Photo by Mary Bakija

During the winter of 2014-2015, I began to spend a lot more time sitting on my porch. In the morning, I’d pull on extra layers and drink tea while wearing mittens. At night after coming home from seeing friends, I’d linger a bit in the plastic Adirondack chair before going inside. Initially, I sat there for the thin, cool air, easier to breath than the stifling indoors, where oxygen mingled with memories. When roommates moved in, the porch was an extra room. And it was during this time that I began to read and listen to short stories exclusively on the porch — I knew I had limited time to spend there, or should limit my time there, and the length could create an endpoint.

So when, during the summer, Coach Ian West began asking on Facebook for American short story authors he should read as part of an upcoming personal project, I had several less obvious ones to recommend. Input came from several people, including a few locals, and at the point when his list had reached about 200 names, I asked when he’d get a book club going. Then one afternoon in July I ran into him at a cafe on Cortelyou Road.

“Mary,” Ian said. “Were you serious about doing a book club?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“Great,” he said, opening a notebook packed with neat scribbles. “Because I’ve had some ideas…”

Heading out to the porch; there’s a book in my pocket. Photo by Mary Bakija

So began a year-long deep-dive known as HotASS, or the History of the American Short Story. Orchestrated by Ian, with some, but limited, input on direction from a group that also included Sally, Colin, Lado, Jennifer, Joan, and Michael, he arranged the list in order of authors’ birth dates, which often led to reading contemporaries, but sometimes led to reading work published decades apart. There were, most often, two main authors that everyone would read — from each, maybe a selection of stories, maybe an entire collection, maybe more. The rest of the authors from that month’s generation were supplemental, and only completely read by Ian, who was determined to read at least one story from each author (and to get to a total of 1,000 stories in the year — a goal that changed to 730, or two per day, after the first couple months of “short” stories by authors like Hawthorne and Melville).

Photo by Mary Bakija

I poked through the supplemental authors regularly, though certainly not as exhaustively. I took scattered, incomplete notes at first, and then mostly gave up on that and just read and read and read, and sometimes followed up reading with reviews to see if I could get more out of a particular story or stories or writer. I read hardcovers and paperbacks, borrowed digital copies from the library, and listened to recorded versions. I went to every meeting.

Photo by Mary Bakija

Like any other book club, we mostly talked about our lives and drank wine and ate pizza (a large mushroom/pepperoni every time). But we’d also dip into the stories. Occasionally there was disagreement (“No one is better than Nabokov.”), and usually the conversation expanded to aspects of literature, and other types of writing, at large. Seeing how the form has changed over time, and, for many authors, hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years or so, we meandered to a question: If the short story has stagnated, has anything replaced it in regards to innovation? The possible answer — essays — may be the next year’s project.

I was not the most argumentative, or even vaguely opinionated most of the time, either at meetings or after closing a book and leaving it behind at a bar (the “opinion” there was simply that I didn’t plan to revisit it anytime soon, and my bookshelf is layers deep). As with the end of the notekeeping, so went winding judgements. If I liked it, I liked it. If I didn’t, I’d finish a story (or not) and move on to something else.

Photo by Mary Bakija

During the final meeting, Colin admitted he doesn’t like short stories because it’s jarring to enter a world, get to know its people, and be ripped from it just when you’re becoming comfortable with them. That’s exactly why I liked them — that was as emotionally involved as I could get. But since that long winter sitting on the porch, after reading hundreds of short stories, I’m ready for commitment again. And I’m already deep into the first chapters of an 800-page novel.

Photo by Mary Bakija

Below is the History of the American Short Story reading list. Intros are by Coach Ian West; scattered notes (which are by no means reviews or thoughtful analysis) are by me. Favorites and ones I’ll certainly go back for more from include: Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Bowles, William Maxwell, John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, James Salter, Harold Brodkey, John Updike, Thomas McGuane, Joy Williams, Mary Gaitskill. But there are many, many more that I’ll explore in more depth in the future. The one story I read or listened to repeatedly in the past year was “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff.

HotASS 1

1. Henry James

The Story of a Masterpiece (1864)
Travelling Companions (1864)

Four Meetings (60wK)

8/3/15: American “dream” of spending time in Europe, unfulfilled for woman who, as is noted at very beginning, is dead (and seems to get there quickly, from not beautiful but attractive to old in eight years, through the story).

The Author of “Beltraffio” (v1) (60wK)

8/11: American #1 fans pays visit to fave English author, he’s superfan among people–wife in particular, and sister–who are just like, “God, dude, he’s alright I guess.” Wife thinks his art for arts sake writing will corrupt their son (homosexually?). Then she starts reading his new work, maybe gets corrupted in a way herself, and lets their sick boy die.

The Lesson of the Master (v1) (60wK)
Brooksmith (iBooks on phone)
The Private Life

Greville Fane (60wK)

8/16: “In keeping with his habitual industry, he produced something like a tale per month over a period of two years.” Much like GF here.

Apparently a parody of a real dude, and his mother, who wrote a popular book that railed against super love of the Americans.

“Light” in a way, but some reflection on successors and legacy. And funniest of the ones read so far.

The Altar of the Dead (v2) (60wK)

The Figure in the Carpet (v2) (60wK)

8/2/15: His “most baffling” work.

“Poe suggested that a short story is something that can be read at one sitting, and that all its interest is focused onto a single issue. To these unities there have since been added unity of theme, time, imagery, place, character. In other words, short stories are at their best when they are as concentrated and unified as possible.”

This has the singular focus for sure, but two weddings and four deaths, which the narrative depends on, and multiple geographic locations, it’s too much.

