Sunday, September 2, 2012

Swimming with Strangers

People always ask me how I hear about certain books, how I "know what to read." (which I think means, "how I don't waste time on things I don't like"). Well, I don't, necessarily. I still come across novels and story collections, some very highly recommended, that I just can't get through. And there was a time I would have finished them anyway, even if I didn't like a thing about the story. But, now I see the world as full of books, which means there are so many things to read, so little time. I do the obvious things when choosing books: an author I've loved in the past, a suggestion from my local bookseller or librarian, a recommendation from a friend (although this last is the trickiest because I'm a terrible liar and, when asked, I will tell you what I thought of the book you so loved). But I also read author's websites, and two that are particularly good with recommendations are Ann Hood and Monica Wood. On Ann's blog, you'll have to read each post to see what she'd reading (which is good reading, anyway) but on Monica's she has a whole section and you can just go right there.

Speaking of which, I just finished Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum's Swimming with Strangers  and I thought it was fabulous. I'm a big fan of family discord and these stories are done with rapt attention to details, and endings that are hopeful even in the smallest ways. Each of these stories is beautifully, cleanly written with characters you will not soon forget.

Someone asked me the other day what I was reading and when I mentioned this collection, she said "Oh, I don't like short stories." An opening which I used to explain that when done right, as Lunstrum does, stories are perfect little windows into the human condition. And, although I love novels, too, stories are, by their very nature, an economy of words. Nothing is wasted.