February 3, 2021 § Leave a comment
Malaysia is currently under extended lockdown again. Our daily Covid-19 cases have been increasing in the past couple of months, reaching our all-time high of more than 5,000 just about a week ago. The slight optimism with which I had ended the year with in December 2020 is fast evaporating.
The overall vibe of the world is not an encouraging one, and it affects me rather deeply. Still, I try. Don’t we all?
Reading-wise, I started the year quite well, with my third Keigo Higashino book. I had written about my thoughts on this earlier.
Following that, I chose My Wish List by Grégoire Delacourt. I had high expectations for the book, mostly because it came highly recommended by a friend whose taste I trust. Perhaps I set them too high. But while it was not the best book I’ve read in recent times, it did have its charms. On the cover, it reads
If you won the lottery, would you trade your life for the life of your dreams?
How intriguing, I had thought. It was a complex question, one that felt so simple on the surface, yet packed so many layers of meaning and contemplation beneath, and it boasted of a type of burning soul-searching to get to the core. And that’s where I thought the book fell a bit short. There were moments, of course, where I felt the pain Jocelyne felt, the things that she yearned for, and the things she lost, her relationship with herself, with her husband, with her children. And those moments do stay with you for a while afterwards.
I then read Charlie Jane Anders’s Six Months, Three Days, Five Others. It is a collection of six short stories that are out of the world. Literally. These stories explore some pretty out-there scenarios. I did think that I would enjoy this collection more than I did. After all, I thought I had would have enjoyed the absurdity. In actual fact, though, perhaps this book showed me how far I could actually go, or enjoyed going. Not my best choice of read so far.
I ended the month with Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. Absolutely loved this. It was a simple book, but there was also an underlying tension that was going on throughout the story. And I was genuinely surprised when we got to a point in the story when I felt tears streaming down my cheeks. I was not expecting that at all.
We followed Leonard around on his 18th birthday, and this was also the day, he decided, that he was going to shoot his ex-best friend, and then kill himself after. He doesn’t tell us why, because, obviously, he already knows, and we are the ones who are joining him only today. But when we do find out, it hurts us like it hurts Leonard. And yet it is not the most painful thing we are to experience yet.
How important and crucial those small things become when we suddenly realise that we have them. And how painful when we realise that we take them for granted.
This book, as an afterthought, reminds me quite a bit of A Man Called Ove. It was like getting to know a guy, from the inside out. Learning about what he would do on the day he thought would be his last day.
The hurt we carry around with us, our history, our secrets, our burdens. We may not all have the same ones, but we each carry with us something we might never want to reveal to anyone. Sometimes even to ourselves.
March 2, 2020 § Leave a comment
Picked ♦5 from the deck today.
Savages, by Nadia Khan, from KL Noir: White
I don’t read enough local authors. It’s a very personal problem for me, because I think it’s important that we support our local authors, and the best way is always to purchase their books and read them. I’ve got about two handfuls of locally published books, but it’s hardly enough. At least, that’s the way I see it.
That’s why it was important for me to have a whole suit in this short story challenge dedicated to locally published stories. I need to make a conscious effort.
So anyway, back to the short story that I read this morning. It’s by a personal friend, actually, and while she typically writes in Malay, this particular story (as are the others in the anthology) was written in English.
KL Noir is a collection of stories that reveal, or dwell, in the darker side of this metropolitan city that is the capital of Malaysia. What lurks in the shadows? What happens behind closed doors? What monsters hide within all of us?
In a nutshell, Savages is about a woman who makes it her life’s mission to purge the world of its savages: monsters who parade around as men, predators who don’t think twice about the harm their actions cause to their victims. She thinks of herself as a vigilante, a woman who has found strength from a broken past.
It’s a quick read, but perhaps not as dark or twisted as I had expected. I’m curious to see how the other short stories within the anthology fare, but from what I’ve read in her other works, Nadia can go much deeper than she did in this short form story.
February 20, 2020 § 1 Comment
These two cards from the deck today are almost a month late, but instead of berating myself for not being able to strictly keep to the intended timeline, I’ve decided that I can afford to cut myself some slack, and allow myself some leeway to play catch-up now that I’ve finally gotten back some semblance of sanity in daily life.
With that said, let’s have a look at the two short stories that I picked from the deck.
Picked ♠Q from the deck
Gaslighted, by R.L. Stine & Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, from FaceOff
Of the two (or three, depending on how you look at it), I’m only familiar with R.L. Stine. I still remember visiting the school library and picking out Goosebumps books from the shelves. I went through them like a child goes through candy—extremely quickly and with an increased appetite for more. That has been ages ago.
