Friday, July 24, 2009

Short and sweet: The Best of the Short Story Section

Sometimes -- especially in summer, even when it's not particularly summery -- I just don't have the attention span for novel-length reading. But I can't stand being out and about with nothing to read; T ride, lunch breaks, and lounging around outside practically demand having a book (or two) on hand. The solution is one of these great collections of shorts, which can be read a story/essay per sitting if you're just feeling too antsy to sit still when there's sunshine to run around in. (Or summer rainstorm puddles to be splashed in, as the case may be.)

Multiple-Author Anthologies
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, eds. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Holly Black (author of The Modern Tales of Faerie and co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles) and Cecil Castellucci (author of Beige and creator of The Plain Janes graphic novels) may have "geek hearts," but they're hearts after my own. M.T. Anderson, big-name-Potter fan-turned-published-author Cassandra Clare, my literary crush Kelly Link, lord of the Nerdfighters John Green, and Garth Nix (winner of my love with his Abhorsen trilogy) and many others uncover the quirky secret world of geeks -- a world very familiar to us here at the George. From fanfiction to cosplay, theater geeks to Star Wars geeks, this collection pays loving tribute to "all things geeky."

Spellbound, ed. Diana Wynne Jones
The author of Howl's Moving Castle, The House of Many Ways, and (my personal pick) The Lives of Christopher Chant collects some of her own favorite fantasy stories. Featuring stories by the likes of Jane Yolen, C.S. Lewis, L. Frank Baum, Rudyard Kipling, and Eva Ibbotson. While several, including Jones's own contribution, are stand-alone stories, many of these shorts are excerpts from best-loved novels -- such as The Phantom Tollbooth and Five Children and It -- and will whet your appetite for great long fantasy.

Baseball Crazy: Ten Stories that Cover All the Bases, ed. Nancy E. Mercado
Baseball may or may not be the national pasttime, but it's certainly a Boston obsession. Celebrate baseball season with this anthology of short baseball-themed fiction by the likes of Jerry Spinelli, Joseph Bruchac, and Frank Portman, and Ron Koertge. Each piece is introduced with a baseball card-style look at the author's "career highlights." Feeling even baseball crazier? Check out our current baseball novel display in the chapter book room.

Guys Write for Guys Read, ed. Jon Scieszka
Jon Sciezka has an uncanny ability to turn anything he touches into awesome reading -- even when he's just editing, apparently. Of course, it helps to include writers like Gary Paulsen, Garth Nix, Walter Dean Meyers, Daniel Handler/"Lemony Snicket", Stephen King, Dan Gutman, Jack Gantos, Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer, and Neil Gaiman. It also helps to have contributions by illustrators like Brett Helquist, Lane Smith, Timothy Basil Ering, David Macaulay, Mo Willems, Jarrett Krosoczka, Dav Pilkey, Dave McKean, Matt Groening, and Peter Sis. I doubt I need say more, but just in case: this is an all-star collection of stories on being a teenage guy with appeal for readers of any gender or age.

Firebirds Soaring, ed. Sharyn November
The third in this series of short fantasy and sci-fi -- or "speculative fiction," as fantasy imprint Firebird's editor Sharyn November calls it -- collects shorts by CG favorite authors Nancy Farmer, Jane Yolen, and Margot Lanagan... and many, many more! As in the first two volumes, November's selections (illustrated in lavish pencil drawings by Sandman artist Mike Dringenberg) span the possibilities of fantasy and sci-fi for YA readers by offering a mix of well-established authors and new names, our familiar world and those completely unlike ours, short short stories and novellas, new takes on old tales, distant pasts and distant futures. My pick for the best title here: "Fear and Loathing in Lalanna" by Nick O'Donnahue.

Single-Author Collections
M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
As ever, my heart (and blog) belongs to Neil Gaiman, whose original short stories are delightful. This collection spans fantasy, sci-fi, nursery rhyme noir (you didn't know that was a genre, did you?), poetry, and retold fairy tales with Gaiman's characteristic charm. There are so many great shorts here it's hard to play favorites, but the sardonic "Sunbird" (about over-ambitious foodies), "The Price" (featuring a cat protecting a family from a supernatural enemy), and "Instructions" (a fairy tale survival guide in poetic form) are standouts. Best of all, there's a vignette from Neil's Newbery-winning Graveyard Book.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, retold by Alvin Schwartz
The first of these perennially best-selling collections, now over 25 years old and still scarin' strong, offers a great mix of urban legends (like "The Hook" and "The Babysitter"), rural folktales, and "jump stories" (like "The Big Toe"). Schwartz follows up his hit collection with two companion books, which are, if anything, even scarier. My favorite is #3, with creepfests galore -- poltergeists, murderous dolls, phantom hitchhikers, and wolf girls. Schwartz includes annotations on his sources and variations of the tales. Really, though, it's the illustrations by Stephen Gammell that continue to give me the heebie-jeebies after all these years. (If you're looking for something a little more summer camp cabin friendly, try the Ghost Stories Deck by S.E. Schlosser: fifty mini ghost stories on individual cards, each with a "scare rating." You can sort out all the scariest for your slumber party if you're feeling brave, or go with the lowest scare rating for a younger crowd who want the shivers.)

Short Essay Collections
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, eds. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
NPR's show This I Believe, with roots in a CBS radio show of the 1950s, has produced this book of eighty essays by "remarkable men and women" from Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt to "the previously unknown." My favorites are "An Athlete of God" by Martha Graham (which includes one of the great dancer/choreographer's most famous pronouncements, "Movement never lies") and "The Power and Mystery of Naming Things" by Eve Ensler, but "Be Cool to the Pizza Dude" by English professor Sarah Adams is equally enlightening.

War Is... Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk About War, ed. Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell
Fiction, essays, and news articles follow soldiers and civilians alike from the process of "deciding about war" through "experiencing war" to the "aftermath of war." Although Aronson and Campbell offer their opinion that war is "crazy... unbearable... delusion... impossible to win" but possibly "inevitable," these short, harrowing pieces speak for themselves. All other adjectives aside, without a doubt, "war is" worthy of the deadly serious consideration it receives here.

Red: Teenage Girls in America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today, ed. Amy Goldwasser
This book of essays by teen girls on topics ranging from eating disorders to activism to Johnny Depp is on my must-buy list. Girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen responded to a call for short personal nonfiction pieces, and what resulted is an empowering and enlightening look into the world of teen girls. Whether you're currently living in that tumultuous and exhilarating world, love someone who is in it now, or have been there yourself, these essays give you an opportunity to hear girls' voices in a culture that routinely silences and dismisses them.

Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, ed. Dave Isay
The StoryCorps project posits that "listening is an act of love;" accordingly, they assist people in recording their own oral history. The joys and tragedies of ordinary American lives are captured first on tape and then on the page in this extraordinary collection. Here parents speak with their adult children, friends interview each other, and in an especially poignant segment, two inmates serving time together discuss the daily life of prisoners.

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