The Real Right Thing (v2) (60wK)
The Abasement of the Northmores (v2)

Daisy Miller (v1) (60wK)
The Aspern Papers (v1) (60wK)
The Beast in the Jungle (60wK)


Context & Atmosphere ::

2. Washington Irving
The Complete Tales Of Washington Irving – Neider

The Author’s Account of Himself

8/12: set up: america’s great but new, Europe is what the cool kids are doing and has rad history so he went even though Americas got plenty, and turns out those euros aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and the less notable parts of the continent are the most attractive to him.

Rip Van Winkle

8/15: change and continuity. Escaping your hound of a wife.

The Widow and Her Son
The Mutability of Literature
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

3. Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Wives of the Dead
My Kinsman, Major Molineux
Passages from a Relinquished Work
The Haunted Mind
Young Goodman Brown
The Minister’s Black Veil
Night Sketches
The Celestial Rail-road
Rappaccini’s Daughter

4. Edgar Allan Poe

Preface to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque
The Folio Club
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Masque of the Red Death
The Tell-Tale Heart
The Gold-Bug
The Purloined Letter
The Imp of the Perverse
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
The Cask of Amontillado
Von Kempelen and His Discovery

5. Herman Melville
Great Short Works of Herman Melville (Perennial Classics)

Bartleby, The Scrivener

8/3/15: free will; absurdism. That Poe idea of singularity of focus surely at work here.

Benito Cereno
The Lightning-Rod Man
The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles
Fragments from a Writing Desk
The Apple-Tree Table

6. Mark Twain
Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain (Bantam Classics)

Ghost Life on the Mississippi
Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog
The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief
Cannibalism in the Cars
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
The $30,000 Bequest
Letter from the Recording Angel

7. Bret Harte

The Luck of Roaring Camp
The Outcasts of Poker Flat

8. Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
The Coup de Grâce
The Ways of Ghosts
The Devil’s Dictionary [entry: “Story”]
Ashes of the Beacon

9. Sarah Orne Jewett
Kate Lancaster’s Plan
Deephaven Society
In Shadow
The Country of the Pointed Firs [this is a book — Jewett was the first author, to my knowledge, to create books of linked short stories, which shared a town, a set of characters, atmosphere… we’ll see more of this]
A Dunnet Shepherdess


HotASS 2

Second Era (1850-1880)

This month, we’re going to have a pair of Focus Writers, giving us a chance to contrast the styles of two regional feels for the genre.

Representing New York City, in the grand tradition of Jamesian urbanity, we have Edith Wharton:

A Journey

8/29/15: An early story, written while she was in an unhappy marriage, which would eventually end in divorce, it’s a little bit of a take on an unhappy marriage–we guess, though we don’t know much about these people, as a couple or otherwise. She’s in her own head but still, appears selfish. Then the moral dilemma of how to deal with her husband dead on the train, not wanting (selfishly? Or out of self-preservation) to get booted off before her return to NYC. Her slipping into dream is fun.

“Wharton’s short fiction is more akin to those of the following century in her use of unreliable narration, gaps, epiphany and, above all, in her expectation of an active reader.”

The Pelican

9/23/15: “In the Middle Ages the pelican was believed to stab its own breast to feed its young with its own blood in the absence of other food.” Funny and light, but not my favorite, all surface. Thought the narrator was a woman until the end, ha. An early story (1899), Wharton had no children, and apparently wasn’t too compassionate for them or those who did. But maybe this mother, who the male narrator dismisses as unintellectual and weak, is plenty savvy, a woman making her way on her own by whatever means necessary. Though come on mom, seal-skin coat is maybe not an essential.


9/27/15: Oh my god this is me in this HotASS book group. 1911. Jab at James? Also some kinda instruction on reading Wharton, too.

Autres Temps

9/6/15: “Other times, other customs.” Her own divorce led her to being an exiled outcast; her daughter’s divorce and remarriage, according to everyone around her, will not cause the same social reaction, because times have changed. But while they’re all trying to convince her of this, it seems not to be true, and at least Mrs. Lidcote is still treated as an outcast. Travels between Europe and America and social constructs a la Henry James (Europe here being more accepting of her “strangeness”). “…society is much too busy to revise its own judgements.” Wharton had been in France, and then divorced her husband the year after this was published.

After Holbein

9/15/15: 1928, written after death of Teddy Wharton and a close friend, and Edith was older, had a maid with her for 40 years. Title: painting of skeletons dancing people to their graves. Getting old stinks, but you can still enjoy a dinner party even if you don’t have the mind for it (helps if your host doesn’t, either). Reminds us of “…our own inevitable plunge into darkness.” Woo. Yet, still funny.

Roman Fever

9/21/15: 1934. Big zinger! Knitting as a dramatic device (“one, two, three – slip”)! Old guard broads in old Rome remembering the old rendezvous spot at the crumbling old Colloseum! In the second part, the reader is put in the same position that the ladies were in during the first part — perspectives are all wrong, looking through the wrong end of our little telescope! I love the format: nothing new happens, they’re just talking through events that happened in the distant past, but that happened way different than either knew, and the action is simply in the revelation.

Women women women. It’s going to be tough to bring in some strong male-character stories after this month, damn.


And representing Louisiana and the deep south, which we’ll see become a major force in the American fictional landscape, we have Kate Chopin:

The Return of Alcibiade

9/8/15: Good way to start Chopin (heh) — post-Civil War, Bayou plantation, old man who’s pining for his lost soldier son, and the stranger who arrives on Christmas and reluctantly plays the role while falling for the granddaughter. Lots of offensive time- and location-specific dialogue.

Desiree’s Baby

9/9/15: A kicker of serious black guilt! Pre-Civil War, written 1892, published early 1893. The home from which Desiree is forced to leave is L’Abri, aka “shelter,” womp womp–though it’s described like a tomb, so. There’s an inelegant switch in narrative perspective halfway through, from adoptive mom to Desiree. Gender probs: racist pop happier to have a boy, is heavy-handed with mom. Racism: “Yeah you’re about as white as the halfie slave I’m most willing to force to have sex with me,” is more or less this dude’s most charming line. But her hand is whiter than his, and bingo, that’s cause he’s revealed as biracial.

