Debriefing by Susan Sontag

following my tradition of discovering an author in reverse order, I read Susan Sontag’s journals, then her short stories, and next I’ll move to the essays. I really liked these, many of them are autobiographical or experiment with form, and they’re all beautifully written.

“She once told an interviewer that while the living room is fine for essays, short stories needed to be written in the bedroom. This distinction between outer and inner sancta seems a good way of approaching the contents of this volume. The stories are her innermost work.”
Rating: 9/10

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

when people ask about my favorite book my first answer is usually the book I’m reading at that moment but my second answer is THIS. They’re short stories but also flash fiction but also mostly indescribable. Her voice is the voice you wish was inside your head.

“In fact, I liked teaching because I liked telling other people what to do. In those days it seemed clearer to me than it does now that if I did something a certain way, it had to be right for other people, too. I was so convinced of it that my students were convinced, too.”

Rating: 10/10 (I’ll post a less than 10/10 one next time promise)

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Read this whole book last night to procrastinate reading for book club (lol) & I LOVED it. The New York Times wrote a great piece on it last year that is worth the read, but basically, it’s redefined what The Great Indian Novel means, and it’s one of the first books in its language (bhasha) to be translated into English. It’s written very tightly, the story of an entire family in just 117 pages. And it is captivating.

“Language communicates in terms of what is already known; it chokes up when asked to deal with entirely unprecedented.”

Rating: 10/10

The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Hands down the most beautiful characters I’ve ever read, but also one of the hardest-to-read books I’ve ever encountered. Simone de Beauvoir nails female emotion so perfectly I couldn’t bare to look at it head-on. The woman she describes are everything we’ve been taught to avoid and to scorn, but they’ve been given the microphone. Very incredible.
“What nonsense, this intoxicating notion of progress, of upward movement, that I had cherished; for now the moment of collapse was at hand! It had already begun. And now it would be very fast and very slow: we were going to turn into really old people.”

Rating: 10/10

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Would you like your heart to be stepped upon? Would you like to laugh while it happens? Would you like to gain access to another world that will stay with you forever, but you’ll never be able to articulate to another human being? Welcome.

“But whatever, we descendants of the Girl Line may not have wealth and proper windows in our drafty homes but at least we have rage and we will build empires with that, gentlemen.”

“Dan wanted me to stay. I wanted Elf to stay. Everyone in the whole world was fighting with somebody to stay. When Richard Bach wrote “If you love someone, set them free” he can’t have been directing his advice at human beings.”

Rating: 10/10

Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin

Short stories about women they don’t hate themselves. It’s sort of reminiscent of Barbara the Slut, if you’ve read that, but I think she does an even better job creating redeemable characters and situations almost instantly. Very fun to read.

“The way the women are together is its own foreign country; they move around each other like extensions of a single body, their voices and laughter entangled.”

Rating: 8/10

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

This was the first book Caleb ever bought me and how I confirmed that he was marriage material. It kind of leaves me at a loss; these stories take the lid off a world a lot of us would never see. They left me longing for her voice in everything I’ve read since. So I don’t overstay my welcome, I’ll leave you with Lydia Davis’s words about this collection.

“I have always had faith that the best writers will rise to the top, like cream, sooner or later, and will become exactly as well-known as they should be–their work talked about, quoted, taught, performed, filmed, set to music, anthologized. Perhaps, with the present collection, Lucia Berlin will begin to gain the attention she deserves.”

“Whenever Ter read a book, rarely—he would rip each page off and throw it away. I would come home, to where the windows were always open or broken and the whole room would be swirling with pages, like Safeway lot pigeons.”

Rating 10/10