It was when George Saunders came to our office in the summer and gave a charismatic talk on the craft of short story writing, and his latest collection Tenth of December, that we first realised, with guilt, that our Bloomsbury Reader list of short story collections has been a little neglected. The importance of the short story as a literary form was brought to our attention again in October when Alice Munro, the master of the contemporary short story, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In several of her interviews, Munro expressed hope that her winning of the Nobel Prize would bring attention and wider readership to the short story in general, and we thought we really should share some of the wonderful collections we proudly publish within our list.
With the 21st of December being celebrated as the National Short Story Day, there is no better time.
We all have books we put aside for the Christmas break in hope that after the busy weeks of early December filled with shopping, cooking and other preparations for the festivities, we will have some peaceful time to indulge in a long and relaxing read. But before these blissful days between Christmas and New Year arrive we would love to encourage everyone to have a short story collection handy for that unexpected snippet of free time that is too short to enjoy a novel but perfect to fit a story or two. Stephen King said to his students who complained of lack of time to read: ‘The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows’ (On Writing, Hodder and Stoughton) and we love this approach. For those small sips of reading time, on the train to work, in the waiting room, while dinner is cooking, short stories are just perfect!
Here are some of our recommendations:
Winter Orchard by Josephine Johnson
This collection of twenty-two short stories, first published in 1936, is elusive, heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time. In Winter Orchard, Josephine Johnson masterfully explores universal human cravings for love, happiness and completion, and exposes the fragile balance of human relationships. Her delicate writing has a personal touch, evoking memories of childhood, first heartaches and warm summer nights in the country surrounded by the sound of cicadas…
Leave me alone a while he’d said when they brought him home. They could not understand why he wanted to be alone at any time in those first days of his sight, after the endless dark in that sealed niche of the newly blind. He was tired though. Wanted to see and be quiet. Not have to exclaim any longer and blurt out the old, inadequate words they waited so anxiously for—words that came only within an acre of what he meant or wanted to say.
Another Kind of Cinderella by Angela Huth
The short stories collected in Another Kind of Cinderella collection by Angela Huth have been previously published in the Daily Telegraph, New Yorker, Marie Claire and The BBC Morning Story. In these wonderful tales, written with subversive wit and an eye for drama of the quietest lives, we explore a tragedy of hopeless love, a murderous frustration of provincial life, complications of neighbourly friendship and hatred, and dissatisfaction with growing old.
From ‘Dressing Up’
She must put an end to it. She must swallow pride and anger, apologise, make promises not to touch a drop before the children arrived or while they were there: promise anything. She must compromise herself in a disgraceful way. But any form of humiliation was worth it to see the grandchildren. At eleven o’clock she drank two cups of coffee without their usual addition of brandy. This daily booster, she had found, gave the necessary strength for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, Audrey’s antennae were so acute she seemed able to tell if her mother had put so much as a dash of sherry in her trifle, just by her voice over the telephone. So this morning, wanting to take no risks, Prunella had denied herself fortification.
Fen Country by Edmund Crispin
This enjoyable collection of detective short stories by Edmund Crispin is a true gem. It features an eccentric, absent-minded but likeable gentleman, Gervase Fen – a professor of English in Oxford – who solves crime puzzles as a pastime. He can work out the most complicated of crimes and locked room mysteries with charm and eloquence. The stories in this collection are swift and short, perfect for that little bit of time on the train to work.
From ‘Death Behind Bars’
In the ordinary way of things—taking into account remissions for good conduct—Wynter would have been released in October of this year. On 23 April, he died in his cell. This was discovered when luncheon was brought to him at noon of that day. In the absence of contra-indications, the death was taken as being due to angina; for although a man suffering from this complaint may, and often does, live on for a great many years, there is no guarantee that any single attack may not finish him. As with all prison deaths, an inquest was held. But there was no post mortem, since none seemed to be called for, and on the 27th Wynter was buried in the prison cemetery, his death being certified as due to his disease. There the matter might well have rested. Three days later, however, we received here at Scotland Yard an anonymous letter which accused Gellian of having poisoned Wynter with a plant spray containing nicotine; Gellian’s motive, the writer added, was infatuation with Wynter’s wife.
