book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: How to Become a Writer


For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s short story comes to us from Lorrie Moore. This was a story I had to read three times for three different English classes, and I consider it a good introduction to Lorrie Moore, so here goes. You can access the story here.

SUMMARY: Francie, an aspiring writer, details the journey of how her passion for writing is born and blossoms. However, the reception of her writing remains the same: there are lukewarm responses, discouraging responses, and of course confused responses. Francie rewrites the same themes into multiple storylines, and it seems that no one seems to understand her process or what she’s writing about. Not even those in her creative writing classes seem to understand what she is trying to say; they’d rather smoke cigars and turn up their noses. Throughout the story, we accompany Francie throughout her maturation and fight our way through her confusion alongside her as she discovers, (or doesn’t?) how to become a writer.

REVIEW: One thing I absolutely adore about Moore’s writing is that it is unique. It has a specific voice that is incredibly identifiable as only her’s. Moore’s writing also keeps you guessing, she mentions in her title that the story is about falling into a cliche but her writing is anything but. Her figurative language is unnerving but at the same time makes complete sense, and even though I have read this story multiple times over there are many aspects that I still do not understand and I love that about her writing.

The stream-of-consciousness style suits this story well, as it appears disjointed but is actually masterfully being held together by a few, select, story mechanisms, such as the parallelism in Francie’s life. Francie’s voice as a character is clearcut and quirky- she is leading the life of someone who has a passion but has no idea what to do about it, and Moore’s writing only exemplifies this.

This story almost reads as a series of diary entries or even a hazy memoir looking back (Francie is of course, predictably narrating from the future) rather than a short story. The plotline is there, but strays away from the basic beginning, middle, and end structure.

One thing I love about this story is Francie’s miserable failures. The story showcases the gross, unidentifiable, confusing, and frustrating side of writing- none of the flowery sentences that talented writers will eventually arrive at. All of Francie’s story ideas are near awful; she has not yet reached her full potential. And yet, the story hints at future success for Francie, so just because all hope seems to be lost throughout Francie’s past, it does not necessitate any part of her future. And that as a lesson, I think, is one that is not touched on enough, especially on the subject of writing.

If you enjoy reading something slightly out of your comfort zone, then this story is for you.

RATING: 4/5 stars.

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book review, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Me Talk Pretty One Day


For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

The Short Story this Sunday is not really a short story and more of an essay and it comes to you from the one, the only, David Sedaris. I have actually read Sedaris’ Naked and highly enjoyed it so I will definitely get around to writing a review for it later on. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sedaris, he is a humorist who writes essays based on events of his own lives. If you have never read The Santaland Diaries, drop what you’re doing and go read it now!

SUMMARY: This essay is about Sedaris taking a French class in France itself, and its awful, unsympathetic, strict teacher. It is a humorous glance into what it is like to take a class with a horrid teacher, and anyone who has been in a similar situation can sympathize with the terror of not knowing the right answer and knowing you will be punished for it, or the tendency of students in a terrible class to bond together and make strong friendships over a shared, scarring experience. Per usual, Sedaris takes a miserable situation and manages to turn it on its head so that it is heartwarming and hilarious.

REVIEW: Sedaris’ trademark style is on display here and I wouldn’t recommend another, better way to be immersed in Sedaris’ world and works. While this essay is rather simple and does not present a situation that is too out of the ordinary, the satire that is involved, the comic archetypes of characters present in the story, and the exaggerated atmosphere of the whole situation portrays Sedaris’ talent at making a real experience more fictionalized, but this fictionalization only makes the story more accessible to his audience. There is not much to be said about it, because it is so short and simple in a lovely way, except to say that sometimes Sedaris’ worldview is baffling to me, and that is what makes his stories and essays that much more interesting.

RATING: 5/5 stars, would definitely recommend.

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Hills Like White Elephants

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s short story comes from the one, the only, Ernest Hemingway. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Surprisingly enough, this short story has nothing to do with war.

