The Greatest Show ~ A National Short Story Month Recommendation

Did you know that May is National Short Story Month? Did you? Well, it is. And despite what publishers say about these things, there are many, many readers of the short story out there, and many, many fine writers and collections of short stories. Lately, a number of short story collections have gotten the recognition they deserve by making the short list and winning some pretty important awards. Olive Kitteridge, for example–Pulitzer Prize winner (when they actually awarded fiction writers with Pulitzers. Remember?) American Salvage short-listed for the National Book Award. My own collection, The Temple of Air, just won a finalist award from the Society of Midland Authors (more on this soon.)

Like I said, there are some damn fine collections out there.

In honor of this month, every few days I am going to give you a title of a recent short story collection that you really must read. And for those of you who don’t think you like short stories (come on, that’s like saying you don’t like ice cream; who doesn’t like ice cream?) I will ease you into this practice of reading story collections by suggesting some collections that are linked (recurring characters, places, themes) and some that are considered–ahem–♥a novel-in-stories♥…that category created by publishers, probably, in order to trick folks into buying story collections.

Today’s title? THE GREATEST SHOW by Michael Downs. You may remember Michael from his recent contribution for this site’s View From the Keyboard, where he actually allowed us a small glimpse into his writing space and his brand new book. Well, I have the book now, and I cannot tell you how wonderful it is. Downs has turned a broken and burned world into something beautiful, a place full of longing and love, of grief and grace.

Two boys take a pair of motorcycles out for a joyride in “Son of Captain America.” Tearing through the streets of late-night Hartford, they run from what they can see, and toward what they cannot. Read this: “Then they ran easy through the city, the night air cold, the engines hot, and Franco imagined the envy of people stuck in clumsy cars or forced to walk–so slow–while the lights of storefronts and crosswalks flashed in his peripheral vision, fleeting constellations, and Franco riding the rocket.”

Wow.

Please read this book.

And as always, thanks for reading. -PMc

A Place on the Shelf ~ On Personal Libraries and a Civil Union

We were at a party on Saturday, celebrating the civil union of two friends, Kathie and Nikki, (congratulations, you two!) and wandering around their lovely condo, checking things out. As you do. These women are well-educated, highly accomplished, world-loving, and talented, so you can imagine the cool things they had in their pad. Real art. A classy pot rack hovering over their kitchen island. Two offices with good computers and comfortable chairs. Cat toys. A huge map of Paris over their guest futon. And books. No surprise here. I know Kathie better than I do Nikki, and I know she is a writer herself (Windy City Queer: LGBTQ Dispatches from the Third Coast, ed. Kathie Bergquist) and teaches writing and does publicity for the very wonderful Women and Children First, and I know she loves to cook. So a bookcase in the dining room stuffed with luscious-looking cookbooks. Shelves everywhere else stuffed with everything else. And I don’t know if it is Kathie or Nikki who is the conscientious one, the organized one (can there be two of these in any relationship?) but the books on the shelves are alphabetized by author. Probably Kathie, come to think of it, all of that early bookstore training.

I have always admired folks who keep their books in such good order. It is beyond me. I pull my books out of their spots, put new ones in there, stack them perilously on the bedside table, shove extras on top of the not-quite-neat rows. Okay, there is some organization among our books. The small Shakespeare Penguin Classics all on the same shelf. The travel books are all on the same bookcase—except for the overflow and the ones I have yanked out recently in order to consider our upcoming trip to Utah, our plans for Philip’s birthday-of-significance trip (any suggestions? We’re thinking Spain, maybe, where we went for his 40th, my 50th. Or maybe somewhere closer and warm. South Beach? Key West? Kathie’s map of Paris made us yearn for that city.) The cookbooks are in the kitchen (although we rarely use these anymore. Note to self: have more dinner parties.) I can’t tell you the wasted minutes I spend hunting for the book I thought I was looking for: My Brother Running, American Salvage, American Skin, Tender is the Night, Symptoms and Early Warning Signs (I’m a bit of a hypochondriac.) But the upside of this is all of the titles I find that I’d forgotten about. The happy discoveries. A script from high school: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. A pocket-sized Spanish dictionary. A Kenyon Review from 1988. Hard Candy.

But this isn’t about my books. It is about my book. Singular. The forthcoming collection The Temple of Air. My debut. If you have read this website at all (and pardon my arrogance for assuming you might have) you know that I have my first book of short stories coming out in September. And this post is really about that. The book. And finding the book on Kathie’s shelf. Among all those others.

Okay, this is no real surprise. I gave Kathie an advance readers’ copy when we began sharing ideas about my having the book launch at Women and Children First. So unless she threw it away (and I can’t imagine Kathie being the sort of person who would do such a blasphemous thing to a book) The Temple of Air would, in all likelihood, be on her shelf. Still. This is the first time that I have come across my book on someone else’s bookshelf. In its rightful alphabetic place, shelved next to John McNally’s Troublemakers. (Sorry I can’t recall now who was to my left; I was very pleased to be rubbing covers with Mr. McNally.)

And this caused me great joy. Delight. I felt like a real writer, my book in the library of a pair of real readers. I can only imagine how very good it will feel when I see my book on the shelves of bookstores! But perhaps this is better. Someone owns this book. It is not waiting to be bought or returned. It has found a home. Among its kind. Books someone cares about.

And speaking of this caring about thing—I think this discovery of my book in the home of Kathie and Nikki was made all the more special because I found it on a day of celebration. A day when there was a whole lot of love in their condo, all directed at the happy couple. And what better place for my book to be than in a home filled with love, good food, smart conversation, dreams and stories, and words that matter. Words like “Civil Union.” Like “I do.” Like “Once Upon a Time,” and like “Happily Ever After.”

Happy new home, Book. Happy new life, Kathie and Nikki.