

The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens George R.R Martin (novella from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                  
The Pure Gold Baby Margaret Drabble                                                               


Fiction Standouts

Keeping standouts to a maximum of four and they are in order of preference.

Absolute Standout:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. I can’t praise this collection highly enough - I loved all but two stories. Russell is ostentatious but also fresh and witty and these stories and novelettes are of the best that I’ve read. At a micro-level, Russell’s syntactical work is also remarkable. Do yourself a favour and have a read. Russell blends stories of the urban fantasy genre with structural elements more common in ‘literary’ works. I think she is a writer to be celebrated. If you don’t have time then at least read the story ‘Reeling for the Empire’

Novels
The following novels are all highly recommended reads.

Arthur and George Julian Barnes

Historical literary fiction at its best. This is near a masterpiece, only marred, I thought, by an incredulous bit of light philosophy late in the novel by George (you’ll see it when you read it). Won’t give too much away but it’s marvelous.

Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami

Original, full of semi-Socratic dialogue and surreal scenes, all pulled together in a well-crafted novel. It was my first read of a Murakami novel and I’ll certainly return. Kafka on the Shore won a number of prizes including The World Fantasy Award. The philosophical elements work well with an intriguing, inventive plot.                                                           




Stoner John Williams

I can’t quite put my finger on it, both uplifting and depressing, but a work that I simply enjoyed. Williams has a rare talent of not reverting to melodrama in order to create tension. Stoner felt pure in terms of prose, with a nice blend of ‘telling’ and ‘showing’, which many writers these days forget (some are caught up in lengthy ’showing’ that might be a product of creative writing texts and courses). I can see why Julian Barnes so highly recommends it (the prose in both Arthur and George and Stoner share similarities). 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz

This has its problems – you'll want a Spanish lexicon at times if you're not Latin American (or to a lesser degree, from the US) and I don’t think that the various threads all work successfully. But every novel has its flaws and it’s a brilliant work: intelligent, gutsy, exuberant, fun and tragic.        
                                     
Standout Collections and Anthologies

I won’t include the two I had stories in: The Best Australian Stories 2014 and Kisses by Clockwork, as it just seems in poor taste - needless to say, I loved them both.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove Karen Russell (collection)
Think I’ve raved on about Russell enough. Superb                                   

Dangerous Women (anthology) ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
Megan Abbott, Megan Lindholm, Nancy Kress, Joe Abercrombie, Brian Sanderson and John R Landsdale’s stories alone are enough to make this a must-read anthology.

The Elephant Vanishes Haruki Murakami (collection)                                  
Refreshing collection in a conversational narrative voice. Enjoyed my first dose of Murakami. Hope you do too.


The Boat Nam Le (collection)                                                                             
Some truly remarkable prose and stories within. Felt let down by the title story but on the whole Nam’s debut collection is a work to admire. A remarkable talent.

Novella Highlights

The New Veterans Karen Russell (novella from Vampires in the Lemon Grove originally in Granta,Winter 2013)                                                                      
Halfhead Bay Nam Le (novella from The Boat)                                                 
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brian Sanderson  (novella from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                        

Tehran Calling Nam Le (novella from The Boat)                                              

Short Stories

'29 superb stories' in a previous post.

Stories Published in 2014

Publications in the journal Overland Literary Journal 214 (my second story there) and the anthologies Kisses by Clockwork ed. Liz Grzyb and The Best Australian Stories 2014 ed. Amanda Lohrey.

Very satisfying year. Every story that finds a good home is a celebration but being in The Best Australian Stories 2014 was both exciting and humbling.

Publication News

A long short story of mine, written within a framework (of sorts) of the Sphinx’ riddle to Oedipus, will be published in 2015 in an anthology I'm excited about (contents not released yet and I'll update this later). It’s a dark fantasy/horror story with a reflective narrative voice, which includes a bit on nature, philandering, life’s stages, reading and myth.

