Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Was there a story?" - Reading: The Sea, If on a Winter's Night, The Seventh Man, Nine Postcards & more

This blog post is inspired by the general joy of reading, the 7 continents reading challenge, megacities and a blog series. More, at the bottom of this post.

Was there a story?
Yes, there was always a story.
Did you write this one down?
I’ve written them all down.
(John Biguenet, from "The Sea")


This week's reads are about short stories, old ones and new ones, paper stories and online stories - and about the telling of stories, and the reading of stories. About the ocean of stories that surrounds us, and the way they lead to each other.

"The Sea" (Granta Collection #61)

Earlier this year, I read the Granta collection on Pakistan and on Africa, and was impressed by both of them. So I ordered another one, "The Sea", thinking that it might be a good summer read. And it is. And surprise: it's from 1998, but it feels both fresh and timeless like the ocean. One of the stories that stood out for me was Murakami's "The Sea", a story framed by a story, and about the way we all have a life story, the story that defines us, the one that answers the question "and what's your story?". Here's the start: 
The Seventh Man: "It was a September afternoon during my tenth year when that wave nearly brought me to my end," the Seventh Man began in a quiet voice.
He was the last person to speak that night. The hour hand on the clock had already past ten. No one knew his name. There was probably nobody who knew anything about him.The Seventh Man coughed quietly. All other words dropped away into silence. Without saying anything, everyone waited for him to go on.
PS: the story isn't officially online, but try googling "Murakami The Seventh Man". Or get a secondhand copy of "The Sea". The collection starts with James Hamilton-Paterson, whose book on living on the Philippine Islands i read last November on Lanzarote islands (more here).. the short story includes in the collection is "Sea Burial", starting with the other kind of stories that define our culture: "Do you remember this?"


"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" by Italo Calvino

Published in 1979, and just as timeless as "The Sea", Calvino's book is "an experimental text that looks longingly back to the great age of narration", and of those books with more than 20.000 ratings at Goodreads: "If on a Winter's Night..."It's also a meta-book: a book about reading this book, with the reader directly adressed and involved in the story, right from the curious first line: 

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade." (more here)
And it's a book about the nature of stories, and the way books immerse the reader in the ocean of stories that are out there:
"I'm producing too many stories at once because what I want is for you to feel, around the story, a saturation of other stories that I could tell and maybe will tell or who knows may already have told on some other occasion, a space full of stories that perhaps is simply my lifetime, where you can move in all directions, as in space, always finding stories that cannot be told until other stories are told first, and so, setting out from any moment or place, you encounter always the same density of material to be told."
It's a fascinating book, but not an easy read. It's structure is broken in two levels, too, so it feels just fitting to pause in between, to read some other stories from outside the Winter's Night, stories written last year:


Some of the Million Stories

The Million Story Award 2013 Editor Nomination List is online. It includes more than 70 online magazines, a great base to explore new magazines, new authors and new stories. Here's more: Story South Million Writers Award 

Here are some nominated stories I especially enjoyed so far, and they are very much about how every life has its story, just as every place - and that the question "who are you" often refers to "what's your story?":

Introduction to Ganesh 
by Jeanette Harris, in Country Rag
 “The question for Dar was, "Who was Karen?" They lived together in their early sixties for over three years. That left decades and lives separate and unaccounted for. She'd been ill the whole time he knew her. What was a healthy Karen? A young one?..."

Nine Postcards from the Pondicherry Border
by Sharanya Manivannan, in Flycatcher
“There are parts of the world that imprint themselves on our souls, and we carry them with us ever after...”

Twenty Ways the Desert Could Kill You
 by Sarah Pinsker  in Daily Science Fiction
"She said, "Pack your summer clothes and your five favorite things, Allie. We're leaving on an adventure." If I had known her idea of an adventure I might have packed better. I would have said goodbye to my friends..."

A Bird in the House
by Ben Black in Identity Theory
“And what if, after years of living in the same place, the same town, getting to know the people, the streets, the changes in the seasons—what if after you’ve been somewhere so long that you can tell by the wind today what will happen tomorrow, you discover that a bird has been living in your house all along?...”

Have a great reading week!


Book Links, Previous Reads & Finding Books

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading... there also is a visual bookshelf, just click it to get there.

Reading around the world - i really enjoy this literal discovery-tour of the world, and it now made me go and pull some useful links together in a blog post: Finding books by country: helpful links + resources

More monday reads from other bloggers: link list at book journey

And my own book... is Worl(d)s Apart. True.

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