Aichinger, Ilse

The Bound Man

My friends, a confession: I am a sucker. Little stray kittens and musty books and vegetably steamed dumplings…. these things were basically made for me. And stories like this belong on the list of things for which I’m a true sucker, and by “like this” I don’t necessarily mean Austrian (though I don’t mean “decidedly not Austrian” either). And I don’t necessarily mean the sort of story that plucks your arteries and uses them to serenade you corrido-style. Although, again, I don’t have anything against that either.

But there’s something about a perfectly wrought piece of existential blues that never fails to set me on fire, and it doesn’t matter how heavy the hands that deal the metaphorical blow, I just lie down and prostrate myself to it, or dip myself in candy and find the nearest wrapper, sucker-like.

And of course, if the story’s painfully good (haha) on top of that, I’m a total lost cause. Wrap up warmly and enjoy it.

(and PS: I read german poorly, and there’s not much Aichinger available in English translation, so if you have some, consider yourself lucky, or even better, generous (when you wrap it up and send it to me as a holiday gift))

Olsen, Tillie

I Stand Here Ironing

So I have this tendency, as you may have noticed, to take a sharp left at matters of personal divulgences, which is a difficult thing to pull off today, given the severity and somber-ity of a story like this one. But so, okay, here you go, three very revealing facts about my own self to accompany a story of introspect and plaintivity and other words existent and non-.

Number 1: I (your Miette) have never owned an iron. So god only knows if, in my delivery of tonight’s monologue, I am at all able to capture the sorts of things that go through a woman’s head while performing such an act.

Number 2: It is my opinion that “She blew shining bubbles of sound” is perhaps one of the finest phrases ever to be shucked from our language, and the fact that it exists in this narrative makes me think the entire thing’s worth another close listen by all of us.

Number 3: I’m not kidding in tonight’s blathery introduction about the naughty naked puppets, though I won’t tell you where people who get here by that route are being sent. Now, I suppose, they’ll just come here. I win!

Okay, your turn?

Enjoy a fine listen this actual autumn. I’ll yam at you next week with something fresh out of Canada, and I’ll bet money that you’ll love it.

Dinesen, Isak

The Sailor-Boy’s Tale

Twice now I’ve sat down to read something from Isak Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales
, and twice when pawing through for a good story, I’ve ended up spending hours re-reading the stories in here, to the point of distracted negligence, but to the point of great self-satisfaction nevertheless.

One day I’ll just relent and read them all to you, but that’d be a big project, and if you’re anything like me, you’re already running on the fumes of big projects. And if you’re smarter than me, you’ll have discovered a long time ago that when you have too many big projects, the best way to make absolutely certain that you don’t forget to do another one is to tell the Internet about it then whet its palette with anticipation. And you can do so with such a painful and potentially-affected self-consciousness as to ensure that you’ll be forgiven if it takes you a decade to follow through on that promise. And if you’re as tight-fisted as me, you’ll know that this way of going about things is way cheaper than seeing a shrink.

But in any event, if you don’t know the Winter’s Tales, you should read them yourselves. For now, I’ve settled on that which I find most fabulist and late-springish in its step.

Shields, Carol

Various Miracles

More Canadian Short Fiction? You damned well bet– just check the calendar. On that note, I’m starting to think Carol Shields herself is somewhat of a miracle. For starters, look at this, from an interview on Canada as a landscape for writers:

“We’re not big on heroes, either. The concept of heroes is alien. And I think that’s a very telling piece of our national ethos – no one deserves to be better than anyone else.”

If I didn’t already secretly pine for Canada on an almost daily basis, this tips the scales to metric. And here’s another quote, which (for any Carol Shields scholars) I’d love to find in its original context and in full:

“I’m concerned about the unknowability of other people…. That’s why I love biography and the idea of the human life told or shown. Of course, this is why I love novels, too. In novels, you get to hear how people are thinking. That’s why I read fiction.”

In my (not nonexistent) experience, fiction is worth loving as it brings the reader insight into what an author must think is unknowable about people, which is often extremely dissimilar to what I find unknowable about people. But I think the gist is there.

A disclaimer: You should know that this is the story that opens the collection of the same name. You should also know that the stories in this collection, while not mutually dependent, are definitely mutually more fascinating. Which is just a tip that if this is your cuppa, you should run out and snag yourself a copy, and read every last one.

