MEN WITHOUT WOMEN by Haruki Murakami | Review

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

{Goodreads.com} 

When did I read this book?: In one sitting on New Year’s Eve! So nice to end the reading year on such a high note.

Where did I read this book?: In a cozy bed–the most comfy reading location there is!

Why did I read this book?: A few of my friends and I always choose a book to read during breaks between semesters and this was our choice for our winter weeks off.

The main strengths of this short story collection can be summed up in three parts: the subject matter, Murakami’s writing style, and how he writes about the subject matter.

+ Subject matter. The title of the story collection implies a very intriguing topic in itself: What about men without women? Is this an advantage? A disadvantage? What struck me as ingenious about these stories is that none of the men are truly without women, for there are a plethora of women characters; rather, these men must go without the woman they truly desire to be with. Some are widowers, some were recently divorced, some cheat on their wives, and some discover that their wives have been cheating on them. These stories do not exude the feeling of celebration; instead, they read as a lament.

+ Writing. Since this collection was my introduction to Murakami, I had no idea what to expect from his writing style–particularly since I would be reading a translation from the original Japanese. I must admit that I’m a sucker for any writing style that for some reason clicks with me–it can completely alter my thoughts on a text–and this collection is no exception. From the first page I was captivated by the simple elegance of Murakami’s writing: not too flowery, not too choppy, not too languid, not too hurried. Personally, I feel as though writing style becomes even more important in short story collections. Apart from overarching themes or topics, the writing style is often the common thread that ties a collection together into a cohesive unit. Here Murakami strikes the perfect balance between changing his style slightly to fit the tone of each story while still maintaining the simplicity and elegance characteristic of his narrative voice.

How he writes about the subject matter. I was a bit hesitant to read this particular collection due to the nature of the subject matter. It’s fairly easy for discussions of failed or past relationships to get pretty ugly (as a semester of reading novels by Philip Roth has shown me), and reading those kinds of texts is never a good time. Reading about adultery always really bothers me, especially when it’s written about in a nonchalant way, as though the person having an affair has every right to do so. However, Murakami writes about this difficult subject matter with tact and emotion, always making the reader feel the weight and gravity of the situation. As a woman reading these stories I did not feel offended; in a strange, unexpected way, I almost felt understood.

The only major weakness of this collection that stuck out to me was the confusing nature of the story “Samsa in Love.” It seems as though another life form has entered the body of a young man for the first time, but it is unclear as to how or why this occurs. I’m sure this lack of clarity is the entire point of the story; however, it’s quite jarring to read after several stories that are fairly straightforward and clear. A bit more solidity from this story would have made it a more powerful, poignant read.

I honestly enjoyed Men Without Women a lot more than I expected to. This was my first book by Murakami, but it certainly won’t be my last!

What are your thoughts on Men Without Women? have any recommendations for what Murakami book I should read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Top Ten Tuesday: Short Stories that Exceed Tall Expectations

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share our favorite short story collections. While I usually prefer reading novels over short stories, I have enjoyed several fantastic collections. Here are a few of my favorites!

Apparently I haven’t read enough short story collections to fill this entire list.. but the ones I have read are excellent!

What are your favorite short story collections? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned here? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

WOMAN HOLLERING CREEK by Sandra Cisneros | Review

Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories explores life of women on both sides of the Mexico-USA border. Although mostly written in English, this short story collection does include bits and pieces of Spanish sprinkled throughout, which I really enjoyed as someone studying Spanish in college. It’s always fun to see how quickly your mind can go between multiple languages without you even realizing it in the moment (especially when you’ve been studying abroad for a while and haven’t had a chance to brush up on your Spanish in far too long…). However, I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely necessary to know Spanish in order to take away a decent amount from this collection. (Although you might be a little confused at times!)

