Friday, June 1, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Points of View - An Anthology of Short Stories

What The F#!& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful
Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories
Edited by James Moffett, Signet Press, 1966 

So I went to not one but TWO book events while I was in Britain last week. They were events for two newly published short story collections, and they were super fun! The first night, the author spoke at length of his love of the short story, then did two very funny and well-read selections from two of the stories in the collection, and I was so taken with the reading that I bought the book. The second night, the author spoke at length of his love of the short story, then did two very funny and well-read selections from two of the stories in the collection, and I was so taken with his articulate, intelligent praise for writers I love and respect that I bought the book.

The first one was mediocre, decently written but full of very oddly antiquated fabular elements. The second one was so poorly written I couldn't finish.

I won't name the authors here. I like them as people. I think they both have a righteous and most excellent love of the form, even if their admiration for it doesn't translate into the ability to do it especially well themselves. Both of them spoke incredibly lovingly of what makes a great short story, and said insightful and clever things that I agree with. So really, when I put the second book down halfway through because the prose was too wooden for me to stomach without excreting sawdust later, all I wanted to do was pick up, well, a really great short story

In case you can't tell, it says "America was proud of its front
porch until John Steinbeck showed the backyard." Um, do
they maybe mean "showed the migrant workers gradually
becoming slave labor in the backyard" or did he maybe
write a book on lawn bowling that I wasn't aware of?
Via SubtleTea, which has some great quotes of his.
Points of View is a collection of some of the best American short stories ever written. I have the 1966 edition, with the cool dotted circle on it. I'm the kind of person who clings to the editions they encountered first, because other editions are wrong and don't do it right, so I'm going to tell you to get this edition if you can as well. The revised edition is cool and all, and has more writing by non-white-straight-male-dudes (stories from Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Toshio Mori, etc), but they took out some of the really great masters to make room. I'm all for contemporary authors and cultural scope, heck yes. But what I loved about Points of View is that it showcased the people who perfected the form first. (So buy both editions, I guess.) They took out Bernard Malamud. They took out William Carlos Williams. They took out John Steinbeck. And Conrad and Joyce and Chekhov and Dylan f!#&ing Thomas. Really. Why they saw fit to make such substitutions and not just create a Volume F!#&ing II is beyond me. So I will calmly and quietly refer you to the original edition, with the older stories. And then, once you're firmly convinced that short stories are ah-may-zing, why not get the newer edition, with the newer stories? Right. Good. So...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it?

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
Points of View is an anthology, so, um, lots of people wrote it. It features some of the greatest, sharpest gems of short fiction from the first six decades of the 20th century, and some older stuff as well. As far as I know,  these are the people who made short fiction what it is. I mean these folks are the serious heavyweights. The dudes and ladies who invented the kinds of endings that leave you gasping. The people who figured out how to make ten pages pack a punch.

Like you didn't already know the New
Yorker sucked. But I'll make any excuse
for bashing their fiction selections. Of
course I'm just jealous, right?
Image via ThoughtGadgets.
As with many collections published back in the day, it doesn't feature much in the way of writers who weren't white. The revised edition goes some way to correcting that - adding Langston Hughes, for example, who totally shoulda been in the original edition. Same with James Baldwin. That being said, while the revised edition contains more diverse contemporary writers, it doesn't add much beyond the two noted above to the list of non-white authors writing important short fiction in the same time periods as the authors in the original edition were writing. That seems to me to be a shortfall. Whine whine, I know, but really? Not even Zora Neale Hurston? Geez. One of the tougher things for me about doing the happy-skip-jump about this anthology is that it's not an American anthology (it's got Chekhov, as I said, and Maupassant, and Henry James and Dostoevsky and whatnot) and therefore really doesn't have much of an excuse not to have more globally diverse writing in either edition. So that's kind of a bummer. Just think of it as a sampling, I guess, and bear in mind that Western white folks did not, in fact, have a monopoly on the short story form - just a monopoly on publishing in the West. The writers who are included, though, do amazing things with short stories, and you should read them. Although, fair warning? You will want to throw the New Yorker across the room when you're done for giving us such sad and whiny excuses for good short fiction. (Talk about white dudes...)

