Selected short-story reading (vol. 1)

Woman reading a paperback book by a body of water

Since I wrote about boycotting written works by straight white men (or avoiding them as much as possible) I’ve made very deliberate choices about what to read for my Post-Graduate creative writing course. This term is all about short fiction and contains some unavoidable SWM-authored works (notably Raymond Carver thus far), but we’ve also had a lot of latitude in picking what we want to read, present, and pick apart.

Instead of keeping the women-authored pieces I’ve found within the bounds of the course, I’m sharing some of my favourite discoveries. These are quick to read, readily available, and a no-commitment-necessary kinda way of broadening reading horizons. Lots of people don’t love reading short stories… maybe these picks will help change that!

Mom Is In Love With Randy Travis” by Souvankham Thammavongsa

In short
The longest of the pieces I’ve selected (a bit over 3,000 words), Thammavongsa reveals the heartbreak, humour, unfairness, and surprise of a family trying to adapt to a new culture. It’s part of a larger, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning work called How to Pronounce Knife that I’m now devouring.

My take
I both laughed out loud and teared up… and immediately forwarded it to a friend. Highly recommended.

What Bothers a Woman of the World” by Seyward Goodhand
A pink-toned slug with its antenna up on a stone
Slug-like inspiration for Agvagvat?
Image modified from a photo by Abbey Lee

In short
This roughly 1,500 word story follows a seemingly normal woman going about her day (taking an Uber to work, buying groceries, preparing dinner), while being trailed by a Agvagvat, an emotionally-accommodating creature who moves like a sea slug. The other characters (none of whom have similar shadows) accept Agvagvat’s presence and the narrator and Agvagvat communicate both verbally and non-verbally. The un-named states the creature’s “eternal mission [is] to coax me towards a moral life,” but the nature of their relationship is left murky.

My take
It sounds like a hard premise to grasp, but I found it instantly relatable. I keep thinking about what Agvagvat represents and whether similar creatures exist in this speculative world Goodhand seamlessly creates. Highly recommend.

Kew Gardens’ by Virginia Woolf

In short
A modernist piece of around 2,500 words that eavesdrops on visitors to Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London on a hot July day. A snail’s journey and lush descriptions of the gardens are interspersed with human conversations, with every depiction of colour, voice, ambient noise, the weather offering the potential for metaphorical interpretation.

My take
Enjoyable to wander through, but not likely to stick with me for long… rather like a hot sunny day.

Whaddya think?

Am I spot-on with these three recommendations? Or far off the mark? Any favourite short stories you think I should seek out?

We’re only in the third week of term, so I’ve got lots more short stories to read. My plan is to post another set of recommendations within a couple months and then post a couple stories of my own after I’ve worked through the arduous re-writing, workshopping, editing phases.

Other selected short stories

Image adapted from a photo by Nguyen Thu Hoai on Unsplash

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