Monday, January 04, 2021

2020 Short Story Advent Calendar, ed. by Michael Hingston

I've probably already mentioned that the Short Story Advent Calendar is something I've desired to purchase for several years but either didn't get there in time (they do tend to sell out) or didn't feel like I could justify the cost. This year, I remembered early enough to get my order placed before they sold out. 

There are 25 stories in the calendar and each is bound separately with a little round sticker to keep them closed. It is immensely satisfying to pop open a new story each night and curl up in bed with it. 

Fortunately, I also enjoyed most of the stories. A few fell flat for me but I enjoyed the experience so much that I was not bothered at all by the rare story that didn't work for me or left little question marks dangling over my head. There was quite a variety. I kept a notebook with a little synopsis of each and if I ever get back to buying books, I'm happy I'll have it to refer to. 

A few favorites:

"Over the Plum Pudding" by John Kendrick Bangs, originally published in 1901, is written in first person by a fictional former editor who feels obligated to explain why a volume of short stories "filled with Christmas spirit" but in reality closer to horror, was never published. "Over the Plum Pudding" is such a little masterpiece of humor that I wish I'd taken the time to see if I could find a collection by Bangs before my book-buying ban began. I may check Project Gutenberg, later on. 

"Four Minutes and 33 Pairs of Sweatpants" by Martin Riker tells the story of a musician whose first work of performance art drove away the man she'd been with for 10 years. I thought it was kind of amusing but what most caught my eye was the author's bio. Martin Riker is, it says, a Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss, a school both of my kids attended. I could never talk them into taking advantage of classes taught by the many brilliant writers who work at Ole Miss, unfortunately. 

"Aviary" by Lysley Tenorio takes place in Manila. The poor children of Manila have never been inside the nearby mall. But when they find out they're banned from entering, they're offended and decide to enter and wreak havoc. What I really loved about "Aviary" is the way the author shows you the world of excess through the eyes of children who are accustomed to having almost nothing. Why, they wonder, would anyone want these sparkly, shiny, furry, smelly, unnecessary items? 

"The Decade I Kept on Getting Stabbed" by John Jodzio is only 4 pages long but it's one of my favorites because it is a riot. I don't want to give anything away, I loved it so much, but it's about a man who keeps getting stabbed and asking his friends what he's doing wrong. They make suggestions, he makes changes, but the stabbings continue. The ending is hilarious. 

"The Snowstorm" by Alexander Pushkin is about a young couple in love who plan to secretly marry. When a raging snowstorm hits on the day of their elopement, everything changes. This is the only short story from which I wrote down a quote:

Moral proverbs are wonderfully useful in those cases where we can invent little in our own justification. 


Highly recommended — While the 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar quickly sold out, I highly recommend buying one for future Advent seasons. It's a little pricey and I didn't love every story equally. A couple didn't work for me at all. But, it's an experience. I enjoyed the sensation of cracking open the tape, the joy of settling in for my daily story, the fun of being introduced to new authors . . . so much, in fact, that I'm trying to continue daily short story reading in 2021. 

Note: I was tempted to buy more but I only purchased one book based on my enjoyment of the short story: The Grand Tour by Adam O'Fallon Price, who wrote "Vera Something". I liked the way the author swept me into his unrequited love story and then ended it in a realistic way. 

Also worth mentioning: I have books by at least 3 or 4 of the authors, already.  Only one of the stories made me feel like, "Huh, do I really want to read the novel I own?" The rest have made me feel more motivated to read the books I have by those authors, and I'll probably go ahead and read the book by the author whose short story was literally the one that put me to sleep. She's gotten some very good buzz, in the past, so I'm not going to make any assumptions about how she writes in longer form. I'll just find out for myself. 

Do you enjoy short stories? The short story collection I'm currently reading is CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders. He is a master of short stories and I'm loving it. 

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  1. I used to think I didn't like short stories much. Now I believe I simply hadn't read enough good ones. This past year I very much enjoyed W Somerset Maugham's short story collections.

    1. I think that's pretty typical, Jeane. Short stories are either phenomenal and thought-provoking or feel like they should be turned into novels and don't quite work, I've found. I'm glad you've discovered a short story writer you love! Try Simon Van Booy's short stories, next! He's one of my favorites. Also, I love the Russians, particularly Chekov.

  2. I've never even done an advent calendar but I really like this idea! Need to remember for next Christmas.

    1. I had no idea what advent even was till I married and saw my mother-in-law's advent calendar and started attending my husband's church. I don't always buy an advent calendar (although, in recent years we've had a little too much fun finding really cool ones) but the short story calendar was by far the best I've ever gotten. I think you'd enjoy it!


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