Richard’s January Recommendation

Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes

mr wonderfulRichard says:  “Mister Wonderful is Daniel Clowes’s examination of ‘midlife romance’ (in fact, that is this graphic novel’s tagline).  In his typically sardonic style, Clowes follows two middle-aged divorcees and their developing relationship.  Friends set Marshall and Natalie up on a blind date; however, no one expects it to work out as well as it does—including the cynical protagonists.  Marshall is a nervous, self-effacing schlub with a heart of gold; Natalie is an attractive, neurotic, intelligent woman with a wry sense of humor.  Despite their initial misgivings, both characters are surprised by how much they have in common.  The story is told from Marshall’s perspective such that the plot is filtered through his myriad fixations, desires, and expectations.  Just the same, readers get glimpses of Natalie’s character through a combination of Daniel Clowes’s careful characterization and Marshall’s observations.

Inevitably, there is a disconnect between the characters’ expectations and reality.  Just the same, in spite of their personal quirks, encounters with questionable exes, purse-snatching thieves, and Marshall’s incessantly self-deprecating interior monologue, Marshall and Natalie are a good match.  Daniel Clowes’s works tend toward melancholy (for instance, the classic Ghost World) and Mister Wonderful retains his signature wistful tone.  Nevertheless, this hopeful piece is informed as much by Clowes’s superb artwork as his insightful, bemused take on human nature.  As such, this graphic novel is a surprising, (relatively) optimistic read by one of this medium’s major talents.”

3 Similar Reads

Over Easy by Mimi Pond – “A dropout from higher education and the career rat race of 1970s California, Pond (The Simpsons TV scripts and five humor books) takes refuge in blue-collar work: waitressing at a popular Oakland diner. So different from her own confusion and naïveté, her wisecracking new colleagues seem appealingly exotic—the boss, for instance, hires staff by asking candidates to tell a joke or relate a dream.” – Library Journal

Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps by Art Spiegelman – “Spiegelman’s influence on graphic narrative cannot be overstated, and most libraries serving college-age readers and older should add this lavish and colorful retrospective to the graphic arts collection as well as to the graphic novels shelf.” – Library Journal

Building Stories by Chris Ware – ““Ware has been consistently pushing the boundaries for what the comics format can look like and accomplish as a storytelling medium…More than anything, though, this graphic novel mimics the kaleidoscopic nature of memory itself—fleeting, contradictory, anchored to a few significant moments, and a heavier burden by the day. In terms of pure artistic innovation, Ware is in a stratosphere all his own.” – Booklist


Kim’s September Recommendations

This month, Kim recommends two diverse short story collections.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot DiazBlasphemy by Sherman Alexie

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Kim says: “I often have a volume of short stories available on my nightstand.  Both of these offer concise, intense portraits of the American life.  This is How you Lose Her follows a recurring Diaz character, Yunior, a Dominican-American living in and around New Jersey.  The stories are raw, sprinkled with slang and Spanish.  I read every story within a day or two of picking up the book.  A different American experience is found in Alexie’s new compilation of stories about Native Americans  in the Pacific Northwest. This volume contains fascinating characters and insights into a world not easily experienced here in Chicagoland.”

anthologyWant to read more short stories of other cultures? Check out this anthology of short stories edited by Daniel Halpern entitled The Art of the Story. The collection includes seventy-eight contributors from thirty-five countries. Some are rarely translated stories. Pick it up and read a few, or the whole thing!

Weekly Spotlight On…The Short Story

tenth of decemberTwo books have been released recently that have drawn attention to that oft-neglected form of storytelling: the short story.  Tenth of December by George Saunders came out early in January, and drew attention when the New York Times Magazine boldly hailed it as the “best book you’ll read this year”.  Quite a statement for so early on into 2013.  As someone who enjoys the occasional short story collection, I joined the literary masses and borrowed Tenth of December from the library–and, unlike so many books that I read that receive so much hype, this one did not in any way disappoint.  There is something to be said about an excellent short story, an achievement that is made that no novel can make.  In fact, I believe that it is harder to write a single excellent short story thanvampires in the lemon grove to write a 500 page novel.  There is so much thought and feeling that needs to be expressed in a very limited amount of time, that sometimes one single ten page short story packs more of a wallop than an epic novel (two great examples of this are Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Ray Bradbury’s All Summer In A Day).  The second book that is making a splash on the literary scene today is Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  This is Russell’s second publication after her wildly successful debut novel Swamplandia!, and it is also a collection of bizarre, highly imaginative, and poignant short stories.  It has already gotten rave reviews and I am sure that we will see a growing holds list at the library in the next couple of weeks.  The best short story collections are also like the best music albums–each individual story and the order in which they are read contribute to the book as a whole.  In the spirit of the recent short story craze, I have provided a select list of other fantastic short story collections that are truly rewarding to read.

