Year of a Hundred books – #76 Tenth of December

Tenth of DecemberTenth of DecemberGeorge Saunders

2/5

More short stories! This one, which collects a number of works published in the New Yorker, Harper’s and McSweeney’s, however is much darker than any of the others I’ve read this year. Most of them are set in the near future, in what I would probably cast as being slightly dystopian, though that may just be because of my own sensibilities. At the heart of almost all of the stories is idea of moral relativism, or at least the disparity that occurs between the morals of two people. Unfortunately, this makes for rather unsettling reading.

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Year of a Hundred books – #62 Derby Shorts

Derby ShortsDerby Shorts – Various

3/5

The main reason that I bought this short story collection (besides a desire to support new writers, independent (feminist!) publishers, and an organisation I think is worth it) was so that I could have an excuse to talk about Roller Derby in a review. For those not familiar with the sport, this documentary gives a good introduction. The sport is pretty big in our house, as both my partner and I are fairly involved in the Edinburgh scene, and I’ve often wished for a greater media presence for Derby (apart from Whip It!, which is problematic for a variety of reasons). So my point is, I had a vested interest in wanting Derby Shorts to be good. I’m sad to say, I was mostly underwhelmed.

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Year of a Hundred books – #56 I, Etcetera

I, EtceteraI, Etcetera – Susan Sontag

3/5

In hindsight, I think it was a mistake to read I, Etcetera. Not because it was particularly bad (although it was hard to read in places), but because though I wanted to read something by Susan Sontag, her fiction isn’t exactly what she’s known for. I should have just gone for one of her books of essays, or her monographs, or hell, one of the fiction works that were actually celebrated, rather than an obscure collection of short stories. Let that be a lesson to me on just getting the first thing I can find from the Library catalogue.

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Year of a Hundred books – #48 What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne FrankWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank – Nathan Englander

4/5

Another collection of short stories, and yet another book that is at least ostensibly about Judaism. Apparently the title is a reference to Raymond Carver’s 1981 collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which according to commenters on the Guardian’s review of the book, we should denounce because it’s becoming over-referenced and lazy. Personally I’m in two minds. The story it’s taken from, it fits perfectly, however I’m not sure that it fits the anthology quite so snugly.

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Year of a Hundred books – #44 Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh

Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a LaughShifu, You’ll Do Anything for a LaughMo Yan

3/5

I’ve mentioned before that from a reviewing perspective, anthologies and collections are somewhat difficult. This time round however, the task is slightly less daunting, as at least all of the stories in Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh are written by the same author, last year’s Nobel Prize Laureate, Mo Yan. Continue reading “Year of a Hundred books – #44 Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh”

Year of a Hundred books – #3 – OMG Queer

OMG QueerOMG Queer – Various
2/5

It’s difficult to review anthologies of various author’s works, because there’s often such a variety in terms of quality and execution between the pieces. The plus side, as a reader, is that if there’s a story you don’t like, you can just move on to the next one. There weren’t many pieces in this collection that I felt it necessary to skip, but it did become a bit of a chore reading some of them as time went on.

I think, perhaps, my issue is that I was expecting something the book never actually offered. As the blurbs says,  “these stories, imagined and told by youth across America, provide a snapshot of queerness at the dawn of the new millennium.” The key word in this is “youth”, and unfortunately most of the stories are either coming out narratives or discussions of the difficulties of being LGBTQ as a teenager. Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with this in theory, but this meant that their stories had to work quite hard to distinguish themselves from each other, which very few manage. Then again, some do, and it’s generally the ones that are more than just Gay/Lesbian themes. Brenna Harvey’s Jelson, for example, is easily the best story in the collection, with a slightly fantastical take on transgender identity and relationships. Chili Powder by Anna Meadows is more about cultural differences and immigration, and only uses homosexuality as the specific example of culture clash. That said, there’s also the highly disappointing There was a knocking on the door by Andrew Arslan, in which the narrator comes out to his Islamic father. It’s bad on every level, from its straw-man “he’s only liberal when it’s easy” father, to the frankly appalling dialogue and the unsympathetic narrator, and is easily the worst story in the book.

I think the collection would work better for me if I were an adolescent in need of narratives to relate to, and there’s nothing really particularly wrong with (most of) the pieces collected here, but as it stands, the minimal amounts of really original story-telling really hurts the book when being marketed to a wider audience