Top Ten Tuesday: Best Novellas and Short Stories

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

July 17: Favorite Novellas/Short Stories

515izn3gadl-_ac_us218_1. The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin– Like Chopin’s famous novel The Awakening, this short story is an early exploration of how confining marriage could be for a woman at the turn of the century. It begins when Mrs. Mallard is informed of her husband’s death and follows her through the next hour, as she absorbs what that means for her life now.

 

51ugyhie53l-_ac_us218_2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson– This is probably one of the more famous examples from the genre and for good reason. The more you think about what happens and the reasons for it, the more disturbing the implications become.  All the residents of a small town gather one summer morning to draw lots. Eventually, the residents are narrowed down more and more, until one is selected. What eventually becomes of the “winner” of this lottery will unsettle you.

41iob1yraol-_ac_us218_3. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway– I’m not usually a Hemingway fan at all, but I feel like in this case, his spare, economical style served the material well. A man and a woman are waiting at a train station. We follow their conversation over several pages and eventually we can put two and two together and understand where they’re going and why. Without any narrative commentary, the reader still gets a sense of the emotional distance between these people, and the tension comes from what they’re not saying.

61g-wucnurl-_ac_us218_4. The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield- This poignant story deals with a wealthy family preparing for a garden party. When they receive the news that their neighbor has died, the daughter Laura wants to call off the party. She’s overruled by the rest of the family. But when Laura is sent to bring some flowers to the dead man’s grieving family, she’s forever changed by what she encounters. To me, it’s a perfect example of what makes the short story special. It covers what is really a tiny piece of the character’s life (only a few hours), but also a time that will change her in a profound way.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_5. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- The title story in Carter’s collection of retold fairy tales, this story explores the classic fairy tale, Bluebeard, in which a girl marries an older man and is taken to his castle, where she’s given the keys to all the rooms and is told that she can’t open one room. Of course, she does open it and discovers the bloody corpses of her husband’s previous wives. Carter’s retelling explores themes that are prevalent throughout her work, but most particularly her fairy tale retellings. These themes include sexuality and maternal instinct.

31g7ovvubul-_ac_us218_6. Shopgirl by Steve Martin– This novella by Steve Martin (yes, that Steven Martin) focuses on Mirabelle, a department store salesgirl in her late 20s who becomes involved with an older man. But it’s not the typical older man/younger woman misogynistic fantasy that you’d expect from an older male author. The focus of the novel remains on largely on Mirabelle throughout; her loneliness, her frustrations, and the reasons that she becomes involved in this relationship. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer–  Margaret Johnson, a wealthy woman from North Carolina, travels to Florence with her daughter Clara in 1953. Margaret’s husband, Roy, stays home to work. In Florence, Clara meets Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young man with whom she falls in love. Clara isn’t quite as she first appears, which may be a barrier to her future with Fabrizio.  Margaret hates the thought of her daughter suffering the pain of love gone wrong. But she is not able to express her concerns to Fabrizio or his family due to the language barrier.  Or so she thinks. As Clara and Fabrizio’s relationship progresses Margaret realizes that while she’s afraid of what will happen if Clara’s secret is discovered, her fear may be overruled by her hope for Clara’s happiness. These dual maternal instincts tear at her, as she tries to figure out what is in her daughter’s best interests.

51q4ceca-kl-_ac_us218_8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan– In 1962, Florence and Edward fall in love and get married.  Both are virgins. While Edward is nervous about his wedding night, he is nonetheless looking forward to marriage. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified by the little she knows is involved in sexual intimacy. Because they’re both young and unsure, they navigate this tension in a clumsy way. But the words they don’t say, and the gestures they fail to make, may ultimately be what determines the fate of their marriage and the course of their lives. The narration runs parallel to the conflict. What isn’t explicitly said about the characters is implied. And those are the things that may make all the difference. This book caused some controversy in 2007 when it was nominated for the Booker Prize. At less than 40,000 words, it’s technically a novella, but it was allowed onto the shortlist of novels by the panel.

41srw9zyjrl-_ac_us218_9. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin– Omelas is a utopian city where all the residents live in peace and prosperity. As our unnamed narrator describes it, it seems too good to be true. In order to convince the reader that it is true, the narrator begins to speak of the price that is paid for the city’s happiness. It’s a price that’s initially horrifying to the residents once they learn of it. But most make their peace with it, knowing that it’s for the greater good. But some people aren’t able to accept it and end up leaving Omelas. The unasked question for the reader is, of course, “which would you be?” Would you live in paradise knowing that somewhere, an unseen injustice takes place all the time to keep you there? Or would you leave?