Reading his work again today (albeit in collaboration with two other authors), I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be scary? Creepy? Weird?
I found it easier to read this short story, compared to the first short story I read this year, also from FaceOff. While in that one, I felt a little hesitant, and rather unable to really dip myself into the story, Gaslighted caught my attention right from the word ‘go’. The pace was quick, the manner very brisk.
This is a very well-written short story. Very masterful in its storytelling, with just the right amount of suspense, mixed with doubt and mystery.
Maybe, I’m getting the hang of reading short stories.
Picked ♣5 from the deck
Birthday Girl, by Haruki Murakami, tr. Jay Rubin, from Birthday Stories
The second short story I read today was another Murakami (I’ve just finished Kafka on the Shore, which I will post about in a day or two). And I am reminded yet again why I love this author so much. The writing is always so simple, but so full of life, as if at the very core of his story lies the essence of a certain spirit, something that speaks to us, and through us. (Never forgetting, of course, the magic that his translators, in this case, Jay Rubin, are able to do. Absolutely fantastic work.)
A middle-aged woman is talking to our narrator, telling the story about her 20th birthday, when she was given a chance to make a wish. Any wish at all, she was told, and it would be granted, no questions asked. But she doesn’t tell us what her wish was—after all, “You’re not supposed to tell anybody what you wished for, you know.”
It’s an open ending, as it usually is with all of Murakami’s works. It can be frustrating for some readers, but for me, this is part of the reason why I enjoy reading his work so much. It leaves so much to our own imagination and interpretation, sometimes rereading his books can conjure completely different emotions and interpretations from the first read.
Then again, it could be my bias at work.
(This being a short story written by a Japanese author, I’m including it into my Japanese Literature Challenge 13, hosted by Dolce Bellezza.)
January 14, 2020 § 2 Comments
Picked ♥9 from the deck today:
Hell-Diving Women, by Meghan Mayhew Bergman, from Almost Famous Women
The premise of this collection of short stories by Meghan Mayhew Bergman is an intriguing one. In her own words:
The stories in this collection are born of fascination with real women whose remarkable lives were reduced to footnotes.
How does one turn away a book like this?
In Hell-Diving Women, we are introduced to the world of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a jazz band that is not only all-female, but also “racially-integrated”, something that just wasn’t done back in the 1940s. In the centre of this tornado, is Tiny Davis, though from what we can tell, Tiny is anything but. She is big, loud, strong-willed, and so full of life, she affects everyone around her.
But this story is not only about Tiny. It is also about Ruby, the woman next to the woman. It is Ruby who has Tiny’s back. It is Ruby who watches out for her, who worries when she goes overboard, who stands up for her when she picks a fight. Tiny is boisterous and outgoing. Tiny loves the stage, and the audience love her, too. Ruby is a replacement, a back-up for anyone who’s out sick or down with the flu. She can be anyone, and yet she is no one.
But when Tiny walks up to Ruby and whispers in her ear, “You and me, baby,” Ruby feels her heart flutter, and her stomach do a little butterfly dance. And you get goosebumps, because Ruby gets goosebumps. She doesn’t say it, but you know she does.
Hell-Diving Women reads like a peek into the real lives of these women; what happens when they’re on the road between gigs, or behind the scenes just before the curtains pull open and send them into the limelight. It’s intriguing, but also mundane; it feels exhilarating, yet so everyday.
And maybe that’s what it’s like, to be almost famous women.
January 4, 2020 § 2 Comments
Picked ♠9 from the deck today:
Red Eye, by Dennis Lehane & Michael Connelly, from FaceOff
This is the first short story I’m reading from this anthology, FaceOff, so I think it might be a good idea to talk about the book briefly before moving on to the story itself.
So this book is a collection of stories, each written by two thriller authors featuring well-known characters from their own books. In each story, the characters meet each other, they face-off, and a story spins from there. The premise is interesting, but perhaps even more interesting for someone who’s an ardent fan of thrillers, and who are familiar with the authors and their beloved characters.
As I read this story, I realised—with quite a surprise, really—that I don’t read a lot of books from the thriller genre. So, while the authors are familiar to me, their characters are definitely not. I didn’t know their ticks, their habits, their individual characteristics. I didn’t know them.
So, I found it a little tough to really get pulled into the story that was unfolding, not because I don’t like thrillers (because I actually do!), but because I couldn’t relate to the two men who were after the same guy. That didn’t sit well with me.
But that’s also not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this story. Because I did. While slightly predictable, the story was presented in a way that kept the pages turning. And that’s one of the things that mark good thrillers—the pages turn themselves.
This is a good start.