One of my favorite things about this collection is that it mainly focuses on the lives of women from numerous generations. From kids and teenagers to middle-age mothers and beyond, there is something here that everyone will be able to relate to in some form. Here we see women struggling to balance traditional, stereotypical, restrictive expectations of girls and wives with their own desires, ambitions, and happiness. While many of these experiences may be specific to those living in the middle of Mexican and American cultures, Cisneros also taps into seemingly universal themes of love, childhood, motherhood, nostalgia, etc. I finished this book feeling both frustrated at the gender inequality still present in our society and empowered by the prospect of women rising up to where we know we can be.

Woman Hollering Creek also provides a fascinating and important exploration of the culture surrounding the border between Mexico and the USA. For instance, this frontera cultural is reflected in the use of language in the story “Mericans,” the title of which demonstrates the mix of both cultures that form the chicano/a identity. The kids in the story seem like Mexicans from the perspective of the American woman, yet they also speak English. When the American woman is surprised that the kids speak English, one of the boys says: “we’re Mericans.” The name of the identity that with which the kids identify is not exactly American or Mexican; rather, this name represents the border between these two cultures. It’s also an example of a misunderstanding or miscommunication between these two cultures between the kids in the story might believe that they should pronounce “Americans” without the first letter. In this way, the use of language in this story demonstrates the cultural border because the work “Mericans” is a combination of two languages that mix between the physical border as well as the different cultures in these two countries in general.

Overall, Woman Hollering Creek is an incredibly important book in a society that often incorrectly views cultures as contained, distinct, and unchangeable identities. Perhaps if more people read even one of these stories they would have a greater understanding and appreciation for what can happen when people from all nations and backgrounds come together. I would highly recommend this short story collection, regardless of whether or not your Spanish-speaking skills are up to par.

What are your thoughts on Woman Hollering Creek? Any recommendations for other writing by Sandra Cisneros or similar short story collections? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

HEMMED IN edited by M.R. Nelson | ARC Review

Hemmed In is a collection of six short stories written by women, about women. In the words of editor M.R. Nelson, the stories in this collection are about “women, the restrictions on their lives, and the ways they found to make space for themselves despite those restrictions.” When I was offered an ARC of this collection in exchange for an honest review I immediately knew I had to accept. Not only does Hemmed In include a story by Willa Cather, one of my all-time favorite writers, but it also highlights stories and writers that are often forgotten. My favorite aspect of this collection is the common thread that links these stories together: a woman’s role in society, both among men as well as other women. I’ve most often come across short story collections organized by shared time periods or by the same author, but this one struck me as particularly interesting and unique. Since there are only six stories, I’ll share my thoughts on each one:

+ “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. I was sucked into this story from the moment it began. This murder mystery demonstrates a mutual understanding that can exist among women. It emphasizes the importance of being there for each other, being empathetic, and reaching out before it’s too late to do so. Though we may not always realize it, we share similar experiences that we can all learn and grow from.

+ “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin. I read dozens of short stories by Chopin for one of my courses last semester and I love the way she manages to captivate the reader in just a few quick pages. This story counters the idea that mothers are supposed to be eternally selfless. How can you take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself, too? By choosing to splurge and spend money on herself rather than her family, the protagonist shows that women are people with needs, desires, dreams, and wills of their own.

+ “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Unlike the other stories in this collection, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written with a sort of stream of consciousness style as though the protagonist is writing her thoughts in a journal. Though her husband, a physician, repeatedly assures her that time alone will help her “recover,” what she really desires is to play a more active, social role in society. This powerful story of a supposedly “sick” woman illustrates the way women have been trapped physically, mentally, and emotionally. Gilman’s writing is clever, genuine, and really puts the reader in the shoes of the protagonist.

+ “Little Selves” by Mary Lerner. This story is just so, so sweet. Despite the fact that the protagonist is on her deathbed, she nevertheless finds solace in looking back on her happiest memories. Lerner’s optimistic story suggests that women are capable of leading fulfilling lives that they can look back on fondly.

