Susanna Clarke is one of those others where readers have to ask what in the hell is she doing that she can’t publish another wonderful book like her masterpiece Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? She’s in the same line of George R.R. Martin (for pretty much the whole world) and Jamie O’Neill for me. Each of these authors have written works that have profound affects on individuals/societies and then sort of wander off and do other things or seem to disappear completely in O’Neill’s case.
I’m slowly making more progress on my ARC/Galleys. It’s been a while since I last read a collection of short stories, last summer I read a couple of collections, but they’re not something I seek out very often. So when the publisher reached out about this one I figured why not.*
I’ve enjoyed Sittenfeld’s writing, Prep, from way before I started this blog and more recently Eligible, her retelling of Pride and Prejudice as part of the now (seemingly?) defunct The Austen Project. The downside of this collection in particular, is because I enjoy Sittenfeld’s writing, I had already read at least three, if not five of the previously published short stories of the ten, but I’ll talk more about this later.
I purposefully held off reading this edition for over a year because I knew I wanted something special for my 500th book on The Oddness of Moving Things. Tim got me the whole boxed collection of Austen’s works in December of 2015. I didn’t think it would take quite this long to get to, but with my whirlwind year at my previous job I’m not really surprised at this point. I’m reading again and I’m glad I saved this one for my 500th book!
I know others in the book blogosphere have reviewed this collection of Austen’s juvenilia and they’ve probably done it better. I’m a bit blinded by Austen because I’m such a fan boy (read this or just click here if you don’t believe me – or if you haven’t been around a while). I’m going to talk a bit about this work and the collection and then I’m going to have a brief bitch session about the physical book itself so fair warning.
I’m not sure why I picked this up back in January 2014, but I did. It was either the sadness in the title or the open envelopes on the front. I had no recollection of it being short stories as I rarely read them. And yet even when I went to read this, because I wanted a quick read before vacation, I was surprised they were short stories and it says STORIES on the front!
Honestly, this book disappointed me. There were two beautiful quotes, but overall I found the stories to be lacking and somewhat stunted. Many of the stories loosely tied together and I felt it distracted from what could’ve been a wonderful collection of (somewhat depressing) coming of age stories.
“Homesick is how Karen feels, though she doesn’t miss home, more like an earlier version of herself, a person who, in her memory is hardworking, starightforward, pure.” (Common Rooms, 12)
“Lewis and I decided this last night and it was a relief. Not everything has to do with me. Even the things that have something to do with me, like this contract, don’t have much to do with me.” (Sam, 87)
I would rather have not wondered if everyone was connected (and I could be wrong).
All of this being said, I think what bothered me the most about the short stories was that really good short stories to me, leave you curious about everything before and after, but simultaneously leave you feeling fulfilled. These did not, partially because there were characters that were either the same character or one with the same name and it was like wait what, is this a continuation? And partially because they just didn’t feel complete with the exception of Common Rooms, it was by far the strongest and it was the lead of the book.
Recommendation: Pass unless you are really interested in college coming of age stories or really interested in short stories.
I grabbed a copy of this book for free from the Riptide Publishing website. I did this before I had an interaction with Riptide that left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth and has pretty much guaranteed I won’t read any of their books again, but I’ll save that for the end of this post (after the recommendation).
This novella’s synopsis (Amazon Affiliate link) was just too cute to pass up. You get a second chance with your first crush and they happen to be gay too? Add in the techno-crazy insta-celebrity age and of course it’s going to be adorable. This rings especially true if you’re main character is a somewhat neurotic shy guy who has gone out of his way to avoid social-interactions in person, but has a large online following. I mean come on librarians and bookstores, let’s just go ahead and create the sub-sub-genre “Socially Awkward Romances.” I’d be all over that.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hesitant at first as Bowles’ work was very well written but I just didn’t like the characters. Thankfully, Welch’s characters were a bit more accessible for me. This is two shorter stories so I’ve separated my response into two parts. The publisher provided a copy of this book and I received no compensation for my honest opinion.
The one over-arching them the two pieces have in common is the idea of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, before it was commonly talked about and/or accepted. I tried (aka did a brief google search) to find out about Welch’s sexuality, but again this was a long time ago before our out and proud mantras of today. Welch died young, he was only 33, and there is only speculation outside of his written works which in today’s society seem pretty explicit. Regardless, I enjoyed both of these snippets of the past for completely different reasons.
I really need to stop saying that I love fantasy and am not a fan of science fiction. This was one of those novels that reminds me how much I enjoy thoroughly well written science fiction and often times the lines between science fiction and fantasy are blurred.
It was actually interesting as I read this novel that I wanted to know more about the technical and physical engineering/feats of the book. I wasn’t satisfied with the answer being “it was” or “just because.” I say this is funny, because that’s the part that has always put me off from science fiction. The too detailed focus on the technology, the terraforming, the space travel and the other more technical/physical aspects as opposed to the exploration of new planets, the contact with alien life and the mental and physical reactions to all of the above, really made me question why I say I’m not a big fan of science fiction.