Uncle Abner Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post
This collection of eighteen mystery stories from Melville Davisson Post was first published in 1918 and is often considered among the most influential early American detective and crime fiction. Uncle Abner is a righteous and religious man, and an amateur detective who takes on the responsibility of confronting criminals and implementing justice in the rough backwoods of West Virginia, long before any proper police system is in place. These stories wear some signs of their time, and there is a great charm to Davisson’s old fashioned style. They are set in a wild and sinister land that resembles Western movies, their characters are powerful and clean-cut, but it is the young voice of the narrator – an adolescent nephew who observes with admiration the adventures of his fearless uncle – that brings this collection to life.
From ‘The Angel of the Lord’
I always thought my father took a long chance, but somebody had to take it and certainly I was the one least likely to be suspected. It was a wild country. There were no banks. We had to pay for the cattle, and somebody had to carry the money. My father and my uncle were always being watched. My father was right, I think. “Abner,” he said, “I’m going to send Martin. No one will ever suppose that we would trust this money to a child.” My uncle drummed on the table and rapped his heels on the floor. He was a bachelor, stem and silent. But he could talk… and when he did, he began at the beginning and you heard him through; and what he said—well, he stood behind it. “To stop Martin,” my father went on, “would be only to lose the money; but to stop you would be to get somebody killed.” I knew what my father meant. He meant that no one would undertake to rob Abner until after he had shot him to death.
And last, but not least, our very favourite The Goalkeeper’s Revenge by Bill Naughton
The depth and humour of Bill Naughton’s writing make this collection of short stories about growing up in Lancashire between the wars truly remarkable. The adventures of his characters, from street football and school fights to looking for a first job, are depicted with warmth and wit, and make a wonderful picture of the rural upbringing in a bygone era. They resemble the humour of Tom Sawyer’s misfortunes on the one hand, and the subtle reflection and colourful folklore of the childhood memoir, The Road to Nab End, on the other. These stories can be equally enjoyed by children and adults or, even better, together!
From ‘Gift of the Gab’
Living two doors from me when I was twelve years old, and being my closest pal at the time, was a boy called Dickie Flitt. Dickie was deaf and dumb, but this affliction, so far as could be seen, made very little difference to his life among us boys. He had to fit into our world like every other boy has to, and he fitted without being noticeably different. I must say that he was exceptionally gifted at following the lips, and when we were gathered together under the corner lamppost telling tales, he would often be the first to burst out laughing at the end. His being dumb made no apparent difference to any of us, since we were a rather healthy bunch of active lads, and each one listened to no one but himself, so Dickie wouldn’t have been heard—except by himself—had he been able to speak. Also, when he wished to make himself understood, Dickie was very energetic about it, and would leave you in no doubt as to what was in his mind. Nor did his muteness mark him in any way as being inferior among us; on the contrary, we were inclined to consider him as specially gifted, in that he could speak with his hands, since we felt that any mutt could use his tongue.
On Saturdays Dickie and I used to earn ourselves a shilling apiece by hauling the little two-wheeled truck of coal from Mundy’s Yard to neighbours’ homes. At the end of our labours we used to go to Ma Walsh’s pie-shop in Dobbsgate. Steak-and-kidney pies she used to sell, fresh from the oven, crammed with the most tender meat—all prime English, juicy, and onion-flavoured. We each bought a sixpenny one, and ate them walking along the street. “When I’m a millionaire,” Dickie used to make signs to me, swelling out his trouser-pockets, “I’ll eat nothing but Ma Walsh’s pies!”
As ever, we look forward to hearing from you with any suggestions you might have for books you would like to see brought back into circulation, either as ebooks or in print. Get in touch with us with your suggestions at info at bloomsburyreader.com.