Note – I’ve put links to these stories where I can, or if not, at least the Goodreads link for the collection in which they can be found.
I’ve never really thought too much about what gender category the author which I read falls into. If I like the sound of a book, or a story, I’ll read it. Frequently, I forget the name of the authors of the books I’ve read. It’s a combination of age, and “pregnancy brain” which never really went away.
But I love a good statistic, so when the incredible Reading Glasses Podcast brought my attention to Yonderbook which analyses your Goodreads information, I was pretty disheartened by the gender split in the books I have read over the last few years.
I mean, it could be worse, but it made me think that this is something I needed to address.
So this gave my little short story adventure a little bit of direction. For September, I decided to read exclusively female authors. It did not detract from my enjoyment one little bit. Here are some of the highlights:
I never need an excuse to read Shirley Jackson. She has such a limited amount of material that I’ve tried not to binge it all at once. The Story We Used to Tell, which I hadn’t read before, is so creepy. Blame Roald Dahl, but being trapped in a painting is just so terrifying to me (see: The Witches), and this story is basically about that. As with most things old Shirls wrote, I highly recommend this.
I hadn’t read any Flannery O’Connor before embarking on this literary quest, but I’m so glad I did. Everything That Rises Must Converge is superb. Dealing with issues of generational racism, class-ism, family relationships, all within a few magical pages. She was just a master at this.
Oh Dorothy Parker, I love you. She just captures the absurdity of human nature so well. Her cutting wit is just devastating, and her review of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my favorite things ever.
Anyway, I read the brief, hilarious Sentiment, which has such a wonderfully dramatic narrator.
Sylvia Townsend Warner is an author I’ve heard mentioned on Backlisted Podcast, so it was great to get the opportunity to finally read one of her stories. I chose The Phoenix, and it was amazing. The titular animal delivered quite the phenomenal ending. Looking forward to discovering more of her work.
BBC National Short Story Award
It was quite lucky I’d chosen an all-female author September, as the BBC National Short Story award announced its all-female shortlist. So for five days, my choices were effectively curated for me.
If you’re not familiar with the contest, you can find more details here, but it has been one of the highlights of my literary year for a long time.
My favorite of this year’s stories was Sudden Traveler, by previous winner Sarah Hall. It’s a story about the cyclical nature of life, and is so beautiful told I’m genuinely welling up thinking about it. The broadcast version is read beautifully by Rebekah Staton, and I urge you to check it out.
Spoiler alert, Sudden Traveler didn’t win the contest; Ingrid Persaud’s The Sweet Sop did. All five stories are worth a read/listen. You can listen to them all as part of the BBC’s Short Story podcast here.
I am “discovering” so many fantastic authors on this little short story jaunt. Among the ones I’ve instantly fallen in love with are Carys Davies (The Quiet is so incredibly and deeply moving), Elizabeth Hand (the first two stories from her collection Errantry just completely sucked me in. I feel like she’s inside my brain and writing exactly what I want to read), ZZ Packer (another gift from Backlisted Podcast), and Anjali Sachdeva (All The Names They Used For God is a fantastic collection so far).
Fueled by the success of my September theme, I decided October would be dedicated to ghost stories. I failed miserably. Life just gets in the way sometimes. But I did manage to squeeze a few stories in. I read my favorite Neil Gaiman story, October in the Chair, as well as the titular story from Tom Cox’s collection, Help the Witch.
I also read some wonderful stories from Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories (selected, not written, by Dahl). Dahl notes, in the incredibly interesting introduction to the book, that women seem to be especially good at writing ghost stories, and he’s correct. I read the terrifying Harry by Rosemary Timperley, and The Telephone by Mary Treadgold. It’s generally a great collection, especially for the aforementioned introduction.
By the end of October, I’d basically given up on the ghost story idea, and took time to reflect on my year of short stories so far. I made note of all the authors I wanted to revisit, and planned out my reading until the end of November. As always, consult the spreadsheet if you’re interested, but the list includes Kelly Link, Richard Matheson, Yoko Ogawa, Chesya Burke, Ken Liu, lots of things to be excited about. I also bought a ton of new collections on vacation (thanks to the wonderful Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine, and Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont).
So far I’ve kept on track. I think planning ahead really helps keep me focused. My favorites so far have been The Future Looks Good by Lesley Nneka Arimah, which was just a breathtaking start to her collection What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, and the very prescient fable, Boys Go To Jupiter by Danielle Evans.
I’m very excited about December, as for the first time I’ve purchased a short story advent calendar by the wonderful Hingston and Olsen. It looks beautiful. I’m not going to crack it open until December, but I’m hoping there is a good mix of authors in terms of gender and diversity.
Phew! Lots of stuff to catch you up on there. If anyone is looking for a reading resolution for next year, I would definitely recommend doing a short story a day. There are so many available freely online, and I can guarantee your local librarian will be happy to point you in the right direction, as well as recommending some favorites of their own.