This Week in Reading 12/5

Last week, I got a little bit caught up in Thanksgiving travel and didn’t get a chance to pen one of these, or really do much reading. I ended up riding in a car, like a real people, thanks to my friend Dan. I did manage to read three books in the last two weeks though.

The first was Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice by G. Willow Wilson and David Lopez. It’s one of her earlier works, and it’s worth reading just to see how much she’s grown from there to Ms. Marvel. She’s really weaned herself off tropes like the special orphan that we see in Mystic. What stays the same through all of her work though is the humor and emotiothat she brings into all of her stories. She really is remarkable at capturing authentic characters, even in her earlier work.

The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector was also funny, but not as worthwhile. It’s a work of metafiction, and in the interest of full disclosure I will say right out front that I generally dislike it. The essay is a great form, and when it comes time to espouse ideas about the nature of storytelling or politics (which is the other place I often see writers giving up on their story to address a particular idea) it works much better. The problem is that writers lose sight of their characters and artistic project when they try and shoehorn these kind of ideas into fiction. There are great exceptions, and what makes those books great is that they’ve transcended the rule, rather than followed it.

In eighty pages, Lispector spends thirty or so having the narrator tell us about his connection to the story despite having no involvement in the plot or relationships with the characters. There are some interesting ideas and funny moments, but this kind of meta-nonsense is not my kind of reading.

I also finished The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. “The Lottery,” which ends the collection, is an amazing story. So is “The Intoxicated,” which starts the collection. The problem is the expanse of stories in between. Maybe story collections were different then (it’s been nearly fifty years since the collections was written), but twenty-four seems like too many stories to me, especially when it seemed like quality control was thrown out to fill an arbitrary amount of pages. While all of these stories are written with a great sense of rhythm and drip with the paranoia that Jackson infuses into all of her work, they often feel short of the mark because they aren’t ambitious enough. The stakes are often low for the characters, and hard to get through. My feeling after reading the collection is that Jackson’s talent better lent itself to novels than stories.

Next week, I’m working on Luisa in Realityland by Claribel Alegría, The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, and The Space Traveler by Ben Grossberg. That book has been taking me forever because I refuse to bring a book I plan to get signed on the train, and I really like Ben’s work and learned from him in college.