Short Saturday: Murakami, Borges, and Babel

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

on seeing the 100% perfect girl

As you know, if you read the header above, I’ve been talking about Capote‘s A Christmas Memory like a broken radio. But from last week conversations in the comments, I just remembered that there was another short story that blew me away with the same magic! It was recommended by a friend IRL years ago and I read it online. I have probably read it a couple of times by now, which is unheard of for me.

It is none other than:

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami

which you can read in full online (thank you, steph tai). It is available at more sites, but I love that particular one, because of the illustration and the way the text is put together. Tips: if it appears too small on your browser, press Ctrl + (plus sign) until it gets to the right size.

Please read it too. You’ll fall in love with it. I promise.

This short story is included in his short story collection Elephant Vanishes, which I sadly do not own, and it is not available at my libraries. Another of his short in the collection called Sleep was recommended by Rob (link to Rob’s review), which he rated 5 stars, and is “about an insomniac wife who gets into a habit of reading literature all night”. That sounds amazing! I have to get hold of the book.


Last week, I roamed around my library and found this lovely anthology called In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians, Edited by Michael Cart.

In the StacksThe cover looks very plain, but really, shorts about libraries and librarians?! How enticing is that? And look at the big names inside! Italo Calvino, Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Babel, Lorrie Moore, Francine Prose, Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, and more!

This morning I went straight to:

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

“The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low railings.”

The Library of Babel is a universe of books, the world where people are born and live, where every book ever written in every possible language resides.

Knowing how famous it was, I was quite surprised to find how short it was! However, while the premise can’t be more amazing, I found the writing was rather hard to get into. The translation maybe? Borges was Argentinian, it was translated from Spanish. It did feel like reminiscence of Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. It also bothered me that he mentioned alphabet has 22 letters. Does Spanish have only 22 letters?

It deserves a re-read. But for now, I’ll rate it

4 stars

Some of you may wonder what happened to My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. I had to return it to the library. (Library!) I’ll borrow it and continue again later, because there are more that I want to read. Isaac Babel‘s story is one of them. So when I saw In the Stacks also has his short (a different one) in it, I jumped into it.

The Public Library by Isaac Babel

With mere 3 pages long, this must be the shortest of shorts I’ve read so far. But it’s a nice complement after The Library of Babel. The Public Library shows a glimpse of a public library, its attendants and regular visitors.

“You can feel straightaway that the book reigns supreme here. All the people who work in the library have entered in communion with The Book, with life at second-hand, and have themselves become, as it were, a mere reflection of the living.”

I liked the writing, and I’ll watch out for more Babel in the future. (Just realized the author shares last name with Borges’s short… Coincidence?)

4 stars

I mentioned Lorrie Moore last week and am excited to find she also has a short in the anthology titled Community Life. I’ll save that for next week ;)

Okay, I’m gonna have breakfast now. I woke up, read the 2 shorts and wrote this post first thing in the morning. Argh, what am I doing?! I haven’t even had tea or something!

Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

Short Saturday: Carver, Moore, and Chekhov

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead

Continuing from the first three short stories I read from My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, I read 3 more in the span of a few weeks (taking my time, I know).

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

As you can guess, the title is where Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is from. I read Carver’s Cathedral last year and while the stories didn’t blow my mind, they do have certain charm. By this time I felt like I was sooo familiar with Carver’s style: sparse prose, tackling issues of married couples.

In this story two married couples drinking together one afternoon, talking about love they find around them. Like all Carver’s stories, it struck me as being very male. And somehow the characters always drink. They drink a lot and talk s*it. I’ll call it Carverian, as in this story is very Carverian.

How to Be an Other Woman by Lorrie Moore

I picked this story out of whim. The Other Woman story never gets old. I love it that in this short Lorrie Moore gave a very smart twist. It is told in sort of a set of instructions (How to Be… Get it?)

“When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it cam mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.

You walk differently. In store windows you don’t recognize your self; you are another woman, some crazy interior display lady in glasses stumbling frantic and preoccupied through the mannequins. In public restrooms you sit dangerously flat against the toilet seat, a strange flesh sundae of despair and exhilaration, murmuring into your bluing thighs: “Hello, I’m Charlene. I’m a mistress.”

It is like having a book out from the library.

It is like constantly having a book out from the library.”

I was really quite impressed with the story and checked out the author, Loorie Moore, as I never heard of her before. She’s American fiction writer known mainly for her humorous short stories. No wonder. I would love to read more of her works.

RobAroundBooks hosts a challenge called William Trevor vs. Lorrie Moore: A Quest to Discover which of the Two is More of a Modern-day Chekhov. So I wasn’t wrong. Lorrie Moore is a big-shot in shorties world. She also just released a new novel titled A Gate at the Stairs which Ann Kingman raved about a while back.

It’s great timing, because my next story is of Chekhov’s. I just need to read William Trevor after this (which luckily is also included in the anthology).

The Lady with the Little Dog by Anton Chekhov

The Lady with the Little Dog is a bitter-sweet love story between a man and a woman, both are married to other people. In their ripe age they just realize that they have possibly just fallen in love for real and thus have not married the right person.

