Taking Stock: January 2021

I’ve experimented with monthly wrap-ups, but I think a mid-month update is better for me . . .

Looking Back

Four posts and a Sunday Short have gone up this month:

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky has become one of my go-to recommendations for short fiction, but it does have difficult/upsetting moments. I added a widget for my “most recommended” books but I find myself wanting to fuss with it all the time.

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Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Like Washington Black, Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues is a mix of highs and lows. It has some pacing problems, but the main story has a lot of potential. Summary from Goodreads:

The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is black.

Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled.

In Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong. read more

Review: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez

Sometimes I like short story collections less when I read them too quickly. Groff’s Florida, Ferris’s The Dinner Party, and even Dahl’s “best of” collection are first to mind. When stories are read back-to-back, common themes are soon spotted and ideas that would have been individually brilliant are made to feel repetitive or predictable. Mariana Enriquez’s The Dangers of Smoking in Bed does not fall into this trap. The horror in these twelve stories comes from different angles: supernatural sources, jealous people, physical ailments, and so on. They’re ordered such that each story pushes a new boundary and produces ratcheting tension. Several left me queasy or unable to sleep. read more

Review: Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

I’ve read half of the 2020 International Booker Prize shortlist and Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll is my favorite. It’s easier to write a negative review than a positive one because it’s easier to say what’s wrong with a book than what’s right. Often, a negative quality can be demonstrated with a couple quotes, but what’s most satisfying about Tyll is the number of payoffs and connections between its narrative voices and you can’t demonstrate this with anything shorter than the whole book. read more

Review: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

The best collection of short fiction by a single author. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah not only contains individually compelling stories, but also captures an impressive range of complex family relationships, cultural differences, magical realism, and a touch of science fiction. The first comparison to mind is The Interpreter of Maladies for the way it shows a variety of relationships across and between two cultures; in this case, stories take place in Nigeria or America. read more