2. What the f!#& is it about?
This is the best cover ever for this book, because
it literally has nothing to do whatsoever with the
contents. ("Adventures of a Demon Lover" is
presumably a reference to the story "Daemon
Lover," which is awesome and not at all about
demons, even a little bit. Sorry. Thank you
Jezebel for the image and an excellent article
about her work which you should totally read.
Well, the cool thing about the collection (other than having dozens of amazing stories in it, geez) is the format. As the title implies makes glaringly obvious, it's all about points of view - so the stories are separated into groups based on the perspective that's being used to tell the story. Interior monologue, anonymous narration, epistolary communication - it's got a whole bunch of them lined up for you, and what's really neat is the way the stories in each grouping really fit together despite the total differences among them. Some are funny, some are serious, some are romantic, some are tragic, some are shocking - the collection includes Shirley Jackson's fanf!#&ingtabulous story "The Lottery," and if you don't know what that is for the love of god don't google it just read it please -  and the grouping by narrative style provides a really intuitive and fluid connection between the pieces. It also keeps things fresh - as a reader, one short story after another can be a little exhausting, what with the constant switches in tone, style, content, and character. The manner of grouping gives you a kind of aha! moment each time you come to the next group, so that you have a new way to look at the stories you're reading every few dozen pages. It keeps them from running together - and, well, it's an excellent teaching tool, if you like that kind of thing.
As for what each individual story is about, well, lots of different things, genius. (I know, I know, I asked the question, not you.) What holds them together is the shining awesomeness of the writing. These stories are masterworks. You might not like all of them, and that's fine and probably even good. But each one glows. They are tight, sharp, gleaming examples of what can be done with a few words and a fine mind. Reading them is like eating from a tray of tiny little cakes, all of them different and every one of them intrinsically, heartbreakingly delicious.

3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
This book is delightfully fat and full of stories - the original edition has 41, the revised 44 - and the variety makes it perfect for reading almost anywhere. Take it on a plane or a long journey to somewhere, or your morning commute. Read it on your lunch break, or on the porch swing with a lemonade and the sun going down, or a park bench somewhere. Read the best ones aloud to friends and family. 

4. When the f!#& is it set? 
The stories take place all over. Something for everyone, really. (Although the newer edition has fewer stories that take place prior to the turn of the century, presumably because that's not hip or something?)

5. Why the f!#& should I read it?
This is like a a small paper box full of the awesomeness of storytelling. That's why you should read it. The end.
Oh, well, and also the majority of the featured writers wrote lots of other stuff, including epically good novels and essays and whatnot, so reading it can be a wonderful way to find some new classic writers to check out without having to figure out in the bookstore whether you'll hate them or not. (Because you still go to the bookstore, right? Your awesome local bookstore? You'd just better, mister.)

I googled "paper box full of awesomeness" and this is what I
got. Really. The book is totally like this you guys. It's the
wonderful work of artist Sarah Bridgland, via The Best Part.
.And because it will remind you of the total spellbinding beauty of words and the thousands of different ways there are to deploy them in such a way as to move the human heart. The stories in Points of View are, of course, exactly that - assorted, elegant, forthright, funny, touching, quiet, brash perspectives on how to tell a story and what a story can be. Drawing together these beautifully-crafted stories is a reminder that there's not one way to do it right, not one voice to have, not one topic that's important. I'd say that a pretty f!#&ing good thing to remember.


  1. I mostly not that into short stories; however, there have been a number of them that have been very influential on me. "The Lottery" is one of those. Also, "The Most Dangerous Game."

    I don't write many, either; although, I do have one, right now, that's kind of important, but that's because it's the intro to something else. Even though it's a story in its own right.

    1. I've never been that interested in writing short stories myself - mostly because I don't feel like I have what it takes to write a piece that packs the kind of punch I'd want. I feel more confident in my ability to write long-form. But me too with the influential thing. ("The Most Dangerous Game" is awesome.) Mostly Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bernard Malamud, though. I love them.

  2. agree re second collection you bought in Britland! such a shame, the author seems to have no ablity to self-edit. can't agree re the first... largely, because I haven't finished it yet. but I
    actually think in this case it's just a matter of taste. love the blog. am rushing out to my local bookstore/shop to get a copy!


    1. I'd be really interested to hear what you think of the first one. I have a very specific set of criticisms, but I actually did enjoy it - just less than I thought I would after the extremely lively reading. A few of the stories I found to be pretty dull, but a couple did have a really good classical short story wallop to them. Would love to discuss.

      Shame about the second book, but glad to hear I wasn't alone. I was mostly just surprised that nobody ELSE seemed to have edited it.

  3. I'll get back to you. Meanwhile fancy writing some reviews (reposting your reviews) for THE FACTORY?

  4. Hi Jericha:
    I sent that book to you. Let me know when you get it. I tried contacting the writer and she never responded. Ah, well. Have a great week!


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