Short Story Collections @ BYOB Party in Jan 2020 (Part 3)

Image result for alice munro 1974 bookThere were short stories galore discussed at the BYOB Party. Sonal started off the short story scrutiny with some Southern Ontario Gothic.  She spoke about the Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro’s short story collection Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.
As it is with most Alice Munro’s characters, expect laidback narratives with revelatory insights. Munro moves artfully back and forth in time and dabbles with memory. Sonal elaborated on two stories, both about relationships, one about the relationship of a woman with her ex-husband and the other of a woman’s relationship with her mother. All the characters exhibit shades of gray.  Sonal read out one of her favorite passages from the book:
“The problem, the only problem, is my mother. And she is the one of course that I am trying to get; it is to reach her that this whole journey has been undertaken. With what purpose? To mark her off, to describe, to illumine, to celebrate, to get rid, of her; and it did not work, for she looms too close, just as she always did. She is heavy as always, she weighs everything down, and yet she is indistinct, her edges melt and flow. Which means she has stuck to me as close as ever and refused to fall away, and I could go on and on and on, applying what skills I have, using what tricks I know, and it would always be the same.”
What did Sonal find so touching about the stories?  “Munro’s stories touched me at an emotional level. Relationships fascinate me.”
The conversation veered to whether reading books about struggling characters is a boon or a bane. Contrary to the idea that reading a sad book can leave the reader miserable, it can also leave a reader relieved that she does not need to face the same predicament as the characters.
Another question that came up is how to deal with short story phobia, the terrible fear of a story building up and then exploding too quickly for your own good. “I wouldn’t think I would face such a problem,” Sonal said, ” These short stories at least helped me to bring a semblance of order to the khichdi in my mind.” Priya remained traumatized by the idea of reading short stories- the book Dubliners by James Joyce shook her resolve completely.
“Try reading Woman to Woman: Stories by Madhulika Liddle,” Abhaya advised. “It might help to get over this fear.”

Image result for magical women amazonBindu got an unlikely book, considering that speculative fiction is not her favorite genre. She spoke about a couple of stories from the book Magical Women, a collection of short stories edited and compiled by Sukanya Venkatraghavan. The collection introduces the reader to all kinds of mythical creatures and goddesses. Bindu was quite taken by the stories Gul and Gandaberunda. “It’s a commendable effort to rope in so many Indian women writers and weave a fantasy story collection but what I felt is that there was invariably too much social commentary couched with magical women characters. In every story, I was struck by the need to find hidden symbols that highlighted oppression.”

Many other short story collections were discussed including Breaking the Bow and Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean.

Image result for shashi deshpande short storiesVeena spoke about Collected stories by Shashi Deshpande. She was inspired by the author during her book launch of a recent book. Says Veena, “I loved the way Deshpande spoke- she was so articulate and down to earth that I was tempted to read her stories. I’m also interested in books about Bangalore. The book I picked up was an older book and it goes deep into the human psyche and talks about fleeting thoughts and how we judge people harshly. It’s really refreshing- she’s not embarrassed to write about all kinds of things that run through people’s minds. She’s famous for being a feminist but when she spoke, she mentioned how she didn’t like being seen as a feminist author or an Indian author or a woman author. She just likes being called an author and so I read her book through an undistorted lens and without any bias. Had I not heard it from her, I would have read the book differently.”

Another book that made it to the discussion was Shadows in the Sun.

There was then a prolonged discussion on the merits and demerits of Audible. How small font size intimidation can turn you into an Audible slave and how perfectly good books can suffer from bad narration. It was also confirmed that all good writers are not necessarily good narrators and that though Audible was ‘a kind of cheating’, it had its benefits especially when it came to reading among older populations.

Watch Shashi Deshpande talk about the English language, content and discontent.

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