La Belle Zoraide

9/10/15: A good pairing with “Desiree,” as both basically say, “Boy, you think it’s shitty to be a woman? Try being a woman and being black.” Also, are the structures of these — Desiree a flashback, Zoraide a story within a story — supposed to imply how complicated those issues are? In Zoraide, both stories begin happily, master and slave seemingly ecstatic in each other’s company for one reason or another, but by the end Zoraide is driven mad, her mistress feels bad for causing that by driving away her lover and then sending away her baby, but for the storyteller and her mistress, we can guess not so good, either. Also: language. Chopin, from St Louis, spoke some Creole, but also French and wrote in English; moved to LA with husband, wrote after he died — an outsider, and an insider. Apparently the translation she gives of the last lines is sort of distorted.

The Story of an Hour

9/11/15: Quel tragedy!! Damn girl, too much of a roller coaster for a lady with a heart condition. Think your husband has died, breaks you up for a moment, but then… “It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.” May have had to kill off the poor, liberated lady to make the piece publishable–damn. Or was it those long-repressed feelings of oppression in a relationship that killed her? Is this about a fear of technological advancement as well? She gets word of hubby’s death via, through channels, telegraph, speeding up the news cycle, but, like Twitter, obviously full of inaccuracies cause if they’d just waited an hour…

A Night in Acadie

Wiser Than a God
The Kiss
An Egyptian Cigarette

Wharton’s story form tends to a more expansive size — Jamesian in many ways. Chopin wrote a ton of littles — two, three, four page sketches & vignettes — which is to say, if you can get over to Strand and get yourself a copy of the Library of America edition of the everything of Kate Chopin (they had a pile of em last I saw), you’ll be rewarded with all her little curios.


Context & Atmosphere ::

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

A New England Nun

9/29/15: (audiobook while walking) 1891. Nature and religion and solitude, honor and OMG just leave me alone to the life I’ve gotten used to with my crazy dog after 14 years.

The Revolt of Mother

Charles W. Chesnutt
Po’ Sandy
The Wife of His Youth

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper

9/29/15: (audiobook while walking) Fun descent into madness that doubles as a criticism of the patriarchal society of the time.

O. Henry
Gift of the Magi
The Cop and the Anthem

Stephen Crane

The Open Boat

9/30/15: 1897. Sentences ride like waves. Colors: “Canton flannel gulls flew near and far.” Based closely on his own experience in a shipwreck. Realism, naturalism, symbolism.

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
The Blue Hotel

Paul Laurence Dunbar* (*Coach Ian West approved)
Anner ‘Lizer’s Stumblin’ Block
The Intervention of Peter
The Deliberation of Mr. Dunkin
The Strength of Gideon
Viney’s Free Papers
Ohio Pastorals — this is a small suite of stories

Willa Cather
Flavia and Her Artists
The Sculptor’s Funeral
“A Death in the Desert”
A Wagner Matinee

Paul’s Case

9/19/15: 1905. Title allows Cather to “impersonate the voice of medical authority,” which gives us all exposition, no actual dramatic scenes; claustrophobic in its narration. The drab realities of Pittsburgh vs the ideals of NYC, self-absorption, homosexuality, depression, and jumping in front of train (as dying, still an egomaniac, thinking of the places he won’t get to see). Cather seems to sympathize with Paul, but without giving approval.

The Marriage of Phaedra
The Enchanted Bluff

Jack London

To Build a Fire

8/30/15: Being tough is not enough; you need farsightedness and humility to survive, as well. So, just because you’re young and can travel alone most times, you’d be smarter to realize you might need help at some point, and a dog partner is not going to cut it.

Man vs nature: Can’t take survival for granted. Lays it on thick.

The Law of Life

The Mexican

9/27/15: 1911. Passion and anger. Analogy for/direct response to the effects of dictatorship that led to the Mexican Revolution.

Sherwood Anderson
Winesburg, Ohio — a book of interconnected stories

Damon Runyon
The Lily of St. Pierre
The Lemon Drop Kid


HotASS 3

History of the American Short Story

Third Era (1883-1899.5)

Shit’s about to get real. By which I mean, the genre is really about to take off. We still haven’t hit the main stride, but there are some true Olympians in this crew. It was hard to know what to do. So I opted for a repeat of the second installment plan, which was to compare two very different authors.

Also, the Context & Atmosphere portion of the menu is expanding, and you’ll notice some serious heavyweight-main course kinda stuff on there, so I feel like everyone is well within their rights to simply opt to read something else from the era, if my choices aren’t to your liking.

Okay, so here goes – – –

Main Event ::

Representing the stiff upper lip, we have Vladimir Nabokov (“I am as American as April in Arizona”), the transcontinental aurelian:

The Wood Sprite

10/1/15: 1921, his first published story. Allegory for Mother Russia.

Details of a Sunset

10/1/15: Great opening, cool dream-while-unconscious-after-being-hit-by-a-bus sequence. Subtle hints of his doom throughout: he trips a lot, vans look like coffins. “One cannot read a book: one can only reread it,” said Nabs, true enough here. Introducing Nabs’ “‘Moments of Being’ – those specially charged passages of experience in which the participant’s senses seem unusually heightened in such a way as to create a sense of spiritual euphoria.”

La Veneziana

10/4/15: Surreal lemon.

A Nursery Tale

10/4/15: What’ with all the “reddish-yellow shoes”? Also, lots of armpit hair love. And linden trees, their heart-shaped leaves and “delicate sticky aroma” (cum). “A pity” he didn’t get to enjoy his harem, but is that the only punishment? Could be enough. 1926.