+ “The Leading Lady” by Edna Ferber. I love that the overall message of this story is the importance of camaraderie and friendship among women. It made me want to call up all of my amazing friends who are women and thank them for always being there for me, just as the protagonist finds comfort in speaking with the women she meets in the hotel. This is “girl power” at its finest!

+ “The Bohemian Girl” by Willa Cather. I was thrilled when I discovered that a Willa Cather story is included in this collection. I fell in love with this story from the very beginning, especially because it gives off strong My Antonia vibes. In fact, there are many similarities between this short story and that novel. For instance, there are the familiar conflicts between home and away, rural areas and cities, the past and the present. Both Nils and Jim Burden inevitably return to their pasts on the farm, though with differing outcomes. This is actually the first short story I’ve read by Cather, but it certainly won’t be the last!

Overall, the entire premise behind a “taster flight” of short stories such as Hemmed In is brilliant and incredibly effective at highlighting a specific point or theme. In this case, these stories work to showcase not only the talent of women as writers but also the perseverance of women in spite of the discrimination and subordination we have faced throughout history. As an added bonus, I have now been introduced to several writers whose work I need to read more of!

Would I recommend this to a friend?: Yes!! I would recommend this to anyone interested in feminist writing, any of the particular authors featured in the collection, or simply short stories in general.

What are your thoughts on this collection? Have any related recommendations based on these authors? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ONE MORE THING by B.J. Novak | Review

Two years ago when I first entered college (it’s been that long already?!) I was faced with the dilemma of how to juggle my love of reading for pleasure with all of the work I was assigned for classes. For the most part, the solution I ultimately employed was to put my reading on pause while each semester was in session and resume reading during the liberating free time of summer, winter, and spring breaks. However, I still always kept a single book by my bed just in case I needed to read a few pages to clear my mind before falling asleep at night. Clearly this wasn’t a frequent occurrence because I’ve had the same book on my dorm room nightstand for two years: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak. I chose this as my nighttime read because it is a collection of short stories, making it the perfect book to dip in and out of without having to worry about picking up where I last left off.

After far too long I have finally managed to finish reading One More Thing and I definitely have more than one thing to say about it!

+ Stories of varying lengths. This might sound a little random, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when all of the stories in a collection are the exact same length (ten or twenty pages is usually the average for most of the collections that I’ve read). Fortunately, Novak does not fall into this trap and instead has written stories that vary considerably in length. You never know how long the next story will be: ten pages? A single page? A single line? Not only does this help make the collection more dynamic and entertaining, but it also allows for the use of many different storytelling styles, techniques, etc.

+ Creatively explaining common occurrences/phrases/etc. My favorite stories were the ones that built off of everyday things that we rarely give much thought to. For instance, one story is about the man who created the infamous math problem involving trains and times of arrival. We’ve probably all been forced to do this kind of math problem in algebra class at some point in our lives, but have we ever stopped to think about who created it? (In Novak’s story, the creator is seriously peeved that he hasn’t received adequate monetary compensation or credit for his word problem.) These kinds of stories are as thought-provoking as they are hilarious because they force you to take a closer look at things that we say and do without questioning them on a regular basis.

+ Novak can write about any and all topics. Another major strength of this short story collection is the diversity in subject matter. From the traditional fable of the tortoise and the hare to idealized award ceremonies and constructive criticism of construction sites from a kid, Novak has seriously covered all of his bases with One More Thing. Though this means that you will not likely connect with every single story, it does mean that at least one is nearly guaranteed to resonate with you.

Overall, One More Thing ended up doing just what the title promises: it made me want to keep reading just one more story until I suddenly found myself at the last page wishing that there was somehow another fifty pages tucked into a secret compartment of my paperback. This book is perfect for when you need a witty chuckle or two.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! Especially for fans of the TV show The Office, for which Novak was a writer.