SUMMARY: There are two main characters in this story, both unnamed, but it is clear that they are a man and a woman in a relationship. They are waiting at a train station, talking about small things like the drinks they are about to order and the hills that mysteriously look like white elephants. The tension rises until the man mentions an “operation”, trying to reassure the woman that it will go over smoothly and that all will be alright. The elephant (see what I did there?) in the room is finally addressed, and the couple goes back and forth on whether this operation will be good for the both of them, whether the woman actually wants it, and whether they are happy and how the operation will affect their happiness. The story ends as their conversation does and as the train is about to arrive.

REVIEW: Stylistically, this story is a masterpiece. There is very little exposition, most of the story is told through dialogue. The imagery and metaphors of this story are beautiful and it is easy to sympathize with both the characters though little to nothing is said about their identities nor their backgrounds. And that’s the beauty of this story- it does not need descriptions nor does it need blatant characterization. Everything that you need to know is communicated in the dialogue and the simple exposition, and that is a trick that only a master like Hemingway can truly pull off.

Before you dive into it, I will warn you that it is a little heartbreaking- but would you really expect anything else out of Ernest Hemingway? I will link the PDF from Weber State University here if you’d like to read it. And it’s only four pages, so why shouldn’t you read it?

RATING: 5/5 stars, would highly recommend.

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: A Good Man is Hard to Find

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s story comes from the brilliant writer who is a masterful commentator on American life: Flannery O’Connor.

SUMMARY: The narrator of this story comes in the form of a Southern grandmother who would rather vacation in Tennessee, rather than in Florida, where her daughter and her grandson are dragging her along to. This is the kind of woman who is stuck in the past, and stuck in the idea that she was part of a Southern aristocracy, and stuck in an idealized American past that no longer exists in a modern world. She points out an article concerning “The Misfit”, or a serial killer who is out on the road. She finds herself at odds with her family, and she has antiquated values, but this story is still a thriller and the plot twist at the end may have revealed that this grandmother was right about something that she may or may not live to regret.

REVIEW: I was introduced to this chilling story in school, and I am eternally grateful for this introduction because it prompted me to pick up Flannery O’Connor’s collection Everything that Rises Must Converge which I absolutely adored.

O’Connor is great at capturing the feelings of those who are stuck in a different kind of American South, where the wealthy, white plantation owners reigned supreme and in which all of society catered to them. This story proves no exception, and O’Connor manages to concurrently validate those stuck-in-the-past feelings as well as satirizing them.

I also loved the plot and the twist it has at the end, and how it was treated. Yes, it is not the happiest of endings, but that’s O’Connor for you- her stories will leave you somewhat terrified and somewhat in awe. The characterization in this story is particularly some of O’Connor’s best as well; even though you do not know a lot about these characters, they are easily identifiable to any reader. Even the one character in the restaurant that is only briefly mentioned is fleshed out enough for the reader to have an idea of who he is. Additionally, the diction and symbolism is simply enthralling.

If you like a story with excitement, suspension, and an ending that will leave you feeling queasy, (as well with some colorful insights into American generation gaps and American psyches), this story is for you.

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: Dreams

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

This week’s short story comes from the amazing Anton Chekhov, and it can be read at American Literature, just follow this link.

SUMMARY: A nameless tramp is being escorted by two “peasant constables”, who are trying to figure out the tramp’s name. As they walk, the tramp gives details about his Orthodox Christian upbringings, saying he was the son of a nurse and grew up comfortably for he lived in their master’s home. He characterizes himself as a true gentleman on the inside though he is a peasant on the outside. He then reveals why he refuses to give up his name, and it has to do with the fact that he does not want to finish his penal service. Instead, he would rather be sent to East Siberia, where he could be part of a commune and maybe start his family. The draw of his dreams are pulling to the other peasants, but are soon forgotten as dreams often are.