Bambara, Toni Cade

Raymond’s Run

A disclaimer: the Wiki says that tonight’s story is… how to put this… Big in Middle School Circles. But don’t let that put you off (especially if you yourself run in Middle School Circles, or are Big therein). I can be as big of an arrogant elitist as the next lady when it comes to my own sometimes obscurantist needs, but as anyone with a well-rounded appreciation of fiction, I can sit back and take a closer look at the forgotten gems of Middle School. Like those jelly shoes that ladies my age are supposed to nostalge about.

Because we can reminisce about all these things, or read lines like this and put our hands up in admission of the ageless:

“It’s about as real a smile as girls can do for each other, considering we don’t practice real smiling every day, you know…”

That’s pretty good, right? Happy wintertime.

Link, Kelly

The Specialist’s Hat

So it was decided that I needed a table, but in thinking about the sort of table I might need, for the purpose the table would serve, it was further decided that the table needed to have certain bench-like properties. A hybrid, as we say in these times.

The problem is, as you may have heard, money in my country is not worth very much these days and table-benches are beyond my budget, and while there’s a new president whose first order of business, as you may have heard, will be to give me a new hybrid table-bench, I know better than to rely on economies and politics, and I went and gathered what I needed to fashion it myself.

Now, I’m not the handiest of people, and I’m actually fairly dangerous when put in front of power tools and sharp edges and, you know, screws and such, but I built the damned thing, which grew increasingly complicated from the initial idea of Top and Legs, to include such delicate bench-like features as Rabbited Feet and Lots of Slatted Inserts and Dependence on Measurements, and no shortage of other over-ambitious features for an unhandy sort. But it’s built. It’s wonky as all-hell, and if you’re ever over at my house and I invite you to sit on it, it can probably be safely said that I’m not your biggest fan. But it’s built– it’s my civic duty to let you all know that, wonkily or not, I’ve done my civic duty. And now it’s time to sit back and read more stories.

Chugtai, Ismat

The Quilt

This was going to go up during Banned Books week, but then I got a nasty visit from Uncle Rhinovire, and then there was the trip to the Akvariet and then it hit me that neither a short story nor the oral presentation of one qualify, really, as a “Banned Book,” although for reasons that will become evident, this story has been pretty broadly banned (read: it errs on the side of racy).

But that said, I’m happy to take your vote on what our young heroine saw beneath the quilt. A hint: I’m pretty sure it was not, in fact, an elephant.

Dorman, Sonya

When I Was Miss Dow

This story was brought to my attention a few months ago, making its way inbox-ward on the anniversorry of my trip down Amniotic Lane, timing not unintentional. Now, I would share with you my thoughts on why this was selected as a Birthday Story, but that would involve psychographic profiling of the sender’s right eyebrow and a frame-by-frame comparison of my genuflection style to that of the author. And that’s just for starters.

In other words, not nearly as fun as speculation, and besides, I’m not about to give you all the information you’d need to know to perform such a task. But I will ask you this: have a listen (and keep your jaw taped up off the floor — this is a good one) and a think about it, and see what comes up. It could be worse, after all. We could be discussing politics.

Jansson, Tove

Of Angleworms and Others

So it’s summer right now, if you’re with me hemispherically. Although if you were to zoom in a little closer you’d see that in some places, we’re tying up that chapter, it’s cooling down, and that means it’s time to read you some Tove Jansson.

Now, I was going to read you something from the Moomins, but it’s not quite as charming when removed from the illustrations of big Moomin innocently bent-over butts. Or rather, it’s just as charming, but I’m hopelessly unable to convey Moomin-butt-drawing charm by voice alone.

And besides, the Summer Book is pretty archetypal for changing-tree times. As much as bonfires and maybe as much as the Shrimp Song that Townes van Zandt sang. Any other absolutely perfect end-of-summer stories? I’m in a wood-fire mood.

Berriault, Gina

Lonesome Road

A mildly embarrassing problem when getting under way with tonight’s story, confessed in full in these lines: when I first sat down to read it to you this evening, I got caught on a raft in a sea of lexical continental drift, and over and over I stammered out the title only to have it read “Roadsome Load.” No kidding: again and again.

And I assure you, Roadsome Load is NOT the title of tonight’s story, and the problem was one of those lingual bowline knots that only whiskey or a nearby leatherman can unhinge. Fortunately for both me and my tongue, it worked out its own kinks JUST in time.

What I need is a blooper outtake bungle reel.