the pugilist at restThe Pugilist At Rest by Thom Jones

This outstanding collection of short stories was a National Book Award finalist in 1993, and is one of my personal favorites.  These mostly hard-luck stories are dark, gritty, existential, occasionally heartbreaking, and occasionally gruesome.  Yet despite the intensity of these stories, his characters are often portrayed with a sensitivity that allows the reader to empathize with each and every one of them.  Jones’ prose is abrasive yet refined, allowing stories that would ordinarily be interpreted as sensational and unrealistic instead be devastatingly real.  These stories have impact, and this collection is truly one of a kind.

amy hempelThe Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel

Many short story writers attempt to write in the minimalistic style, but many do not succeed.  Or, they simply become a similar voice among many.  Not so with Amy Hempel.  While many of her stories are told in sparing, imagistic prose, she writes in a truly unique voice.  Hempel doesn’t waste a single word in describing the thoughts and feelings of those she portrays, and for this reason her stories are deeply emotional and affective.  While Hempel is known to active seekers of the short story, she is not as well known in larger literary circles.  If you have read George Saunders’ Tenth of December and loved it, then you’ll love these stories, too.

krikkrakKrik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

This was nominated for the National Book Award in 1995.  “Examining the lives of ordinary Haitians, particularly those struggling to survive under the brutal Duvalier regime, Danticat illuminates the distance between people’s desires and the stifling reality of their lives.  Spare, elegant and moving, these stories cohere into a superb collection.”

drownDrown by Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz earned major buzz in 2012 for his short story collection This Is How You Lose Her and for winning the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  If you haven’t read any of his books, you should.  If you’ve read the two that have received the most media attention and loved them, I highly recommend you go back to the beginning and pick up Drown.  This collection is slightly more academic in tone, but it still contains Diaz’s unique and gritty portrayals of life in the Dominican Republic and in the rough areas of New Jersey.

jesus' sonJesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

This set of short stories is unique in that they all share the same disagreeable narrator, a “lowlife of mythic proportions who abuses drugs, booze, and people with reckless indifference. But this eventually recovering slacker reveals in these deceptively thin tales a psyche so tormented and complex that we allow him his bleak redemption” (Library Journal).  Some people may recognize the title as a 1999 movie starring Billy Crudup–the short story collection is far more magnificent and moving.

things they carriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

This may seem like an obvious choice, but I couldn’t leave this one off the list.  While it was marketed as a novel when released, it is more of a hybrid of short stories/essays/recollections of the Vietnam War.  So, be warned, this is not light reading.  The novel itself is narrated by the writer 20 years after the Vietnam War, but the stories themselves center around a platoon of foot soldiers fighting in 1970.  This is a great example of short stories coming together as a whole–you shouldn’t read just one story from this collection, you should read the whole compilation from beginning to end.

Booklist Online’s Shelf Renewal blog also has a great list of short story collections that you should read.  Find it here!

Sue’s August Recommendation

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I just finished A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  It is a novel of interrelated short stories about different people and in different voices spanning a period of more than 30 years (starting in the early 80’s and ending in the year 2020).  I liked the way Egan reveals her characters through different vantage points as they inevitably age and change.  I was in college in the early 80’s, so I enjoyed all the punk music reference.   As one critic stated “I wish there was a soundtrack to this novel.”

Read about it or request it from the library catalog.

You can find this book in the library at CALL # FICTION EGAN, in with the new books.

Claudia’s June Recommendation

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

“The life of Olive Kitteridge, a retired school teacher in a small coastal town in Maine, is revealed through thirteen narratives spun into a novel.   These stories (some previously published in the New Yorker) feature Olive as a focus, a supporting character, or even just a footnote.  Though dealing with aging, loss of love and the imminence of death, the author’s prose affirms life’s pleasures.  The stories have an easy to read balance of human longing, disappointment, hope and love, charged with  emotion, irony and humor.”

Read about it or request it in the library catalog. 

This title is located in the library at Call # FICTION STROUT

Katie’s April Recommendation


Fearless Girls, Wise Women and Beloved Sisters by Kathleen Ragan

“The stories come from all around the world and are shorter to read on the go. The different folktales show different perspectives on the boring folktales we might have grown up with while also showing the feminine relationships of the characters.”

Read About It

Request It

Or find it in the Library under 398.2082/RAG.

Pat’s February Recommendation

jacketcay36l4bThe Afterlife and other stories by John Updike

Review from Library Journal: “In Olinger Stories (1964), Updike wrote knowingly about the pangs of adolescence. In Too Far To Go (1979), he focused with equal insight on the family and material crises typical of middle age. Now, after publishing more than 40 volumes of fiction, poetry, and essays, he concentrates on aging protagonists and the abundant evidence of mortality that surrounds them. In these mellow, reflective stories, where parents die and grandchildren are born, Updike’s heroes are acutely aware of lost glory yet discover the strength to persevere. In “Short Easter,” for example, the start of daylight-saving time cuts an hour off the holiday, and this odd truncation evokes for the central character larger personal losses. As usual, Updike’s narration is masterful, but a few stories seem to be reworkings of the same basic plot.”

You can find this title in the library under the call number SS UPDIKE. Find this title in the library catalog.