Summer Reading List: Short Fiction

This one will be fairly short and sweet because, sadly, I didn’t read much short fiction this summer. Every time I pick up a collection, I feel like I’m connecting with humanity in a way that longer fiction doesn’t manage quite as often. Part of me thinks that short fiction can accomplish things that longer works can’t — or perhaps merely in a different way — but I also admit it’s possible that I’ve just been reading some high-quality short story writers!

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 198 pp.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 198 pp.

First up: Interpreter of Maladies. Although I brought my Kindle, I wanted to bring a slim print copy of a book on our trip to Disney World. I’d owned this book for years and hadn’t gotten around to reading it, but I’ve been trying to read more Pulitzer Prize winners lately (I’ve got a shelf of them and have maybe read half). And on a five-day vacation jam-packed with activities — not to mention the strain of traveling with a toddler — I finished the book. (Yes, it’s short. But I was busy hanging with Mickey, so I’m surprised I found the time.)

The stories have varying topics, but they all deal, in some way or other, with India: an Indian driver transporting a family of American tourists, second-generation immigrants who strive to marry their parents’ customs with the wildly different American ones they find themselves surrounded by, a young American boy cared for by an older Indian couple, etc. My grandfather is a first-generation Italian immigrant, but he moved here very young, so I don’t have much firsthand experience with the immigrant experience. However, the sign of a good writer is that they can transcend personal experience, and Lahiri manages that with flying colors.

For the Relief Of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander. Knopf. 205 pp.

For the Relief Of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander. Knopf. 205 pp.

A friend bought me a copy of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank for my birthday a couple of years ago, and I (stupidly) thought I’d have time to read after giving birth to my son, so I packed it in my hospital bag. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t even read a page.) I got around to it a couple of months later and was blown away by Nathan Englander’s talent and the way his stories moved me. When I saw a copy of this collection at a library book sale, I had no choice, really, but to buy it.

Some of the stories in this volume felt long and/or slow to me; I actually found myself flipping ahead to see how many pages I had left in a few stories. But by the time I got to the end of each one, though, I was glad to have read it. My heart aches for Englander’s characters, which always surprises me a little bit because I have nothing in common with them. He’s a master at taking a unique experience and translating it into something universal, and I look forward to reading even more of his work.

All in all: Both are worth reading. Excellent collections that are touching and well written.

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