Festive Season
Enjoy the festive season. Once again, hope you all read a few books, watch a few films (and other shows) and spend time with loved ones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

29 Highly Recommended Short Stories from my 2014 Reading


Top 29 Short Stories Read in 2014

Short Stories: A Celebration

This may seem an odd list to many as it just includes the best of my own reads this year. It’s not a list of the best stories published in 2014, although there are a number of stories from 2014 on this particular list. This year I read 118 stories so I thought that a list of 29 , around a quarter, might be more appropriate (I suffer from OCD with my reading).

I also had ‘Reeling for the Empire’ (a magnificent story) and ‘Vampires in the Lemon Grove’ in last year’s list as I read Karen Russell’s  collection over this year and last. Furthermore, The New Veterans by Karen Russell will be in this year's recommended novella list along with Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brian Sanderson and Halfhead Bay by Nam Le. 

There’s a variety of genre here, ranging form ‘lit’ to ‘pulp’, so I’m happy to answer questions regarding any of the listed stories . 

I could have included many more, especially from The Best Australian Stories 2014 ed Amanda Lohrey, but a cut off had to occur somewhere. This yearly list is a celebration of short fiction rather than anything more sinister and, as always, many great reads missed out. 

Stories in bold were published in 2014. 

29 Superb Stories

“The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” Karen Russell (from Vampires in the Lemon Grove originally in Conjunctions (Fall 2010)                                                  

‘Natasha’ David Bezmozgis (from My Mistress Sparrow is Dead ed. Jeffrey Eugenides, originally in Natasha by David Bezmozgis)                                                 

“Old Habits” Nalo Hopkinson (from Eclipse Four ed. Jonathan Strahan)    

“My Heart is Either Broken” Megan Abbott (from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                               

“The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach” Karen Russell (from Vampires in the Lemon Grove originally in Tin House, Fall 2009)                                          

“The Dancing Dwarf” Haruki Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes)                      
                                             
“Neighbors” by Meghan Lindholm (from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois) fantastic take on dementia                                   

“Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress (from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                        

“Barn Burning” Haruki Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes originally in The New Yorker)                                                                                                                   

“Dying Young” Peter M. Ball (from Eclipse Four ed. Jonathan Strahan)         

‘Flicking the Flint’ Anna Krien (The Best Australian Stories 2014)                

“Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” Nam Le
(The Boat originally in Zoetrope: All Story)     
                                                      
“The Last Lawn of the Afternnoon” Haruki Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes)
                                                                                                                                    
“Some Desperado” Joe Abercrombie (from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois )                                                                               

“The Examination” Ryan O’Neil (Wet Ink 14)                                                      

‘Bring Closer What is Left to Come’ Julienne van Loon (The Best Australian Stories 2014)                                                                                                       
‘Sugar Bag Dreamin’ Country’ Mark Smith (The Best Australian Stories 2014)          
                                                                                                        
“Proving Up” Karen Russell (from Vampires in the Lemon Grove originally published as “The Hox River Window” in Zoetrope: All Story, Fall 2011)     

‘Meeting Elise” Nam Le (The Boat originally in One Story)                               

“Family Affair” Haruki Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes)                               

“A Small Cleared Space” Josephine Rowe (Overland 214 Autumn)                  

“The Venetian Cat” Cherith Baldry (Kisses by Clockwork ed Liz Grzyb)          

‘Ill Met in Lankhmar’ Springers’ Fritz Leiber (Selected Stories ed Jonathan Strahan & Charles N. Brown, first published The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Apr. 1970)                                                                                                   

“Hiroshima” Nam Le (The Boat originally in Harvard Review)                          

“TV People” Haruki Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes originally in The New Yorker)                                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                  
“Wrestling Jesus” Joe R. Lansdale (from Dangerous Women ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois) pulpy genre                                                              

“Smoke Ghost” Fritz Leiber (Selected Stories ed Jonathan Strahan & Charles N. Brown originally in Unknown Worlds, Oct. 1941)                                             
                                                          
“Tourists” James Patrick Kelly (from Eclipse Four ed. Jonathan Strahan)     

‘The Panther’ David Brooks (The Best Australian Stories 2014)                       

‘The Peacock’ Arabella Edge (The Best Australian Stories 2014)