There are times when it feels as though voices from the short fiction section of the literary world are perpetually lamenting an ever-shrinking market for their genre, that publishers don’t want to publish collections, that no one ever reads short stories. I promise that after this week, I will take a break from touting the latest digital shorts on-line project, but I just need to squeeze this one in. ‘Cause it’s awesome. Sure, they’re mostly publishing established authors (with a few up and comers), but the one story I’ve read, Margaret Atwood’s I’m Starved For You was so phenomenal that I’ll be going back to Byliner. I might even discover a writer who is new to me (if not new to the larger reading world) amidst all of the portfolio-like collections of fiction and nonfiction writing (some previously published and some exclusive to Byliner and available for purchase). The premise of Atwood’s tale is simple: a future America in which a corporation builds a prison and the surrounding town. Inmates take turns being prisoners and guards in what feels like an oddly perfect balance-the-books act. Atwood focuses on two paired couples — they take turns sharing the same house when each is not imprisoned — and their comically dark relationships. I’ll be back for more Atwood and others at this website where writers are more than just a byline.
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Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle is reading The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin for her book club. “What I’m learning is that Rubin and I are birds of a feather. We’re both gold-star addicts who crave praise and appreciation for what we do, and one of her goals in her year of trying to live a happier, more mindful life is to let go of that need to be recognized. It’s going to be fascinating watching that unfold and taking what lessons I can from her experience.”
Christina Marie Speed, Literary Reflections Co-Editor, shares, “I am finishing a re-read of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s autobiographical account of her childhood. With artful prose Angelou shares her daily life in Stamps, Arkansas illustrating elements of race, identity, family, and femininity in the context of her upbringing. I first read it as an adolescent girl, unaware of much of what the text endeavors to discover. That first reading as a young girl was little more than a surface reading – one to get me through the in-class discussions and essays. Reading it at this stage in my life as an adult woman, wife, mother, and writer offers an entirely different experience. In this reading, Angelou has led me deeper in my understanding of the role of gender, race, and time as it relates to our shared human experience.”
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata writes, “As a former Girl Scout, albeit not one so zealous as author Ronda Beaman, I’m enjoying Little Miss Merit Badge: A Memoir. Beaman writes of how she desperately wanted the approval of her young, self-involved parents – a father who’d had his own fan club in high school, and a mother who’d been consistently described by teachers as one who ‘remains aloof from and thinks she’s better than other students.’ In the midst of dysfunction, she joins the Girl Scouts and becomes addicted to earning merit badges. Surviving vandalized thin mints, frequent humiliations on all fronts, and moving 35 times before finishing high school, Beaman manages to maintain her sense of humor and her spunk.”
Column Editor Nicole Stellon O’Donnell has been reading Eric McHenry’s first collection of poems, Potscrubber Lullabies. “Bolstered by his dazzling craft, these poems stare down impermanence without flinching. After opening ‘Nursery Rhyme,’ a poem expressing his fears about his ability to take care of a yet-to-be-born baby, with ‘We’ve seen our best intentions / kill the hardiest houseplants,’ he bluntly tells his reader, ‘I’m sure you see where this is going.’ The final stanza offers the most succinct and accurate guide to parenting I’ve ever read ‘What can we do but have it, feed it, / keep it hatted and car-seated, / and try to temper its awareness of temporariness, the big unfairness.’ He makes anything he writes about beautiful, and his poems about parenting absolutely gleam.”
Katherine J. Barrett, Reviews and Profiles Editor, adds, “I just finished Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (I read the UK edition, French Children Don’t Throw Food). Like me, Druckerman is an expat with twins and a singleton, and like me she’s fascinated by the ways parenting in her adopted country differs from parenting in her home country, in her case the US. Her memoir/guidebook is an entertaining read. I laughed out loud at her synopsis of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Of course, I read that book when I was pregnant, and thought it quite reasonable. Through Druckerman’s Paris-tinted lens however, the book seems absurdly alarmist. As her children grow, Druckerman discovers (to my great interest, given my last column) that French children routinely attend week-long school camps starting at age four. ‘It’s clear that giving kids a degree of independence, and stressing a kind of inner resilience and self-reliance, is a big part of French parenting,’ she writes. I think many South African parents would agree.”