For the first year ever, I religiously tracked the books I read in 2021. From technical tomes on poetry and required reading for my Post-Graduate Creative Writing course, to cookbooks and the trashiest of romance novels, everything went into Goodreads. (Yeah, I’m not thrilled about it being Bezos-owned and the interface is pretty bad, but it’s the devil I know.)
The book-centric site can’t, however, capture all the smaller bits; the short stories, poems, and personal essays that fill my laptop screen or are thumbed through on my phone. Since starting the Creative Writing course, I’ve maintained a series of Google Docs where I sock away the best of those smaller bits. It’s useful when reflecting on what I read and how it influences my own work (a requirement for the final term assessments)—and it’s a great source for recommendations!
Here are two short stories, a personal essay, and a bonus bit of poetry drawn from those scattered Google Docs. I hope you enjoy—and that they expand your reading horizons beyond GoodReads’ preferred book format!
‘A Brief and Fearful Star‘ by Carmen Maria Machado
Not much happens in these 1,250 or so words, but the wandering is reward in itself. The shared mother and daughter reminiscences of this dystopian-seeming future are hauntingly evocative.
This is what I call beautiful writing; descriptive, but not overburdened. Recommended.
‘The Cost of Stealing from the Parallel Dimension‘ by Brian Evenson
There should be a couple strikes against this one being a crowd-pleaser: it’s long-ish (over 4,000 words), it’s sci-fi-y, and, in contravention of my stated policy to read more diverse works, it’s by an old white dude. But it’s mesmerising. And a love story.
Highly recommended, both for the tension and mystery, and for the way Evenson creates compelling characters without ever naming them.
‘Notes on my Queer Bromance with My Personal Trainer‘ by Grace Perry
Okay, I’m cheating here (it’s totally not a short story), but it’s funny! And touching. I’ll allow it.
In about 1,500 words, Perry touches on the discomfort of being queer in mostly hetero spaces, the embarrassment and pride that come with physical fitness, and the possibility of friendship in service-based situations.
A breezier relative of Perry’s awesomely nostalgic essay collection The 2000s Made Me Gay, this is approachable and enjoyable, even if you don’t have a personal trainer. Recommended.
Bonus poetry and playlist selection
One of the most best parts of last term’s poetry focus was discovering new poets and intriguing forms. Kate Baer’s erasure poetry was a revelation on both counts.
Her most recent collection, I Hope This Finds You Well, is made up of poems created by blanking out bits of comments Baer received on social media. The result is meaningful, haunting pieces that transform generally hateful messages into hopeful, resonant bits of art. And she created a self-confidence inspiring Spotify playlist to accompany it.
A lot of her stuff is on Instagram, too. The first poem she posted in the 2022 speaks to the societal pressure of ‘starting the journey to the new me’ in the new year.
Other selected short stories
- Selected short-story reading (vol. 1)
- Selected short-story reading (vol. 2)
- Selected short-story reading (vol.3)
- Selected short-story reading (vol. 5)
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