Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Most Influential Short Stories

Robert recently wrote a web log entry on the movies and books that most influenced him, so I decided to take a break from my Justin Timberlake research to discuss this subject. Unfortunately, I've already deleted nearly this entire post on account of its being boring. Can you believe that? OK, the movies part wasn't so bad, but The Lord of the Rings, Revenge, and Walden for books? The Lord of the Rings proves I'm a nerd, Revenge proves I enjoyed pulp fiction in high school, and Walden proves I was sophomoric as a college sophomore (thank god I was never exposed to Ayn Rand). I suppose the stuff about The Brothers Karamazov and The Power and the Glory were decent, but not enough to maintain reader interest in a web log in which readers come to expect the highest quality of script. So I deleted all that nonsense, changed the title, and rewrote this intro, wiping out the previous mess so thoroughly that it's as if it never happened. So let's talk about influential short stories.

The Most Dangerous Game

An 8th grade English teacher was tuned in to what adolescents care to read. She sat us down in a circle as if we were 3rd graders and read stories that she thought we'd actually like. We didn't have to write about them or point out symbolism; we were just supposed to enjoy them. I remember Jack London's "To Build a Fire" and a Sherlock Holmes story, but the one that got me fired up was "The Most Dangerous Game." The teacher started reading the story, but the period ended before she could finish (now that I think about it, she probably did it on purpose). I actually went to the library, used the Dewey Decimal system to hunt down the short story collection, and read the story all the way through. I remember being so dizzy with my flight of fancy that I didn't even know what happened at the end. By the way, that's when you know a story works -- when you're so excited about it that you can no longer pay attention.
Neighbor Rosicky
Minette just asked me which Willa Cather novel to read, and I had to confess that I think they're all as boring as cornfields. After reading "Neighbor Rosicky" by Cather, I proclaimed her to be my favorite writer. When I tried to read the novels of my favorite author, I was disappointed that she couldn't duplicate the sentimental magic that made this story feel like something Norman Rockwell would have written. Back then, that was a good thing. Maybe it still is. Maybe I like Norman Rockwell and pizza with ham and pineapple.
Water Liars
I loved this Barry Hannah story when I read it in a book called American Short Story Masterpieces, which is an anthology that includes masterpieces of short stories by Americans. "Water Liars" actually made its way into a book called Yonder Stands Your Orphan. Wendy and Minette read it for their book club. They HATED it, so they asked me to explain to them why I liked it so much. I told them it was funny and poignant, but they glared at me as if I'd just tried to explain why Carrot Top is a hilarious comedian. Maybe it's a guy thing. Water Liars, I mean, not Carrot Top. I don't think he's all that funny. Carrot Top, that is.
I still think "Gooseberries" is the most beautiful short story I've ever read.


  1. For me, it was the pentouse forum letters:
    "I never thougth something like this would happen to me. . ."

  2. But seriously, I want to hear more about Brian. I think Brian might have been my friend Tommy, and I want confirmation.

  3. I should reprint my letter to Penthouse. I'll try to dig it up. Oh, and I'll get back to Brian. That's a 3-part series.

  4. Thank you for your consideration.

  5. minette, the correct answer is, Death Comes for the Archbishop. though you'll want to be certain to read my personally annotated version (ie, i wrote in the margins). it has notes like, "insert car chase here" and "insert another car chase here." also, i sometimes draw shapes (usually cubes and stacks of triangles) and faces with crazy eyes.

    you know what chapped me off about that book? the title totally gives away the ending. i mean, can you possibly have a more spoiler-y spoiler than that? the only thing we get to speculate on is HOW he dies. and by the end of the book, we're hoping it's something kind of dramatic, because we've earned it.

    little known fact: "Death Comes for the Archbishop" is the world's longest anagram -- the text is exactly the same read forward and backward, letter for letter!

  6. Water Liars is indeed a fantastic story, as is Gooseberries. I'm also a big fan of your letter to Penthouse, which is a classic of the Friday Story genre (or would you call that more of an oeuvre?). I'm pretty sure I can find a copy somewhere if you can't.

  7. Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis MacComber." The true nature of women is revealed with striking clarity.

    Or Penthouse Letters - they're pretty insightful too.