Sunday, September 15, 2013

Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Collected Stories: the wonders of short stories

The Collected Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer
I'VE BEEN saving up Singer's stories for the rainy days—and I say that both literally and figuratively. Great stories must be read with all the peace and quiet and concentration one can muster; they deserve all the attention. I also think such stories are best read on a gloomy weather—or better yet, when it's raining and flooding outside, and you're left inside your room alone with your thoughts and imaginations.

"It is difficult for me to comment on the choice of the forty-seven stories in this collection, selected from more than a hundred. Like some Oriental father with a harem full of women and children, I cherish them all," writes Isaac Bashevis Singer in the foreword of his book, which I had bought weeks ago.

So far I've finished two out of the 47. Gimpel the Fool is the first one that appears, and the piece is an excellent translation from Yiddish by the famous writer Saul Bellow. The second, which I treated myself to last night, was The Gentleman from Cracow, translated by Martha Glicklick and Elaine Gottlieb. I'll probably be stuck in bed the entire day today; I'm down with the flu (or probably not—this could be TB because I practically live in PGH these days). Maybe I'll entertain myself with three or four more stories.

When friends who are busy ask me which books I can recommend I tell them to get short story collections. They don't have to be read from front to end; they can be ended abruptly; and they make great entertainment. For authors they're very hard to write. Singer writes,

"Although the short story is not in vogue nowadays, I still believe that it constitutes the utmost challenge to the creative writer. Unlike the novel, which can absorb and even forgive lengthy digressions, flashbacks, and loose construction, the short story must aim directly at its climax. It must possess uninterrupted tension and suspense. Also, brevity is its very essence."

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SOME short story collections that immediately come to mind:

Different Seasons by Stephen King. I still go back to Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption once in a while.

Everything's Eventual, also by Stephen King.

Anything by Guy de Maupassant. I read The Necklace in high school.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. I want to speak Latin every time I read him. I especially enjoyed Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; The Garden of the Forking Paths; and Funes the Memorious.

Manananggal Terrorizes Manila And Other Stories by Jessica Zafra. Portents became an easy favorite.

The Collector of Hearts by Joyce Carol Oates.

The Complete Short Stories of Saki, written by Saki whose real name is H. H. Munro. Sadly I left the book in Koronadal.

The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis. She writes like no other.

What are your favorites, Dear Reader?



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