What are your thoughts on this book? Are there any short story collections that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

BAYOU FOLK by Kate Chopin | Review

First published in 1894, Bayou Folk is Kate Chopin’s first collection of short stories bundled together in one volume. After reading this collection for one of my classes, I decided to do a bit more research about its initial critical reception. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a review published in the April 1894 edition of the Atlantic Monthly that succinctly and accurately captures several of my thoughts about this collection.

Almost celebratory in tone, this review highlights the great impact Chopin’s writing had on the reader despite her apparent newness as an emerging author in the literary scene. However, the reviewer also takes care to point out that this is not Chopin’s first outbreak into the limelight, as many of her stories had been previously published in periodicals. Where I think this reviewer hits the proverbial nail on the head is when he comments on the moving force behind the entire collection, remarking:

“It sometimes happens, however, that a distinctive power is not fully recognized until scattered illustrations of it are brought into a collective whole” (558). 

Each story on its own is like a snapshot, providing the reader with a glimpse into Chopin’s world but unable to show us the larger picture. Bound together in Bayou Folk, these stories weave themselves on a loom of class, race, gender, and identity. These common themes sharpen with the clarity offered by repetition as they are reflected and refracted in an immense cast of diverse characters. One character that stands out to me is the former slave after whom the story “Old Aunt Peggy” is named. In just over a single page to text, Chopin manages to transform Aunt Peggy from a woman into a representation of the peculiar institution itself, a one hundred and twenty-five year old system of labor whose legacy lingers on long after the war has been fought. Characters like Aunt Peggy breathe life and power into Chopin’s stories, giving them the force to resonate with readers long after the pages have been turned.

Another great point that the reviewer makes is the skillful way she wields the usage of various forms of dialect throughout these stories. Because location and culture are integral components of her writing, it only makes sense that she would endeavor to capture the sounds of local speech as well. This incorporation works to Chopin’s advantage, as the reviewer remarks:

“Her reproduction of their speech is not too elaborate, and the reader who at once shuts up a book in which he discovers broken or otherwise damaged English would do well to open this again” (559). 

Although the variations in language may seem a bit confusing at first, the reader quickly becomes acquainted with the dialects used. Not only do they contribute to creating depth in characters, but they also help build the setting and make it come to life.

The end of the glowing review reads:

It is something that she comes from the South. It is a good deal more that she is not confined to locality. Art makes her free of literature” (559). 

This passage stumped me at first. What could the reviewer mean by that final sentence? Does he mean that literature in general is usually restricted by locality, but in these stories she somehow liberates herself from those boundaries? I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’m choosing to interpret this statement as a celebration of Chopin’s writing ability. Her writing brings a warm feeling of culture and energy and life to literature, one that readers of all backgrounds can surely connect with in some way.

I highly recommend the short stories of Kate Chopin’s Bayou Folk, whether you read them separately or bound together in this fantastic collection. Chopin is a writer that is often forgotten in the midst of the male-dominated Western Canon, but these stories prove that her position in the literary world is undoubtedly well-deserved.

Have you read any of Kate Chopin’s stories or other works? Do you have any favorites? Any other short story collections that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors of Short Stories

Happy Tuesday!! Since this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is one that I’ve already done recently, I decided to go with a bit of different twist. Today I’ll be sharing ten of my favorite authors who have written excellent short stories. I don’t read short stories very often– mostly just when I’m assigned to read them for courses– but some short stories and collections in particular have really stuck out to me over time. In no particular order, here are ten authors whose short stories are definitely worth reading:

What authors are your favorite short story writers? What are some of your favorite short stories? What do you think of the authors on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Poevember: THE BLACK CAT

“For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.”

This story is very reminiscent of “The Tell-Tale Heart” in many aspects, including the narrator’s voice, the reiteration of a central idea, and the ending. As in the other story, the narrator was lacking a certain element of sanity, which is shown through his obsession with the black cat. The black cat is a reoccurring idea throughout the story, much like the white eye in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Both stories had endings that shared similarities, such as the policemen coming to the house. (If I say any more than that I’ll be giving away too much.) However, despite the many similarities between these two stories they are different enough to still be enjoyable.