January 4, 2020 § 4 Comments
Earlier today, I came across a blog post on Dolce Bellezza about a short story challenge hosted by Jay. And then I thought to myself, this is a great way to get myself reading short stories again. And the way this challenge is designed makes it really interesting. So despite this being the first time I’m hearing about the Deal Me In short story challenge in its tenth year, I’m really keen to join.
So, here’s my short story deck for the year:
♠ SPADES ♠
Like Jay, I’m going with darker stories for this suit. Mysteries and thrillers. The stories in this list will be coming from one of these two books:
- FaceOff, edited by David Baldacci
- In the Shadow of the Master, edited by Michael Connelly
- ♠ 2: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- ♠ 3: The Raven
- ♠ 4: The Black Cat
- ♠ 5: Manuscript Found in a Bottle
- ♠ 6: The Pit and the Pendulum
- ♠ 7: William Wilson
- ♠ 8: Ligeia
- ♠ 9: Red Eye – Dennis Lehane & Michael Connelly
- ♠ 10: Good and Valuable Consideration – Lee Child & Joseph Finder
- ♠ J: In The Nick of Time – Ian Rankin & Peter James
- ♠ Q: Gaslighted – R.L. Stine & Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
- ♠ K: The Devil’s Bones – Steve Berry & James Rollins
- ♠ A: The Laughing Buddha – M.J. Rose & Lisa Gardner
♥ HEARTS ♥
Focusing an entire suit on women writers, and I’ve got four books of selected stories by four authors to choose from:
- Carried Away, by Alice Munro
- Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood
- Almost Famous Women, by Megan Mayhew Bergman
- Barbara the Slut, and Other People, by Lauren Holmes
- ♥ 2: Royal Beatings – Alice Munro
- ♥ 3: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro
- ♥ 4: The Moons of Jupiter – Alice Munro
- ♥ 5: Monopoly – Margaret Atwood
- ♥ 6: The Boys at the Lab – Margaret Atwood
- ♥ 7: White Horse – Margaret Atwood
- ♥ 8: Who Killed Dolly Wilde? – Megan Mayhew Bergman
- ♥ 9: Hell-Diving Women – Megan Mayhew Bergman
- ♥ 10: Saving Butterfly McQueen – Megan Mayhew Bergman
- ♥ J: Barbara the Slut – Lauren Holmes
- ♥ Q: New Girls – Lauren Holmes
- ♥ K: How Am I Supposed to Talk to You? – Lauren Holmes
- ♥ A: Carried Away – Alice Munro
♣ CLUBS ♣
For this suit, I’m going with anthologies, selected by three authors that I really admire:
- Birthday Stories, selected by Haruki Murakami
- Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women
- The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith
- ♣ 2: Timothy’s Birthday – William Trevor
- ♣ 3: The Birthday Present – Andrea Lee
- ♣ 4: Close to the Water’s Edge – Claire Keegan
- ♣ 5: Birthday Girl – Haruki Murakami
- ♣ 6: The Young Girl – Katherine Mansfield
- ♣ 7: The Rainy Moon – Colette
- ♣ 8: Aunt Liu – Luo Shu
- ♣ 9: The Loves of Lady Purple – Angela Carter
- ♣ 10: Hanwell Snr – Zadie Smith
- ♣ J: Magda Mandela – Hari Kunzru
- ♣ Q: Puppy – George Sanders
- ♣ K: Cindy Stubenstock – A.M. Homes
- ♣ A: Judith Castle – David Mitchell
♦ DIAMONDS ♦
This last suit of the deck is dedicated to short stories written by Malaysian authors, from the following anthologies published by our local publishers: Fixi Novo, and Word Works.
- KL Noir: Red, edited by Amir Muhammad
- KL Noir: White, edited by Amir Hafizi
- Bitter Root Sweet Fruit, edited by Dipika Mukherjee & Sharon Bakar
- Love in Penang, edited by Anna Tan
- ♦ 2: Mamak Murder Mystery – Marc de Faoite
- ♦ 3: The Unbeliever – Amir Hafizi
- ♦ 4: The Gift of Flowers – Shih-Li Kow
- ♦ 5: Savages – Nadia Khan
- ♦ 6: Breadwinner – Hadi M. Nor
- ♦ 7: Playtime – Arif Zulkifli
- ♦ 8: Mad About Mary – Terence Toh
- ♦ 9: Trail – Bathmaloshanee M.
- ♦ 10: Bird – Ling Low
- ♦ J: Appa’s Mutton Curry – Sumitra Selvaraj
- ♦ Q: Oh, Snap! – Mamü Vies
- ♦ K: Double-Blind – Zen Cho
- ♦ A: Oil on Canvas – Eeleen Lee
So, this is a great way to start off the year. Let’s see how this goes!