The story is available to read online. Over there it’s called The Lady with the Dog (link to full story). I don’t know which title is correct. If you’re interested to read Chekov, 201 of his stories are also available online. Go nuts!

Coincidentally, RobAroundBooks also hosts a challenge called Chekin’ Off the Chekhov Shorts and he’s been going through all those 201 stories, with links to his rating and thoughts. Really, I’m not gonna read all 201 shorts, so Rob’s page is a great way to let someone else do the weeding and plucking for you :D

For another opinion, in her review, Eva talked about all three stories above. She seems to like them about the same amount as I did.

What I learned this week: One of my problems with short stories is that most of the time I feel like I have read something similar in the past. I think it’s because with books you have enough time and space to make your book unique, but with short stories there’s so little time.

Did you post any thoughts on short stories this week? I would love it if you leave a link in the comment!

Short Saturday: Brodkey, Munro, and Kundera

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead The great thing about shorts is that I can taste a bunch of writers in bite size portion and see if I’d like to read more of them. A couple of months ago I browsed the library to find this great sounding anthology edited by Jeffrey Eugenides (my favorite author!) titled My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekov to Munro. There are many big names inside, a lot that I’m interested to read.

There’s introduction by Eugenides at the beginning, which after you read, you’d quickly realize that this won’t be a collection of sappy love stories. It’s more of a twisted-complicated one, which is exactly my cup of tea!

“Please keep in mind: my subject here isn’t love. My subject is the love story.

When it comes to love, there are a million theories to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims–these are lucky eventualities but they aren’t love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.

We value love not because it’s stronger than death but because it’s weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it. You will not go on loving in the grave, not in any physical way that will at all resemble love as we know it on earth. The perishable nature of love is what gives love its profound importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn’t hit us the way it does.

~ Jeffrey Eugenides, Introduction

As I mentioned earlier, I vowed not to bog down myself with obsessive-compulsiveness to read everything in a collection of short stories and let the randomness takes me. The first story that I chose was one that Eugenides mentioned in his introduction, about a Harvard’s senior attempt to bring his girlfriend to her first orgasm by means of act of cunnilingus. Really, the plot line sounded ridiculous, so I caved. Also, the writer, Harold Brodkey, is the only author in the book that has two short stories. Everyone else only gets one space!

Innocence by Harold Brodkey

Unfortunately, Innocence contains the longest non-sexy sex scene I have ever read (and probably ever will). Like I said, the plot sounded ridiculous. Almost the entire story is set in bed, with the guy performs the act, thinking about other stuff during. It was sooo tiring and looong. I think I was just as frustrated as him seeing that the girlfriend doesn’t JUST come! After pages and pages of futile effort, I started to skim read. I just wanted it to end. My head was going to explode. Just come you b*tch!, I was screaming in my head.

Finally she does, they both cry, and the story ends.

Not the greatest start-up I’m telling you.

Thinking that I shouldn’t take too big of a risk for the next short, I chose the one by Alice Munro. I heard so much about her and I just learned that she ONLY writes short stories. Amazing how you can be so famous only writing short stories. She must be really good.

The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro

Eva mentioned in her review that it’s like Munro’s version of The Notebook. Exactly what I thought! At first. Further on, not so much. The story is about an old married couple. Fiona starts to show symptoms of Alzheimer disease, so she’s moved to a facility home, away from Grant, her husband. As time passes, Fiona starts to forget about Grant. She makes friends with another guy in the nursing home, who she gets more attached to than her own husband, which annoys Grant. We get to learn from Grant’s reminiscence of their past that he has not always been faithful, though not because they were unhappy (So why? I have no idea).

I have to admit, story about very old people doesn’t entice me most of the time. This one has enough depth and was quite skilfully written that it kept my attention the whole way through. I couldn’t much guess where it was going too, which was a plus. Odd thing is, I could never figure out the meaning of the title. There’s NO bear.

The story first appeared in The New Yorker (link to full story) on 27 December 1999. Made into a movie titled Away From Her (2006), nominated for 2 Oscars (Best Actress and Best Screenplay). Would love to see that one.

The Hitchhiking Game by Milan Kundera

I have wanted to read Kundera’s books for the longest time. Alas, I have not. Good thing his short story is featured in the anthology, and it was good according to claire and Eva. The story is originally included in Kundera’s collection Laughable Loves.

The Hitchhiking Game looks at a young couple who’s going on a road trip. When they stop for gas, the girlfriend wanders ahead. When the guy picks her up, they pretend that the girl is a hitchhiker and they don’t know each other. The girl becomes more brazen, unlike her usual shy self, because that’s what she imagines a hitchhiker to be. The guy starts to treat her with less respect, because he sees her like other wild-natured women whom he doesn’t like. They get more and more mixed up in the game until it gets difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not.

Excellent premise and Kundera delivered! I’m happy to find that his writing is not hard to read, so I look forward to reading his books!

And the journey continues…

(I actually read the three stories in 2009, so you’ll find them on Books and Shorts Read in 2009)

Let me know if you’ve posted any thoughts on the stories, because I couldn’t find any apart from the ones linked above!

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