This story really made me realize what an amazing writer Poe was. Honestly, he was such a masterful storyteller! The way he narrates the story is absolutely brilliant, because it forces the reader to question whether or not he is reliable and trustworthy. Not only does he expose the manipulability of the narrator’s mind, but he does the same thing to the reader. It’s like his words find their way inside of our minds, grasp hold of our brains, and stubbornly refuse to let go. I mean, take a look at the first sentence of “The Black Cat” (aka the quote at the beginning of this post). IT’S GENIUS. The words flow together like water over rocks, and it’s just so flawless! The last part of it is my favorite, because it is one of the only things about the story that makes the narrator seem sort of sane. The fact that he is aware that his tale is unbelievable, that there is no real chance of convincing the reader otherwise, is a fact that a sane person might accept. Starting with sanity and then gradually becoming more and more insane is just brilliant. Poe truly was a fantastic writer.

Overall, I really really really REALLY enjoyed reading “The Black Cat.” It was creepy and suspenseful and the ending was completely unexpected. Comparing it with “The Tell-Tale Heart” was really interesting, yet this story is nevertheless unique and original.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: ABSOLUTELY.

Yours,

HOLLY

Poevember: THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”

“The Cask of Amontillado” was a creepy and disturbing tale, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t my favorite of Poe’s short stories. While the horror factor was definitely present, especially towards the ending, I found that I couldn’t get into the story as much as I could when I read, say, “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The narration of this story was lacking a certain distinct personality that would have ordinarily pulled me right into the moment of the action. It didn’t help that very little background information was given concerning the history between the main character and Fortunado. The absence of such information made me feel distanced from the story, as if I was jumping into the middle of a battle with no knowledge of either side. I did like the way the narrator was potrayed, because I felt sypathetic towards him at first and then I despised him towards the end. However, I felt as though more information or background knowledge would have made him a more enjoyable character to read about in general.

Overall, I did enjoy reading this story despite my previous complaint. Once again, as with “The Tell-Tale Heart” I especially liked the ending, because it was creepy and dark and unexpected. I never thought that the main character would be so cruel, but then again Poe is utterly unpredictable. The setting of the catacombs was suspenseful and unsettling, perfect for the events that were taking place. I admire Poe as a writer because he really makes the reader feel as though they are walking beside the main character, feeling their fear and anticipation and often dread. It’s this insightful look at the human mind that makes Poe’s stories so enthralling and fascinating.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Definitely!

Yours,

HOLLY

Poevember: THE TELL-TALE HEART

“True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

This is the first piece of writing by Edgar Allen Poe that I have ever read, and I absolutely loved it. One thing that really spoke to me in this short story was the way it was narrated. the narrator tells the story like he is trying to convince someone (or himself) that he is not insane, that he is mentally stable and perfectly fine. The clever part of this that I really enjoyed is that as he tells his story and attempts to justify himself he unknowingly proves to the reader that he is indeed insane. His obsession with the man’s white eye as well as his violent solution to the so-called “problem” show that his sanity is not intact, and yet the narrator firmly believes the opposite. The narration was emotional and detailed and overall very well-written.

My favorite thing about this story was the ending. I won’t give it away, but I will say that it proved to me that the narrator is insane. It wraps up everything in a way that is both satisfactory and mysterious, and it is brilliantly clever. The narrator’s boastful demeanor and his obsession with the crime he has committed cause the scenario to backfire on him, which is why I think the ending is so fascinating. If he had only remained calm and kept it together, then everything most likely would have been fine. In a way he sabotaged himself.

Overall, “The Tell-Tale Heart” was a fantastic story and an excellent start to Poevember. Let’s hope Poe’s other stories are great as well!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

Yours,

HOLLY