A while ago I mentioned my reading block and I may have mentioned various methods of trying to cure said reading block. And though I’m not cured I have since finished two good books and I figured, in the spirit of nothing except maybe procrastination, I’d talk a little about these books.
One is a short story collection written by various writers, edited by Conrad Williams, called DEAD LETTERS. And the other is a little gem from China Miéville called THIS CENSUS-TAKER.
THIS CENSUS-TAKER is a wonderful little novella with dreamlike atmosphere and a story that’s vague and compelling on many levels. It is about childhood and the adults relationship with their childhood. The legends of childhoods become apparent, and this novel gives insight into the mythology we create for ourselves. The vagueness of the language and of the story becomes a thing in itself, connoting the shrouds of memories we have of what once was so close and apparent.
Miéville has a way of sneaking up behind me and surprising me and I like that in a novelist. I recommend you read this book, whoever you are and whatever relationship you have with your childhood, clear or unclear.
DEAD-LETTERS is a short story collection where each author was prompted to write about a letter that was lost in the mail, real letters. Williams even sent them a parcel, according to the foreword, which was made to look like it was lost in the mail which had their prompt in it. Now that’s dedication.
I think the concept of this is really interesting. What comes to the different writers mind when receiving such a prompt? How different are the stories?
There is something very compelling about letters that were never delivered. Old letters that contained words that didn’t arrive at the receivers door at all or much too late for whatever message the letters had to convey. It’s an interesting concept and the stories really reflect that.
Now you might be thinking that a prompt like this might bring stories that are conceptually more or less the same, that the concept has limits which would render the stories a like in some fundamental way, but that’s far from the truth. Though they all have the common element of a “dead letter” these stories are vastly different in form and subject. All the stories were thoroughly enjoyable, though two stuck out. One was Lisa Tuttle’s THE HUNGRY HOTEL, which I loved for very egoistical personal reasons. It was a great story, and one where I constantly thought: “I could have written this! This is right up my alley!” (egoistical, I know, and possibly I was completely wrong too. Tuttle has different style, and a great way with words) all the way to the end where she just blew me away and I was left in love with the story but a bit disgruntled because I would NEVER have thought of ending it where she did. It was just perfect. And now I see it as a bit of a personal challenge to think a little more about where I end my stories.
The other story that pushed some buttons in me was Nicholas Royle’s LONDON. It confused the hell out of me, but it had such compelling, charming, illusory story teller and in the end I was left wondering what the HELL I’d read and if I should read it again to see if it really had been what I thought it was. A great story that leaves you wondering.
There were other stories that left me wondering as well. I’d go so far as to say that ALL the stories in this book are excellent. A great concept for a short story collection and as soon as I was finished with it (late last night) I ventured into the vast virtual bookshelves of amazon to try and find a book with similar idea behind it. This is how short story anthologies should be!
I ended up downloading HOUSE OF FEAR which is edited by Jonathan Oliver. We’ll see if that one delivers as well. The concept isn’t as cool, but I have a soft spot for haunted houses. 🙂
Other books I’m not not reading at the moment are:
HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski
VÅRAN HUD, VÅRAT BLOD, VÅRA BEN (Our skin, our blood, our bones) a short story collection by John Ajvide Lindqvist
THREE MOMENTS OF AN EXPLOSION: STORIES a short story collection by China Miéville
THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS by Kurt Vonnegut
ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood
… I know… I have issues.
Now go and read more books, preferably beginning with these!