The Potato Elf

10/4/15: zing! Poor dwarf, poor wife of a conjurer.

The Aurelian

10/13/15: Of course that’s how that was gonna end. Sad butterfly emerging from his cocoon only to flop down in a short life. 1931. Nabokov himself became one of the world’s leading butterfly guys! This story “illustrates a point made over and again by Nabokov in his critical writings – that it is not the overt subject matter which constitutes the beauty in a work of art so much as the manner in which the details of its composition are arranged.” So we don’t love this guy, but we love reading how he met his end. Said Nab: “This capacity to wonder at trifles … these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest form of consciousness.”

Terra Incognita

10/16/15: 1931. Unreliable narrator: poisoned and dying, or relating this from a sick bed?

The Admiralty Spire

10/17/15: 1933. Fictions about fiction, love affair gone bad, keeping the past alive, connection between love and art — all in a letter that gives the narrator an opportunity to speak to someone else.

A Russian Beauty

10/18/15: 1934. Light character sketch, also possibly light parallel between women and Russia.

Spring in Fialta

10/25/15: Wow. Best yet. All those same themes as always — unreliable narrator, the past, lost love, love compared to Russia, death — but also, the circus!

Cloud, Castle, Lake
Tyrants Destroyed
Time and Ebb
Signs and Symbols (a very special document)

And bringing us to the next level of the Deep South, we have William Faulkner (“That…Faulkner’s corncobby chronicles can be considered ‘masterpieces,’ or at least what journalists call ‘great books,’ is to me an absurd delusion, as when a hypnotized person makes love to a chair.” — Nabokov on Faulkner):

Barn Burning

10/9/15: 1939. Yawn.

A Rose for Emily
That Evening Sun
Artist at Home
The Unvanquished
Go Down, Moses (the story, not the book)
The Bear (the story, not the novella)
Red Leaves
Shingles for the Lord
The Tall Men
Dry September

**that evening sun** – Colin


Context & Atmosphere ::

Due to the constraints on my existence, I’m distilling for you here only the most critical authors from the full list, and giving books (titles in italics) instead of individual titles more often than not — since the publishing of volumes of short stories, published particularly as volumes of short stories, becomes a thing during this era.

William Carlos Williams
The Doctor Stories
The Farmer’s Daughters

Sinclair Lewis
A Theory of Values
Main Street Goes to War
The Kidnaped Memorial
Nobody to Write About

Katherine Anne Porter
Flowering Judas and Other Stories
The Leaning Tower and Other Stories

Flowering Judas

10/25/15: problems with: Revolution, romance, Roman Catholicism. 1920s in Mexico must have been marvelous. Unless you were “Laura” trying to find redemption and a sense of self.

Noon Wine
+ No Masters or Teachers
+ On “Flowering Judas”
+ “The only reality…”
(critical statements on her own work)

Zora Neale Hurston
Mules and Men
+ Dust Tracks on a Road (her autobiography)

Dorothy Parker

The Sexes

10/25/15: cute but not as boring as others I’ve read.

New York to Detroit

10/25/15: Arg these ninnies! Simplicity in achieving the small goals of the plot, succinctly and with finesse.

The Mantle of Whistler

10/25/15: Nice use of “Airedale” as an insult, but not much else. All these little sketches…

You Were Perfectly Fine

10/25/15: cuter.

From the Diary of a New York Lady

10/25/15: heh

+ “The Short Story, through a Couple of the Ages”

Dashiell Hammett
Arson Plus
The Main Death

James Thurber
My World and Welcome To It (contains Walter Mitty)

“The Whip-Poor-Will”
10/19/15: repetition, madness, birdie.

“Macbeth” & “Moonbaum”
10/20/15: concise, screwball, choppy dialogue.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Flappers and Philosophers

10/19/15: Love love love the deceptively easy language. Cute plot you can disentangle from a mile away, unfortunately, but still sweet-ish.

Tales of the Jazz Age
(…believe me, it was hard not to put FSF in the spotlight…)


HotASS 4

Fourth Era (1899.5-1910) *** THE WIDE WORLD

The fourth group of authors is book-ended by two vagabonds. The American short story is about to become a science and a commodity. The ‘writing workshop’ and the ‘creative writing department’ are invented (by Stegner, among others) during this era — keeping in mind, that the above dates of the Era reflect author birth, and that most of the work from this group is written from the 20s to the 60s.

I wanted to look at Hemingway and Bowles because they both embody a wild, worldly quality that I want to track more carefully. My prediction: it will disappear as “workshop fiction” (or what I call “domestic fiction”) purifies its product and secures its place in academia, but then it will reappear towards the end of our survey as MFA programs begin to notice (and thus value) the metric of a New Internationalism. Let’s have a look at the wide world:

Main Event ::

Ernest Hemingway:

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

10/6/15: 1936. Gaining the courage to face crazed animals and your wife, cause, ya know, women are like wild animals and need a man to tame them.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

11/12/15: Women, amirite?

On the Quai at Smyrna

Indian Camp


Big Two-Hearted River (both parts)

Hills Like White Elephants

11/16/15: “That’s all we do, isn’t it — look at things and try new drinks?” Ugh women and abortion amiright?

The Killers

11/13/15: death, friendship, meaning of life, and ham and egg sandwiches.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

11/12/15: “Hail nothing full of nothing…”

The Light of the World
The Butterfly and the Tank
Nobody Ever Dies
The Good Lion
Summer People

Paul Bowles:

A Distant Episode

10/30/15: never go to Morocco.

You Are Not I

10/30/15: 1948. Weird shit; what a difference from all we’ve covered so far! Unreliable narrator, slowly unveiling the truth (some, maybe). “A robin kept whistling in a tree above. ‘Of course,’ I said to myself. ‘This is just in man’s world. If something real should happen, they would stop singing.'”

