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2010 Stories 43 - 45 and Essays 12 - 18

Another batch to discuss:

STORIES

43. Appetite by Said Sayrafiezadeh from the March 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  The main character is a short-order cook whose appetite for life far outreaches his abilities.  One major thing intrigued me about this story: the narrator's voice and phrasing come across as though he is an immigrant, but all references to his past at least imply a childhood in America, including his high school graduation.  I'm curious to know what his background actually is, from the vague hints buried in the story.  The story does a good job of explaining why he is such a submissive person, but I definitely want to know more.

44. Ask Me If I Care by Jennifer Egan from the  March 8, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  This is my second Jennifer Egan story this year.  While "Safari" worked very well for me, this story felt a little too pat.  Set among a 1980s high school punk band gang who are not anywhere near as punk as they think they are, the narrator in particular feels like an fairly stereotypical teenage girl whose pretending to be something she's not in the hopes of becoming something she's not.  The voice just really didn't grab me.

45. The Idiot President by Daniel Alarcon, from The Best American Short Stories 2009.  I reviewed this story back in this post when I first read it in The New Yorker in 2008.  Upon rereading it, I still like it.  Alarcon does a wonderful job of making the story seem about one thing -- a young actor's ambition to move to the USA -- and turn it at the end to show that it's really been about something else all along.  There's acting, there's politics, there's memory.  Very nicely done.

(See, the tags are already coming in handy!)

ESSAYS

12. The Orange and the Blue by Keith Gessen from the March 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  I am the first to admit that I'm not very up on world politics.  This piece is a summary of the Ukranian elections of 2010 and a little bit of the history leading up to that election.  I think I have a little bit of a sense at least of the situation.

13. Strangers on the Mountain by Ben McGrath from the March 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  This one hues a little close to home.  It starts out summarizing the events in April of 2006 in Mahwah, NJ, involving a group of residents and a deadly encounter over ATV use with park rangers who apparently overstepped their boundaries.  It goes on to discuss the history of the locals, often derogatorily called "Jackson Whites" because their racial heritage is a mixed bag of native, african, dutch and possibly other backgrounds.  Their history goes back to the colonial era and they very much seem to be a closed community, although one of the subjects interviewed is a recent homeowner who says she's been nicely welcomed to the area.  Interesting look at a part of NJ I don't visit but drive past.

14. Out of the West: Clint Eastwood's shifting landscape, by David Denby, from the March 8, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  This essay does a very nice job of charting how our image of Eastwood has changed throughout his career, and how much of a hand he's had in crafting that image and causing it to mirror what is on his mind rather than the image forcing him to be someone he's not (an interesting juxtaposition with a biography of  Cary Grant I saw, where he ended up essentially becoming what people thought he was).  I have to say, though, the final tone of the piece feels less like a career-to-date retrospective and more like an In Memoriam piece.

15. A Necessary Crapshoot: Prizes and Awards in the Literary World by Alice Sebold, from The Best American Short Stories 2009.  Sebold is this year's Guest Editor.  Her Introduction to the volume explains how a woman who once despised prizes and awards came to be editing a "Best American" anthology, and then talks about why awards for short stories are so much more important in this current publishing climate.

16. Foreword to The Best American Essays 2009 by Robert Atwan, series editor.  Atwan's foreword to this year's collection attempts to analyze why the Literary Essay, once a staple of writer's careers, has fallen out of favor over the past few decades.  He makes some valid points in regards to how the nature of magazine and newspaper reporting has changed in that time, and how now every fact in an essay has to be triple-checked for accuracy. (Favorite part of the essay: where Atwan ruminates on how Damon Runyon's Broadway essays would be received today, with their merging of real people into fictional creations, etc).

17. Introduction to The Best American Essays 2009 by Mary Oliver, guest editor.  Oliver's very short introduction doesn't say much beyond the fact that she loves essays, she's written lots of them, and her favorite essay writer is Emerson.

18. Taking A Reading by Sue Allison from The Best American Essays 2009.  The first piece in this year's collection is very short, barely two pages.  It seems to be about how we measure the things in our lives.  "How beautiful the language of measurement is," she says in the first paragraph.  But most of the essay is a listing of measurements, with some through-line about how they developed and how they can be misunderstood ... I think.  The essay is a pretty read, but I can't say I really got the point.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
caffyolay
Mar. 9th, 2010 07:53 am (UTC)
Interesting reading about the essays. I'm not a huge essay reader but one collection I did enjoy was by George Orwell - Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays. And Good Bones by Margaret Atwood. I have a collection by Ursula K. Le Guin I need to get to too.

I read a couple of short stories at the weekend so when I've got a few more under my belt will write about them.
talekyn
Mar. 11th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
I'm not a huge essay / article reader either, which is sort of why I'm forcing myself to do this. I won't hit 365 on the essays, I'm sure, but I'll read more this way than I have in previous years. It's funny, because I have no problem reading non-fiction books, but articles really have to shout to get my attention.

Can't wait to hear about the stories you've read!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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