5100vzgkz-l-_ac_us218_10.  The Landlady by Roald Dahl– Billy Weaver is a young man traveling from London to Bath on business. He stops overnight at a bed and breakfast. The landlady is an older woman whom Billy initially suspects might be a little senile.  When he goes to sign the guestbook he sees that two of the previous lodgers have names that seem familiar to him but he can’t quite place. The landlady gives him some tea and they chat a bit. Nothing that happens seems ominous but the feeling that something is “off” pervades the story. When the truth about the B&B is revealed the reader will go back and look through the story trying to spot the clues.

Actors and Authors: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

41l1w9bzwl-_ac_us218_A few weeks ago, I was at a family function and my aunt received a book called Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. It was short stories written by the actor. It made me think about how many literary works written by actors I’ve seen over the years, and why it seems like actors often cross over into writing. And by the way, I’m talking about fiction, not a tell-all autobiography written by a ghostwriter. Also, these are actors who I suspect have written their own books, and again not hired a ghostwriter.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (apparently he’s also written another novel called The Paper Soldier, which is unavailable)

Shopgirl, The Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

Rules For A Knight, The Hottest State and Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke

Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

Holy Cow, Miss Subways, and Bucky F*cking Dent by David Duchovny

Palo Alto, Actors Anonymous by James Franco

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One of my favorite books as a child was written by Julie Andrews.

Mandy, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, and The Great American Mousical by Julie Andrews

Marge in Charge, Seduced by Fame and Bewitched by Isla Fisher

When It Happens To You by Molly Ringwald

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Postcards From The Edge, Surrender The Pink, The Best Awful Delusion of Grandma by Carrie Fisher

Are all of these books good? Of course not. Are some good? Yes. I confess that I haven’t read them all, but I do think that Steve Martin, Carrie Fisher, Julie Andrews and several others are legit writers as well as talented performers. And that list doesn’t include the many actors who have written nonfiction, poetry, and drama.  Many of the actors I listed above have other works in those categories.

Often we think of actors as being attention seekers who love to perform for an audience, whereas writers are seen as introverts. who feel safer behind a computer than in front of a camera or on a stage. But this is a difference that’s more in the way that art is delivered to an audience rather than the art itself. It’s also a stereotype to which there are many exceptions. Many actors feel safer gaining attention while in character than out of it. The character is a mask that allows the actor a safe space from which to express things. A writer uses the mask of character in a very similar way.

I’ve experienced these similarities myself. As a child, I wanted to be a writer and/or an actor. I had a vivid imagination and a dramatic inner world full of stories that were looking for a way out. I was also very shy in many ways. Acting gave me a chance to be recognized emotionally in a safe way. People would react to the character rather than to me personally. I feel a similar kind of freedom in writing. I took acting classes for years. I did school plays and community theater. So why did I choose writing instead of acting? Well, aside from a total lack of acting talent, I find more freedom as a writer. As an actor, I was limited by the script. I could bring my own interpretation to a character, but I had to be consistent with the director and the other actors. By contrast, writing gave me complete control.

Molly Ringwald clarified why it’s really natural for an actor to cross over into writing in  recent interview:

I just wrote an op-ed for the New York Times called “Act Like a Writer,” and mentioned how it’s always surprising to people when they hear that an actor has written literary fiction. But for me it’s surprising, in a way, that more actors don’t do it; it’s so connected in terms of the character and the back story. As an actor you’re always trying to figure out why a person does what they do; why they very often do exactly the opposite of what they’re supposed to. And sort of the psychology of that is something I’ve always been interested in, and I think that’s definitely extended into my writing.

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It’s not just a contemporary trend. Shakespeare was an actor. So was Charles Dickens.  Actors and writers have long felt similar creative drives. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a great writer will always be a great actor or vice versa. It just means that they have similar artistic origins that are expressed differently.

Journalist and author Andrea Chalupa  says that “On the rare occasion someone asks me for writing advice, I always say to take an acting class.” This is because

Writers can spend days, weeks holed up in a room, churning out words, not knowing if their work is any good—engaging, or just shallow “busy work.” Actors, on the other hand, have the benefit of the mirror, studying recordings of themselves, or the reaction of any sized audience to immediately know whether they’re being honest… Unlike the one formal writing class I had previously taken, the acting class taught me how to connect with people, and to cut out what’s not essential. The regular instant feedback of the instructor and the audience of a dozen students tethered me to the responsibility to simply be. Studying acting is at first scary then it becomes invigorating; it’s physically challenging and head-clearing.

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I think authors and actors are more similar as artists than they are different: both are required to disappear into a pretend world and make an audience believe that it’s reality. Both need a certain level of comfort with language and an understand of a character and that character’s motivations and intentions.

What do you think? Are their other arts and artists with similar overlap?