The Circular Valley

10/30/15: Invisible, body-entering beast like the author? Bowles on writing: “What I wanted was to see everyone aware of being in the same kind of metaphysical impasse I was in. I wanted to know whether they suffered in the same way.”

The Delicate Prey

11/8/15: “little more than background for a “story” whose characters we did not know enough about to believe in, and therefore a story that we could not take part in ourselves, as one inevitably takes part when one is absorbed and held.” Graphic violence, sparse, economical writing.

The Fourth Day Out from Santa Cruz

11/15/15: so did the cat get it or what?

A Thousand Days for Mokhtar

11/16/15: Eh, justice and peace or whatever?


11/16/15: All these parables, of getting what you ask for.

The Fqih
Reminders of Bouselham
Istikhara, Anaya, Medagan and the Medaganat
Things Gone and Things Still Here
The Waters of Izli
Rumor and a Ladder
In the Red Room
Tangier 1975
Unwelcome Words

The Echoes

11/11/15: Distance and disconnect.


Context & Atmosphere ::

Langston Hughes
The Ways of White Folks

Kay Boyle
Winter Night

Isaac Bashevis Singer
Gimpel the Fool
A Friend of Kafka
The Key
The Joke
A Day in Coney Island
The Cabalist of East Broadway
Two Weddings and One Divorce
The Manuscript
“Author’s Introduction” to Gifts
The Recluse

Norman Maclean

A River Runs Through It & Other Stories

11/4/15: 1976. Wife died in ’68. Kids encouraged him to write the stories he’d told them. Portrait of man in nature, tempered by his troubled life. Hokey bits about brother-in-law, but still pretty good anyway.

Erskine Caldwell
Kneel to the Rising Sun

John O’Hara

A Phase of Life

11/17/15: (audiobook) Better than BA below, great twisty language and innuendo. Someone compared O’Hara to the literary equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting; he worked as a journalist before writing fiction. Nothing like booze, 16mm films, and a little sex party for your next Labor Day.

Bread Alone

11/17/15: (audiobook) Not much more than a sketch, but nice DiMaggio cameo.

Do You Like It Here?

Dorothy West
The Typewriter
The Richer, the Poorer

Robert Heinlein
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag

William Maxwell
All the Days and Nights

Over by the River

11/10/15: Woah. Unbelievable rhythm. Read more.

Billie Dyer

11/15/15: Based on real life. But still: why the narrator, for what connection/layer/anything?

Richard Wright
The Man Who Was Almost a Man

Ann Petry
Like a Winding Sheet

Martha Gellhorn
Pretty Tales for Tired People

Wallace Stegner
Bugle Song
Chip Off the Old Block

Eudora Welty
Death of a Traveling Salesman
A Curtain of Green
Where Is the Voice Coming From?


HotASS 5

Fifth Era (1911-1920) *** THE INSIDER VS THE OUTSIDER

Let’s have a look at what the insider thinks it feels like to be an outsider trapped on the inside, and what the outsider realizes about how even outsiders marginalize other outsiders in an effort to feel like insiders…

Main Event ::

John Cheever

Goodbye, My Brother

12/9/15: Oh, Tifty. Traditional story, unreliable narrator.

The Enormous Radio

12/11/15: (audio) Oh, those last lines!!

O City of Broken Dreams

12/17/15: Big, evil, New York City chews em up and spits em out. Not a favorite, but good, constant level of nervousness.

The Hartleys

12/21/15: Written from a distant remove, a little like a modern fairy tale, and then the crushing blows, one after another.

Torch Song

12/21/15: Death death death

The Five-Forty-Eight

12/26/15: Denigration of man! Perception.

The Housebreaker of Shady Hill

12/26/15: Failed attempts to conceal the naked truth, and delusions of a cure. Story ends exactly as it begins.

The Country Husband

12/29/15: An airplane crash to set in motion a derailing of the terror and anxiety the suburban life has created. Tense changes.

The Chimera

12/31/15: California dreamin.


1/2/6: mehhhhhh.

Marito in Citta

The Swimmer

12/10/15: (audio) Such a good trip.

Three Stories

1/4/16: what.

James Purdy

Sound of Talking

12/7/15: Quote the raven…

Cutting Edge

12/7/15: Darlin don’t you go and shave that beard do you think it’s gonna make him change?


Color of Darkness
Daddy Wolf

Goodnight, Sweetheart

12/20/15: Rape, maybe, and the tables turned on who’s caring for whom, but also deeper underlying mysteries. What exactly is going on, and went on in the past?


12/22/15: the straightforward and transparency-ness of his stories “explain its gradual loss of favor.”

Scrap of Paper

1/3/16: sketch. Old lady prefers black maid to “them Norwegians and Croats.”

Short Papa
How I Became a Shadow
The Candles of Your Eyes
That’s About Enough out of You

Don’t Call Me by My Right Name

1/3/16: “uniquely unsettling”


Context & Atmosphere ::

Hortense Calisher
Extreme Magic

12/?/15: Sort of loopy, but hooked in.

“Night Club”
12/12/15: Youth is wasted on the young.

Irwin Shaw
Mixed Company: Collected Short Stories

“Main Currents in American Thought”
“The Eighty-Yard Run”

Delmore Schwartz
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Ralph Ellison
Flying Home & Other Stories

Bernard Malamud
The Stories of Bernard Malamud
Idiots First

Saul Bellow
Mosby’s Memoirs
Him with His Foot in His Mouth (audio)

Jean Stafford
The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford

“In the Zoo”
12/27/15: Layers of time and animals and the wild, Wild West.

“Children Are Bored on Sunday”
12/27/15: (audio) Kinda gorgeous.

