Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tuesday Tomes - Short Stories

Reading short story collections is a great way to get to know an author. You get some idea of their range of interest and writing style, and you aren't committed to three hundred pages of a novel.  Two collections I've just added to my library are Life Times: Stories 1952-2007 by Nadine Gordimer (which I covered in a recent post), and All the Stories of Muriel Spark by Muriel Spark.

I'm only about a hundred pages into the Nadine Gordimer book and finding her writing to be as terrific as I had been led to believe I would by reviews and news stories. I haven't begun the Muriel Spark collection yet, but here are a couple links that will help you see why I'm looking forward to getting to know her work. It's probably not a reading direction I would have gone without a little push from John Wilson at Books and Culture Magazine, but a recommendation from him goes a long way with me.

Books & Culture Podcast: Celebrating Muriel Spark
A volume of her essays and a collection in her honor.

Those who know Spark mainly from her novels, however (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; Loitering with Intent), will be pleased to snap up this treasure trove, markedly best for the many of her earlier stories that combine elements that other writers wouldn't dare bring together. Chance encounters between strangers spiral into unexpected plots (as when a young woman meets a soldier on a train in "The House of the Famous Poet"), and Spark's narrators (including the wry, level-headed ghost of "The Portobello Road") serve as astute observers of race, class and society, particularly in the stories set in colonial South Africa. There are times when the whimsy goes screwball, and briefer pieces stemming from a word or phrase peter out, but overall Spark's marvelous control of ambiguities and language continues to dazzle. Following so soon on the heels of Open to the Public, this volume may not receive much review coverage, but as the first paperback collected edition since 1985, it should sell well, particularly to students and first-time Spark readers.

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