When I’m in the midst of drafting my own novels, I turn my reading energies to short stories and essays. So this month’s offering of “Have Read, Reading, Will Read: Other People’s Books” features three collections that I hope you will check out for your own To Be Read pile and/or list.
A Book I’ve Read: “Strange Weather,” By Becky Hagenston
Winner of the 2009 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, this collection brings to life the quirky yet touching relationships of parents and children, lovers, and even office mates–all making strange yet oddly understandable decisions that push their lives in surprising directions. I find myself still thinking about several of these stories even though it’s been a month since I’ve read the collection.
Why I Love It: Here’s the five-star review I gave “Strange Weather” on Goodreads: “What a fantastic collection of stories! I was torn between wanting to race through the collection because the writing was so compelling, and wanting to savor each story one at a time, with a day or two between reading each one. I went with the latter option and I’m glad I did. Each story is a gem, providing a quirky look into the human heart. The characters are odd and interesting, engage in quietly outlandish behavior that tests the bounds of relationships and (at times) human decency, and yet, disturbingly and movingly, it’s easy to see our own emotions–fears and wishes and desires and doubts–brought to life in these stories.”
A Book I’m Reading: “The Mutual UFO Network,” By Lee Martin
I’ll read anything Lee Martin writes, for one. And in any case, how could I resist a collection entitled “The Mutual UFO Network?” As the jacket copy temptingly puts it: “With ‘The Mutual UFO Network,’ Pulitzer Prize finalist Lee Martin presents his first short story collection since his acclaimed debut ‘The Least You Need to Know.’ With Martin’s signature insight, each story peers into the nooks and crannies of seemingly normal homes, communities and families.”
Why I’m Loving It: I’m only two stories in, but the titular story, concerning a man who sells faked UFO footage and the ramifications in his own life and the lives of his loved ones, was riveting. I have a feeling that by the time I’m at the end of the collection, all the stories will tie together in a thematic pattern, rather like signals perhaps being sent to us from a far more advanced civilization, and I’ll want to loop back and read that first story yet again.
A Book I Will Read: “Love’s Long Line,” By Sophfronia Scott
This is Sophfronia’s collection essay, as the cover copy puts it, about “faith, motherhood, race, and the search for meaningful connection in an increasingly disconnected world.”
Why I’m Looking Forward To It: Any essay or collection that helps in that search for meaningful connection is worth a read. Plus, at a week-long writing workshop, I heard Sophfronia read her essay, “Why I Didn’t Go to the Firehouse,” about her experience as the shootings unfolded at her son’s school, Sandy Hook Elementary. Along with most members of the audience that night, I wept at Sophfronia’s beautiful, powerful words. (And I don’t cry easily, especially in public. Except when I’m saying goodbye at the end of a visit with our kids. Then I’m a blubbering goober.) But I didn’t find her words just incredibly moving. As if that wasn’t enough, they helped me re-frame in a healthy way the fears I sometimes have for our daughters’ safety. It took me four days before I could approach Sophfronia (not because she’s scary–she’s quite warm and humane–but because I didn’t want to be a blubbering goober) to thank her for her essay helping me find my way to ‘holding a space’ for my children. I have a feeling all her essays will be impactful.