“A Country Love Story”
12/28/15: Madness or Alzheimer’s sucks and is super depressing and ah. The despair for the person caring for the sick one!

Elizabeth Hardwick
The New York Stories

“Yes and No”
12/30/15: God, right? I’ll be a jerk in retrospect, if I’m not already.

Shirley Jackson
The Lottery and Other Stories

12/2/15-12/ : End of the world!

Peter Taylor
The Collected Stories

J. F. Powers
The Stories of J. F. Powers

Carson McCullers
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

“The Ballad of the Sad Cafe”
12/12/15: Gave up on it eventually. Too much cruelty and loneliness and isolation.

Louis Auchincloss
Manhattan Monologues
Powers of Attorney

J. D. Salinger
Nine Stories

1/2/16: good but not as good as I’d remembered.

Mary Ladd Gavell
I Cannot Tell a Lie, Exactly

Isaac Asimov
I, Robot

(Listened to several on audiobook.) Fun, light, dark, robots!

Charles Bukowski
Tales of Ordinary Madness

* * *
* *

HotASS 6


This is the first truly impossible month. There are twenty-three authors in this group, and virtually ALL of them have made a significant name in the form. I have to be forgiven in advance for disappointing someone. There are just too many stars to choose from. This month I’ve decided to use volumes in comparison instead of cherry-picking the authors’ oeuvres. I’m very curious to know if reading these two particular authors side by side will produce in you all the same strange effect it does in me…

Main Event ::

Flannery O’Connor
Everything That Rises Must Converge

“Everything That Rises Must Converge”

1/8/16: Surface judgement. Fragmented family, fragmented South.


1/10/16: Catholicism: Don’t fuck around trying to control a force more powerful than yourself.

“A View of the Woods”

1/12/16: Characters all

“The Enduring Chill”
“The Comforts of Home”
“The Lame Shall Enter First”
“Parker’s Back”
“Judgment Day”

John Barth
Lost in the Funhouse


Main Event Supplemental —

Flannery O’Connor
“The Fiction Writer and His Country”
“The Church and the Fiction Writer”
“Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction”
“The Regional Writer”
“Fiction Is a Subject with a History — It Should Be Taught That Way”

John Barth
“The Literature of Exhaustion”
“The Literature of Replenishment”


Context & Atmosphere ::

Patricia Highsmith
Selected Novels & Short Stories
Little Tales of Misogyny

“The Trouble With Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble With the World”
1/15/16: (audio) “sea widow”

Elizabeth Spencer
Starting Over

Grace Paley
The Collected Stories

“Somewhere Else” 1/20/16: (audio) Twice I’ve listened to this, and twice it’s only the second part that’s stuck w me. But, reader says Paley instructed students on writing two stories in a story, not ever just one.

Herbert Gold
The Age of Happy Problems

William Gass
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

Cartesian Sonata & Other Novellas

James Baldwin
Going to Meet the Man
“Sunny’s Blues”

Evan S. Connell
Lost in Uttar Pradesh

Truman Capote
Music for Chameleons
The Complete Stories

James Salter
Last Night
Dusk & Other Stories

“Akhnilo” 1/23/16: Suspense, from inside and out. ”In ravenous burrows the blind shrews hunted ceaselessly, the pointed tongues of reptiles were testing the air, there was the crunch of abdomens, the passivity of the trapped, the soft throes of mating. His daughters were asleep down the hall. Nothing is safe except for an hour.”

Elmore Leonard
Charlie Martz and Other Stories
The Complete Western Stories

Gina Berriault
The Infinite Passion of Expectation

Richard Yates
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

Alice Adams
The Stories of Alice Adams

“Beautiful Girl”
1/20/16: lovely, sad introduction, but not enough happening?

“Verlie I Say Unto You”
1/21/16: Complications of close race relations, and otherwise familial/employer-employee relations, unsaid things. Last graph stinks.

“Greyhound People”
1/20/16: Hm.

“Roses, Rhododendrons”
“The Visit”
“A Very Nice Dog”
“Waiting for Stella”
“New Best Friends”
“Berkeley House”

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
East into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York & New Delhi

Guy Davenport
DaVinci’s Bicycle
Twelve Stories

Cynthia Ozick
The Shawl
Levitation: Five Fictions Oh man that holocaust one with the baby and the fence.

Bruce Jay Friedman
Black Angels
The Peace Process

Harold Brodkey
First Love & Other Sorrows
Stories in an Almost Classical Mode

Context & Atmosphere Supplemental ::

Bruce Bawer
The Aspect of Eternity
(This is a book of essays that touches on a number of authors relevant to this project: Willa Cather, James Baldwin, William Maxwell, Jean Stafford, John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Harold Brodkey, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and Flannery O’Connor, written by a smart, lucid, and penetrating critic…)

* * *

HotASS 7

SEVENTH Installment (1931-1940) *** THE HEART of THE FORM

One olympian and one normal (if somewhat prolix) person – – –

Main Event ::

John Updike
Problems and Other Stories

“How to Love America…”
2/3/16: “Consider the career of the motelkeeper, selling what shouldn’t be buyable–rest to the weary, bliss to the illicit, space to the living.”

