#11 – The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The list of critical accolades for The Thing Around Your Neck could wrap around my neck several times. Not sure what that means but I think it’s worth noting.

Short stories. Good ones. She’s young, so look for more from her in the future.

 

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#24 – Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer

Another short story collection. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere contains some of the best short stories I’ve read, and one of my all-time favorites, “Brownies,” which has an epic first line:

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909.”

ZZ Packer is one of the New Yorker’s anointed “20 under 40.” I don’t know what those awards really mean for a writer. Even if she never writes another word, though, as far as I can tell, she deserves it.

Bonus: UK book cover! Because the US book cover is boring.

 

#29 – The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff

Here’s one thing that’s changed for me in the last decade: I like short stories.

I’d read Interpreter of Maladies and Dubliners and the odd Raymond Carver piece, and that was pretty much it. I’d try to read short stories, but they kinda seemed like a waste of time compared to a big fat novel. Why spend all this time and effort getting to know characters that you’ll just have to say goodbye to in 20 pages?

And then I started grad school for creative writing. Suddenly I was rubbing shoulders with super smart people who cared passionately about short fiction. They were reading, writing, and recommending really good stuff.

(Note: at the time I was teaching unsuspecting undergraduates how to write and revise short fiction.)

In short, I’ve grown much more open-minded about how long I have to spend with a character to feel like it’s worth cracking the spine.

What I love about Tobias Wolff’s writing is that I feel like he’s one of the most adept writers today at creating morally complex characters. People who want to do the right thing, but convince themselves otherwise for some reason. People who want to do the wrong thing, but wish they wanted to do the right thing. These people feel real to me. The stories in The Night in Question are well-crafted, entertaining, and unforgettable.

I never pass a rug store in Seattle without thinking of “Firelight.” I never go into an old-fashioned bank without thinking of “Bullet in the Brain.”

Extra Credit

Tobias Wolff’s memoir This Boy’s Life and his memoir-ish novel Old School are also very good. Also his Paris Review interview is killer smart.