by Garrett Ashley
It’s a bit late for another summer reading list, but that doesn’t mean the summer’s over! Here are a few of my suggestions, broken up into categories. I have a bit too many on my list to name here, but these are some of my favorite and most anticipated.
Short Story Collections
Dangerous Laughter, by Stephen Millhauser: Millhauser knows how to make the most mundane things unusual, and the most unusual things magical and extraordinary. The first story, “Cat ‘N’ Mouse” (the opening cartoon) is a straightforward telling of Tom and Jerry, told in fragmented segments, with deeply existential sections sprinkled in between. I didn’t know a story like this was even possible—reading Tom and Jerry is a different experience than watching the cartoon. “The Room in the Attic” is about the relationship between the protagonist and a shy young girl who, because her room is always drenched in darkness, the protagonist never sees. I haven’t finished Dangerous Laughter yet, but Millhauser has recently become one of my favorite writers. There’s no one else like him.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell: I feel like Russell is probably old news now (as old, maybe, as this, her first collection). But I’d feel weird if I excluded her from my list. Her novel, Swamplandia!, narrowly avoided winning a Pulitzer (?), and Girls Raised by Wolves sports the story that became the novel. Alongside the title story, which is about a bunch of wolf girls becoming young ladies, there’s a story about kids sledding down dunes on the backs of giant crabs, a matador father, and a brother on the hunt for his ghost sister. Russell is one of the best literary/fantasy hybrid writers I know of.
Tenth of December, by George Saunders: I read this one when it came out, and afterwards went out and bought Pastoralia and CivilWarlLand in Bad Decline. Neither of which I’ve read yet, but they look pretty on my shelf (as most Riverhead books are wont to be). Saunders doesn’t seem to have a niche, as far as I know (I don’t know a lot about him, anyway). There are a couple of science fiction stories here mixed in with the weird and ordinary. One story that’s stayed with me since I read it was “The Semplica Girl Diaries”, which examines class, slavery, and trust. The narrator thinks he can be somehow better than his rich neighbors by purchasing (spending a ton of money they don’t have on) a group of “oriental” (?) women to sit in swings on a tree in the front yard. When the women escape (I won’t say how they escape), the narrator finds himself in a legal dilemma.
A Guide to Being Born, by Ramona Ausubel: I loved every one of these stories. My favorite of the batch is “Chest of Drawers,” which is about a soon-to-be father who discovers bony drawers embedded in his chest. There’s also a story about arms that grow out of your torso when you’re in love. They get bigger the more you fall in love with someone, so you can’t hide your true feelings from your significant other. They’re called “love arms.” Go figure.
Tinkers & Enon, by Paul Harding: Tinkers, the Pulitzer prize winning novel, is short, but I wouldn’t call it light reading. It’s the fragmented story of two generations of men and George’s trouble with mental health. Enon, Harding’s recent novel, is kind of a sequel (I think), but I don’t exactly know how it’s going to play out. I’m going to work through Enon when I finish Dangerous Laughter.
The Kings and Queens of Roam, by Daniel Wallace: The author of Big Fish tells the story of two sisters living in Roam, one who is blind and beautiful and one who is sighted and incredibly ugly (Wallace’s words, not mine). There are giant lumberjacks, ghosts, silkworms, and hidden communities. The novel probably has the prettiest cover of my list, too.
The Southern Reach trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer: Technically, the third book in the series doesn’t release until September, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading this. I’m still not sure whether to call it science fiction or fantasy. But it’s speculative, and most importantly, uncanny. The series is full of mystery, suspense, and horror.
McSweeny’s 45: The “Ray Bradbury and Alfred Hitchcock Fistfight in Heaven” issue.
Ploughshares, Spring 2012: Edited by Nick Flynn.
The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House