Joyce Carol Oates
Marriages and Infidelities


Context & Atmosphere ::

One olympian and some normal folk – – –

E. L. Doctorow
Lives of the Poets
Sweet Land Stories

Donald Barthelme
Overnight to Many Distant Cities
40 Stories
“Glass Mountain” and “Game” Colin recommends

Robert Coover

Leonard Michaels (*maybe)
The Collected Stories

Susan Sontag
I, etcetera

Reynolds Price
The Collected Stories

Ellen Gilchrist*
Collected Stories
Ian recommends

Annie Proulx
Close Range
Bad Dirt

Edith Pearlman
Binocular Vision

Andre Dubus*
Selected Stories
Separate Flights

Lucia Berlin**
A Manual for Cleaning Women

Don Delillo
The Angel Esmeralda

Jerome Charyn*
Bitter Bronx

Raymond Carver
Collected Stories
“A literary friend whose judgment I respect dislikes Mr. Carver’s work because he finds it ”cold.” If he means that Mr. Carver employs devices of distancing which keep us from the inner life of his figures, I see no reason to be troubled. Greater writers have used such devices. But if my friend means that there creeps into Mr. Carver’s stories a note of disdain toward the people he creates, then the charge is sometimes – by no means always – accurate. I suspect this happens because Mr. Carver grows impatient with, even grieved by, the resignation of his characters. It’s as if he wished they would rebel against the constrictions of their lives, rebel even against the stylized constraints he puts upon them. But they don’t.”

Lily Tuck
Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived

Julie Hayden
The Lists of the Past

Thomas McGuane
To Skin a Cat
Gallatin Canyon
Crow Fair

Russell Banks
The Angel on the Roof

2/22/16: Oh that MA winter, that father-son relationship.

Bobbie Ann Mason
Shiloh and Other Stories

2/22/16: Log cabin and dust ruffle.

* * *
* *

HotASS 8

EIGHTH Installment (1941-1945) *** THE LOTUS FLOWER of THE FORM

Two retrospectives just recently out – – –

Main Event ::

Steven Millhauser
We Others: New & Selected Stories

Joy Williams
The Visiting Privilege: New & Collected Stories


Context & Atmosphere ::

Paul Theroux
The Consul’s File* interlinked stories
The Elephanta Suite

John Edgar Wideman

Frederick Busch
Don’t Tell Anyone

Stuart Dybek**
The Coast of Chicago
Ecstatic Cahoots

Barry Hannah
High Lonesome
Long, Last, Happy

James Alan McPherson
Elbow Room

Alice Walker
In Love & Trouble

Richard Ford
A Multitude of Sins
Rock Springs
Women with Men

Barry Lopez* meditative prose poems
Field Notes
Light Action in the Caribbean

Robert Olen Butler
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

Thom Jones****
The Pugilist at Rest

Richard Bausch
Rare & Endangered Species

Joan Silber
Ideas of Heaven** interconnected

Laura Furman
Drinking with the Cook

Tobias Wolff
In the Garden of the North American Martyrs
Our Story Begins

Deborah Eisenberg**
Under the 82nd Airborne
All Around Atlantis
Twilight of the Superheroes

* * *
* *

HotASS 9

NINTH Installment (1946-1950) *** The Outside of the Golden Curve

Like last month, we’ll do two retrospectives of major figures – – –

Main Event ::

Charles Baxter
Gryphon (Library: kindle)

Ann Beattie
The New Yorker Stories
(In mail)


Context & Atmosphere ::

Ursula Hegi
Hotel of the Saints

Mary Hood
And Venus is Blue

Tim O’Brien
The Things They Carried

Diane Williams
Fine Fine Fine (Library: kindle)

Don West
Perfect Relationships

David Gates***
The Wonders of the Invisible World
A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me (library: kindle, audio)
4/7/16: novella started a bit in, not finished yet…

Allan Gurganus
White People (library: kindle)

Mark Helprin
Ellis Island & Other Stories
The Pacific and Other Stories

Ron Carlson
Hotel Eden (library: one story audio)

Lydia Davis
All: (library: kindle)
Break It Down
Samuel Johnson is Indignant
Varieties of Disturbance
Almost No Memory
Can’t & Won’t

Valerie Martin
Sea Lovers (library: kindle)

Christine Schutt**
Nightwork (library: kindle hold placed)
A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer

Mary Robison
An Amateur’s Guide to the Night
Tell Me

Dorothy Allison

Jamaica Kincaid
At the Bottom of the River (library: kindle)

Denis Johnson
Jesus’ Son
(In mail)

Richard Russo
The Whore’s Child and Other Stories (library: kindle)

Mary Gordon***
The Stories of Mary Gordon
(Library: kindle, but not this collection:)
Temporary Shelter
4/7/16: Nora stories

Karen Joy Fowler
Black Glass

Dagoberto Gilb
Before the End, After the Beginning
Woodcuts of Women

* * *
* *

HotASS 10

TENTH Installment (1951-1960) *** The Second Wave

Getting really close to the present moment! This is an interesting juxtaposition, cuz the Gaitskill book was written in 1988, and the Saunders in 2000 — the first when I was in high school, the second I can practically still remember it coming out…

Main Event ::

Mary Gaitskill
Bad Behavior
“A Romantic Weekend”: “hunk of white-frosted raisin pastries in a red paper bag…the vulgar cake appealed to him…”

George Saunders


Context & Atmosphere ::

Amy Hempel**
The Complete Stories

Padgett Powell
Aliens of Affection
(Not this but others at library/kindle)

Breece D’J Pancake
The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake (library:kindle)

Jayne Anne Phillips
Black Tickets
Fast Lanes

Ron Rash
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Burning Bright

Ken Kalfus
PU-239 & Other Russian Fantasies

Elizabeth Tallent*
In Constant Flight
Mendocino Fire (library/kindle)

Andrea Barrett
Ship Fever

Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street
Woman Hollering Creek

Jay McInerney
How It Ended: New & Collected Stories

Gish Jen
Who’s Irish?

