Sunday, October 26, 2008

Story after story

For someone who claims not to be a big fan of short stories, I sure have read a lot of them lately. These collections since mid-August:

Carlos Fuentes: Happy Families
David Foster Wallace: Oblivion
Daniel Handler: Adverbs
Sana Krasikov: One More Year
Théophile Gautier: My Fantoms

I have found that short stories make for excellent reading:
— while waiting for my morning coffee
— in the bathroom
— on the morning métro commute
— at lunch
— whenever I need a break from my workday
— on the evening métro commute
— while watching the stove
— while the girl splashes in her bath
— while pretending to watch hockey
— at bedtime

Short stories provide a kind of instant gratification that I seem to be craving lately. Certainly I needed these bursts to balance some of my other long and slow reading. They're easy enough to start — and finish! — in the interstices of plodding days.

Currently, I'm midway through Dumas's The Last Cavalier, but earlier this week, reading in an overcrowded train about plots to assassinate Napoleon, I suddenly felt both lost and under siege. So I set it aside, to wait for the smoke to clear. And I turned to Doris Lessing's Stories.

I love the feel of this book — its physical presence. It's new in the catalogue of Everyman's Library. I have a couple other books of this imprint, and they're a real pleasure to read and to carry. If you didn't know:

Everyman's Library pursues the highest standards, utilizing modern prepress, printing, and binding technologies to produce classically designed books printed on acid-free natural-cream-colored text paper and including Smyth-sewn, signatures, full-cloth cases with two-color case stamping, decorative endpapers, silk ribbon markers, and European-style half-round spines.


The Everyman's hardcover has peculiar, but perfect, dimensions. Weighty, but somehow in its compactness perfectly weighted. It just feels good!

So I'm reading Doris Lessing again. I've never felt compelled to search out and read in its entirety her oeuvre, and I'm starting to wonder why not. I've immensely enjoyed everything of hers that I've read, and while I truly to believe her work to be Important, my interest in it has been very reasonable — I have not obsessively hunted down obscure or out-of-print works, nor have I compulsively snapped up her latest releases. When I read her, I am pleasantly surprised and reassured to find that it is good. And I am fortunate to have this leisurely but strong relationship with an author, relieved that it is unlikely I will run out her books to read for many years yet to come.

In 1969, Doris Lessing was written about in Time Magazine:

Fans of British Novelist Doris Lessing talk about a composite character called the Lessing Woman in much the same way as people once talked about the Hemingway Man. The Lessing Woman is a formidable female. She hasn't been to a university but she has read everything and remembers it. Her ideals are high and unsullied. She works (or has worked) at lost political causes. Although she loathes marriage, she gamely raises children and endures domestic woes. She cooks well, keeps a spotless house (except when depressed) and does excellent writing, research or secretarial work. She is any man's moral and intellectual superior, and she rarely hesitates to tell him so.


I can't say I've ever heard anyone called a Lessing Woman, though I know a few. I don't think I qualify myself — I'm less political, more naturally maternal, and my house is far from spotless. But there are days I think it's something to aspire to.

The stories were drawn from collections previously published in 1957, 1963, and 1972. They are bleak, in quite a beautiful way, and very real.

Here's one Doris Lessing story (not in the collection I'm reading) I found online: "A Mild Attack of Locusts."

I'll share more about the stories in this particular collection as I progress.
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