REVIEW: As per usual, the most interesting aspects of Chekhov’s writing is not his plot lines, but rather his characterization. The main character in this story is everyman, neither a poor beggar nor a rich gentleman, though he fancies he is one. This man knows that there are only a few options for his life, and hypes up one of the options so that it sounds even better than real life. And as he dictates the details of his dream, the other characters are so enthralled that for a few seconds, they are won over.

I think this brief story has a lot to say about social classes, upbringings, religions, and the sort; but I’d like to focus on what it is communicating about dreams. The main character who has learned to idealize his past and his mother in order to have a clean conscience is also the one who turns a wasteland into a virtual paradise. It seems so clear and plausible that the constables, each of whom are not in the low position that the main character is in, fall for it, even just for a minute or two. These characters are all peasants, and the dream of a life far away from reality, far away from their ordinary day-to-day affairs are enough to spark something as dangerous and precious as hope.

Chekhov, once again, beautifully captures the part of the human existence that is altogether a cure and a curse; a dream with enough belief behind it might just come true, but it you put all of your stakes on that dream, it will become alive just to haunt you (The Great Gatsby, anyone?). Yes, this story is short, but it’s brevity is the only thing needed for the subject, which is fleeting dreams.

RATING: 3/5 stars

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book review, reading recommendations, short story sunday

Short Story Sunday: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

For those of you who find it hard to set time aside to read, but still love the pull of a good novel, I introduce to you Short Story Sundays! Basically, I will review a short story or even an essay that I loved each Sunday (most of them will be recommendations) instead of a full length novel or play that you can easily pick up, read, and digest in the span of an hour.

My first Short Story Sunday has to be dedicated to one of my all-time favorite short stories, which is When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri. This short story is from her collection Interpreter of Maladies which I will review as a whole soon but for now, I will just say that I highly recommend it.

SUMMARY: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine is told from the viewpoint of a child named Lilia, who receives a visitor at her house one night, named Mr. Pirzada. Mr. Pirzada would come over frequently, and through him, Lilia’s whole worldview is broadened. Mr. Pirzada comes from Pakistan to America to study, and while Mr. Pirzada is at Lilia’s house, her parents and their guest sit down to watch the news about the possibility of war in Pakistan. Lilia’s parents and Mr. Pirzada came to America from the same part of the world, and this is how they were first introduced to each other and later bonded. Mr. Pirzada had left his own six daughters back in Pakistan, and it is clear that he still thinks and worries about them all the time, and this is especially apparent when he frets over Lilia going trick-or-treating with her friends. Eventually, as the war is about to begin, and Mr. Pirzada must leave to be with his family in a place far enough from the war so that they can be safe.

REVIEW: I have nothing negative to say about this short story, and as a child of immigrants often caught between two cultures, this spoke volumes to me. The most important part of the story, to me, is not that Mr. Pirzada is able to be reunited safely with his family, but rather Lilia’s sudden, piqued interest in the history of her parents’ country at such a young age, and the image of her grasping for knowledge about India and Pakistan, or wondering why no one at her school or why no other adults that she knew never mentioned what was happening in Pakistan, was captivating to me. Lilia, through meeting Mr. Pirzada, is exposed to both the history, the present, and the future of what happened and is happening to her people. She learns to separate herself from the rest of her classmates and community members because she is the only one of them who has such a dedicated interest in the matter. She realizes that all she ever learns in school is American history and that gets under her skin. She prays every night, though not a religious child, because she learned to have such empathy for Mr. Pirzada.

Though this is a short story, it is a coming-of-age story. Lilia’s maturity throughout the plot is both graceful and awkward; her horizons are being expanded while she remains in the dark about many things that she cannot possibly understand yet because she is still a child. Most importantly, this story takes the “ignorant first-generation child of immigrants” stereotype, embraces it, then slowly dismantles it which I adore. Of course, Lahiri’s clean, succinct, and imaginative writing style only add to the wonderful tapestry that is this story.

RATING: 5/5 stars, would definitely recommend as an easy, rich, deceptively simple yet concurrently complex, wonderful read.

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