Ha Jin
The Bridegroom
A Good Fall
Under the Red Flag
Ocean of Words

Percival Everett
Half an Inch of Water

Jim Shepard
You Think That’s Bad

David Sedaris
Barrel Fever

Susan Minot
Lust and Other Stories

Beth Bosworth
The Source of Life and Other Stories

Joan Wickersham
The News from Spain: 7 Variations on a Love Story

Melanie Rae Thon**
In This Light: New & Selected Stories

Lorrie Moore
Like Life
Birds of America

Rick Bass***
The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness
In the Loyal Mountains

Charles D’Ambrosio
The Dead Fish Museum

James Lasdun
It’s Beginning to Hurt
Three Evenings

Chris Offutt*
Kentucky Straight

William Vollmann
13 Stories & 13 Epitaphs
Last Stories and Other Stories

Ethan Canin
The Palace Thief

Noy Holland
The Spectacle of the Body

* * *
* *

HotASS 11

ELEVENTH Installment (1961-1970) *** The Currency of the Realm

So these are basically the people who currently run the bizness. I decided to go with one (already) canonical dude and one up & comer, for the sake of getting a sense of both sides of the era.

Main Event ::

David Foster Wallace
Brief Encounters with Hideous Men (library kindle)

Elizabeth McCracken
Thunderstruck & Other Stories


Context & Atmosphere ::

Antonya Nelson*
Female Trouble
Some Fun
(Neither on library/kindle)

David Leavitt
The Marble Quilt

Tom Perrotta
Nine Inches
(No library/kindle)

Rick Moody
The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven
Demonology: “…he would burn the damn thing plank by plank and heat the house with the past tense of her…”

A. M. Homes
Things You Should Know
The Safety of Objects
(Neither on library/kindle)

David Foster Wallace
Girl with Curious Hair

Jennifer Egan
Emerald City (hold placed library/kindle)
6/9: “Why China?”

Michael Chabon
A Model World & Other Stories
(At library/kindle)

Jonathan Lethem*
Men and Cartoons
Lucky Alan and Other Stories (audio)
(Both at library/kindle)

Pinckney Benedict
Town Smokes
(Not at library/kindle)

Aleksandar Hemon
Love and Obstacles
(At library/kindle)

Dan Chaon
Stay Awake
(At library kindle & audio)

John Keene
(Not at library)

Lan Samantha Chang*
(At library/kindle)

Elizabeth McCracken
Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry

Sherman Alexie*
The Toughest Indian in the World
War Dances
Ten Little Indians
(All at library/kindle)

Steve Almond
My Life in Heavy Metal

Jhumpa Lahiri*
Interpreter of Maladies
Unaccustomed Earth
(Both at library/kindle & audio, place hold on UE kindle)

Allegra Goodman
The Family Markowitz
(Not at library)

Adam Johnson
(Not at library)

Ben Marcus
Leaving the Sea
The Age of Wire and String
(Not at library)

Junot Diaz
This is How You Lose Her

Sam Lipsyte
The Fun Parts
(Not at library/kindle)

Aimee Bender
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

Kelly Link
Magic for Beginners
Get in Trouble

Edwidge Danticat
The Dew Breaker

Nathan Englander
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

* * *
* *

HotASS 12

TWELFTH Installment (1970-present) *** The Now

This is what’s currently happening:

Main Event ::

Wells Tower
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
7/29: “The necking got fairly grave, but nothing irreparable took place.”

Claire Vaye Watkins

Of interest to those of you who’re reading/have read Watkins’ Battleborn is this essay, where she at one point seems to sort of disown it: — Colin


Context & Atmosphere ::

Jamie Quatro
I Want to Show You More
(No library)

J. Robert Lennon
Pieces for the Left Hand
(Not this but another collection at library/kindle, audio)
7/2/16: read that one about the time portal before, it’s okay

Maile Meloy
Half in Love
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It
(No library/kindle)

Lysley Tenorio
7/5/16: title story: fun, good, twisty, but not inspired to read much more

Yiyun Li**
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
(No library/kindle)

ZZ Packer
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
(On hold library/kindle)

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
Barefoot Dogs
(No library/kindle)

Anthony Doerr
The Shell Collector
Memory Wall
(No library/kindle)

Rivka Galchen
American Innovations
7/6/16 “the lost order” is like basically my life without the chicken mystery so I can’t continue these stories

Charles Yu
Sorry Please Thank You
(On hold library/kindle)

Daniel Alarcon**
War by Candlelight
(No library/kindle)

Rebecca Makkai
Music for Wartime
(No library/kindle)

Lydia Peelle**
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing (library kindle)
7/11/16: “mule killers” dead women and eternal asparagus

Benjamin Percy
The Language of Elk
(No library/kindle)

Ramona Ausubel
A Guide to Being Born
(At library audio only)

Karen Russell
Vampires in the Lemon Grove
St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (library audio)
7/2/16: fantasticalistic

Laura van den Berg**
The Isle of Youth
(No library/kindle)

Amelia Gray**
(At library/kindle)
FSG originals

Callan Wink*
Dog Run Moon
(At library/kindle)

[Here follow all the authors whose birth dates I wasn’t able to determine, and so it may be the case that some of them are supposed to be elsewhere in the chronology, but alas…]

Peter Orner
Esther Stories
Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge
(Both at library/kindle)

Lauren Holmes
Barbara the Slut and Other People
(No library)

Alice Elliott Dark*
In the Gloaming
(No library)

Julie Hecht
Do the Windows Open?
(No library)

Jack Livings
The Dog
(At library/kindle)

Polly Dugan
So Much a Part of You
(No library)

David James Poissant
The Heaven of Animals
(No library)

Violet Kupersmith
The Frangipani Hotel
(At library/kindle)

Daniel Orozco
Orientation and Other Stories
(No library)

Elizabeth Evans
Suicide’s Girlfriend
(At library/ kindle)

Sara Majka
Cities I’ve Never Lived In
(At library/kindle)

Justin Taylor
(At library/kindle and audio)
6/7/16: “Carol, Alone” ripe reading for visiting Florida

Thomas Pierce
Hall of Small Mammals
(At library/audio)
6/8/16: What A. Gass lol

Adam Haslette**

* * *
* *


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