Reading short fiction can be a great way to introduce yourself to new authors or to get yourself out of a reading rut. There is such a sense of accomplishment when you get to that last page of a book and can tick it off the list. But recently I’ve been reaching for the longer books, so today I thought I’d check in on my neglected short fiction to-be-read pile and spend the day seeing how many I can get through. I might not get through all of them, in fact it’s very unlikely, but we’re going to be ambitious! On the bookshelf is a mix of fiction from the medieval through to the modern day with a mix of plays and fiction.
On the bookshelf…
- The Waves by Virginia Woolf
- Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
- The Prince & other Stories by Oscar Wilde (I’ve never read any Wilde before so i’m really excited to delve into these short stories!)
- Treasure Island by R. L Stevenson
- Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter
- Troilus & Cressida by William Shakespeare
- Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
- A Moveable feast by Earnest Hemingway
On Monday, I began to tackle the books… I must admit that I couldn’t wait to read Ficciones so much that I read this a few days before I properly began the challenge (and there will be another post on this book and author soon!). I began with Grief is the Thing with Feathers, the most modern book on this TBR pile, whilst having breakfast through to around 10. It is a short experimental novel of 100 or so pages so was quick to get through and also compelling despite the strangeness of the narrative. Then, after a small work break I read a medieval poem by an anonymous poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s told very much like you are sat around a campfire and someone is telling you a story. After Lunch I began on The Happy Prince and other tales, a collection of short stories of 130 pages. I had never read any Wilde before and I really enjoyed his writing style, so simple yet containing so many evocative descriptions and witty symbols. Then, with a cup of tea in hand, I began going through and annotating Measure for Measure, stopping halfway through then moving onto Philip Pullmans myth retelling. And before going to bed got halfway through R. L Stevenson’s children’s book classic, Treasure Island.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers, written by Max Porter: This is one of my friends’ favourite books because of the way it twists and plays with the form of a novel. This review made me intrigued to read it and also because of the play on the phrase of the poem ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ by Emily Dickinson, It was an intriguing premise to change the meaning altogether; to make it about grief instead of the former Hope and how changeable words can be. The books narration shifts between the Dad’s, the Boys’, and the Crows after the Dad’s wife dies, the boys mum dies and the Crow comes to stay (in a way which reminds me a little of the role of Nanny McPhee). My Rating: ***1/2. (London: Faber & Faber)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: This is a medieval text by an anonymous poet about one of the knights of King Arthur’s round table. It begins at a banquet in King Arthur’s Hall when a Green Knight enters and proposes a challenge to the knights. Sir Gawain nobly takes on the challenge and finds himself embarking on a romantic and tragic quest. The poem focuses on the themes of romantic medievalism, chivalry and bravery throughout. I found it enjoyable to read because of its campfire storytelling (or Hall telling) feel and it wasn’t predictable as heroic stories sometimes are but incredibly moralistic and interrogative of the medieval romance notion. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is being released this year as a film directed by David Lowery and starring Dev Patel and I can’t wait to see what they do with the tale (although reading the excerpt of Gawain being ‘reckless and headstrong’ makes me wonder how close they are going to stick to the original text). Rating: **** (Oxford: Oxford Worlds Classics)
Treasure Island, Written by R. L Stevenson: I got just over halfway through this book by the end of the day so I can’t say anything about the ending but so far Treasure Island is how I thought it would be, featuring characters we have heard of even if we haven’t read it. The story begins in a coastal village and is narrated by a teenage boy that works in one of the Inn’s there. From this point he gets wrapped into pirate affairs and notions of finding treasure. My rating so far: ***
The Happy Prince and other tales by Oscar Wilde: These are a collection of delightful moralistic tales originally published for children. The stories focus on the mysteries of misery (and empathy), love, the meaning of good friendship and the consequences of selfishness. Each are repetitive in a poetic and enforcing way. My favourite was probably ‘The D Friend’, a story about the differences in perception of what friendship is and the repercussions of selfish actions. The titular story was similarly tragic and engaging as it told of the loving friendship between a gold plated statue of ‘The Happy Prince’ and a sparrow and the Happy Princes new perception now that he overlooks the city. Now that I have read some of Oscar Wilde’s writing I can’t wait to read some more. Rating: *****
The Goodman Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, written by Philip Pullman: I hadn’t heard of this novel until stumbling across it on a Waterstones visit and the title and premise intrigued me so much that I had to pick it up. It is a retelling of some of the biblical stories weaved together with the figure of Jesus Christ replaced with two – twins, Jesus and Christ. One represents Jesus as the man and the other as Jesus the saviour and representative of christian religion. It is very controversial as Pullman, a disillusioned christian, attempts to fill in the ‘holes’ he saw in biblical stories – looking at biblical texts as they are written literally. It was a fascinating read and examination of religion in general, especially in thinking about Pullman’s other novels (Like the His Dark Materials trilogy) as he is a creator of stories and user of myths. My Rating: **** (The Canons, 2016)
The Waves, By Virginia Woolf: I began reading this years ago and gave up about five pages in because I was so confused by it. It doesn’t follow a plot, really, like most novels but is a complex stream of consciousness. Current rating: ** (Wordsworth edition)
Measure for Measure, By William Shakespeare: This is a lesser known ‘problem play’ by Shakespeare that I am studying as part of my English degree next year. My favourite line from the play is spoken by Lucio in Act 1, Scene 4 when he says, ‘Our doubts are traitors / And makes us lose the good we oft might win, / By fearing to attempt.’ As I am going through annotating this, its taken me a bit longer to get through so I haven’t quite finished reading the play yet. Current thoughts: *** (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Other Honourable mentions…
Silas Marner, written by George Eliot: Eliot is one of my all time favourite authors and this is the book which introduced me to her descriptive, witty writing and heartwarming stories of interwoven lives. Eliot is often known for her long (1000) page novels like Middlemarch which are brilliant but if you want to have a feel for her style of writing or ease yourself into that frame of mind Silas Marner is a wonderful short book about the simple pleasures of life, the feeling of being an outsider in a provincial town and living a ‘wealthy’ life. It follows a weaver, Silas Marner, who is convicted of a crime by lots and exiled from the community he knew. He finds himself an outsider in a village where you can’t know anyone ‘unless you know their mother and father’ and takes up weaving to earn money. The plot unfolds as he settles in and makes his way in the new life, he has found himself in, especially with the arrival of Eppie. Its heart warming and a lovely introduction to Eliot’s writing style. Rating: ***** (I read this in the Oxford World’s classics edition which features a lovely introduction to Eliot and the story).