The Bloody Chamber
This collection of stories reminds me of the power of folk and fairy tales and how they draw from the deep, dark well of human psychology and behavior. But whereas some of the versions I grew up with, notably the Grimms’ tales and those of Hans Christian Anderson, dispatch the tales in an almost summarized form with little to no character development, no exploration of the interiority or complexity of characters and their intricate, conflicted relationships, Carter fearlessly dives deep in the muck and murk of human behavior and motivations. What DID Bluebeard’s wives see that that weren’t supposed to see? What if little Red Riding Hood is cleverer than we give her credit for? What if the young and fragile girls in these tales are endowed with a greater understanding of their sexual power? Carter loves to tip these older tales on their sides and does so with language so elegant, gothic and lush, so detailed and precise that to read her work is to listen to a symphony.
Selected Stories, 1968-1994
Munro brilliantly makes the case, again and again, for the importance of the short story. Each one in this collection showcases her immense range and scope. She has an eye and understanding for the complex and intricate workings of the landscape of lost and hidden loves, betrayals, and alliances between family members, friends, lovers. With depth and compassion, and subtlety, she shows the human heart as it is: flawed but worthy of infinite attention.
Dictionary of the Khazars (M)
I was twenty years old when a friend of mine insisted, demanded that I read this book. “Stop everything you are doing right now. Seriously. Stop. And read this book,” she said, putting a copy in my hand. I knew from the feel of the book, the heft of it, and the cathedral design of the cover—and oh, by the way, there’s a male edition and a female edition and a warning from the editor that the reader might die—that this book was like no other. As I read I realized that Pavic loves to write. He’s having fun. He’s breaking all kinds of “writerly” rules and making no apologies. The premise of the book is that an elusive group of people settled in the lower Danube and formed a large and powerful kingdom in the 10th century. This kingdom and all its inhabitants came to a sudden and complete demise sometime after their leader (the Khagan) held a polemic in order to determine which faith he’d adopt for himself and his kingdom. He invited emissaries representing the three faiths of “the book”: a Jew, a Christian, and a Moslem. The book is then structured to reflect the three faiths represented in the polemic: a Jewish source and lexicon, a Christian source and lexicon, and a Muslim source and lexicon. Each source contains dictionary entries and definitions that actually read like miniature stories. Many entries cross-reference other entries that send the curious reader on little loops between lexicons. Adding to the fun and mayhem are footnotes compiled by an editor who has quite a lot to say about some of the entries and more anecdotes to add about a murder that occurred in 1982. Part history, part culture, part mythology, and a smattering of linguistics and religious hagiography, this book has everything. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
Asking a writer who their favorite authors and books are is like asking a mother of many children which is her favorite child. Well, of course, they all are! But some books are closer to my heart because of where or who I was at the time I encountered them. They became seminal landmarks of change or growth or discovery for me as both reader and writer. Some books on my list are there because in a time of drought when I doubted whether or not I was really a writer, they reminded me how much I love story and how in love with words I really was. And some on my list are there because they are simply so beautiful I can’t imagine who or what I’d be as a writer and thinker without them.