This month is all about short works of literature. I used to struggle a lot with short stories, but over the last couple of years have developed a serious appreciation for them. What I once found difficult to cope with – the regular lack of closure, abrupt endings, missing out on classic character development – I now see as nothing but positive. There’s a special kind of beauty about being able to dip into another life or moment with that degree of intensity, and something equally delicious about its suddenly being taken away.
As one of my short story picks is itself extremely short, I’ve given myself two books to read in my fiction category this month. Both, happily, are from independent publishers – as in fact are all the titles on this month’s list, making the small press category ever so slightly irrelevant. I’m also sliding in two works of non-fiction – given the theme of this month, they’re both essay collections – one relatively recent and one a little older.
With the festive season approaching, I’m also going to be writing this month about independent publishers from whom to purchase books or even subscriptions for the book lovers in your life. Though I am bound to miss some, the many independent publishers out there have done amazing work in what’s been a very tough year – please support them and your local indie bookshop if you can.
Before we get on to that, though, the monthly booking for November is:
Bezoar, and Other Unsettling Stories by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine (Seven Stories Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Intricately woven masterpieces of craft, mournful for their human cries in defiance of our sometimes less than human surroundings, Nettel’s stories and novels are dazzlingly enjoyable to read for their deep interest in human foibles. Following on the critical successes of her previous books, here are six stories that capture her unsettling, obsessive universe.’
The Book of Rio, edited by Toni Marques and Katie Slade (Comma Press)
What the publisher says: ‘This anthology brings together ten short stories that go beyond the postcards and snapshots, and introduce us to real residents of Rio – the cariocas: young hopefuls training to be the next stars of samba, exhausted labourers press-ganged into meeting an impossible construction deadline (the nation’s pride being at stake), bored call-girls, nostalgic drag queens, married couples having petty middle-class domestics . . . These are characters who’ve developed a deep understanding of Rio’s contradictions, a way of living with the grey areas – between the grime and the glitz – that make Rio the “marvellous city” it is.’
Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
What the publisher says: ‘In Suppose a Sentence, Brian Dillon turns his attention to the oblique and complex pleasures of the sentence. A series of essays prompted by a single sentence – from Shakespeare to Gertrude Stein, John Ruskin to Joan Didion – the book explores style, voice, and language, along with the subjectivity of reading. Both an exercise in practical criticism and a set of experiments or challenges, Suppose a Sentence is a polemical and personal reflection on the art of the sentence in literature.’
Shooting Stars by Stefan Zweig, translated from the German by Anthea Bell (Pushkin Press)
What the publisher says: ‘One of the twentieth century’s great humanists and a hugely popular fiction writer, Stefan Zweig’s historical works bring the past to life in brilliant Technicolor. This collection contains ten typically breathless and erudite dramatizations of some of the most tense and important episodes in human history. From General Grouchy’s failure to intervene at Waterloo, to the miraculous resurrection of George Frideric Handel, this, Stefan Zweig’s selection of historical turning points, newly translated by Anthea Bell, is idiosyncratic, fascinating and as always hugely readable.’
She-Clown and Other Stories by Hannah Vincent (Myriad Editions)
What the publisher says: ‘Captured in familiar situations as well as in flights of fancy, the women in these stories are engaged in acts of self-preservation: they are exhilarated to discover the joy and surprise of other women’s company, they make bold sexual choices, they go on a night-time excursions; as grandmothers, they give their grandchildren unsuitable presents. [ . . .] Compassionate, unexpected, and full of small triumphs in the face of adversity, this collection establishes Hannah Vincent as one of the freshest voices in contemporary fiction.’