I finally finished my first book of the year, The Best American Short Stories 2004. That means that, just one year removed from reading 52 novels in ten months, I am on pace to read five books this year. I wish I could say that Best 2004 took so long to read because I was savoring each story, but, as Paul Reiser would say, not so much. Of the twenty stories in the anthology, I would say I liked about half of them. That makes it the most disappointing of these collections that I have read (I’d read five of them before this one).
I like reading stories from newly discovered authors, but the strongest stories this year came from seasoned storywriters – Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and John Updike. Many of the other stories were instantly forgettable. I think one of the reasons that it took so long to get through the collection was the fact that many stories didn’t make me want to take the book out whenever I could squeeze some reading in. Instead, the book stayed in my briefcase and was only read while I was on the train.
Meanwhile, while I was struggling through the last few stories, I got a couple unusual emails that could help me decide what to read next. Last Tuesday I got an email from Jason Headley, an author I had never heard of. It seems he stumbled upon my blog and saw some posts praising my favorite author, Richard Russo. Turns out Headley’s debut novel, Small Town Odds, has been compared to Russo’s writing and was named one of the Barnes & Nobles top books of 2004.
Normally I would ignore an unsolicited email like this but I’m curious to see how close Headley comes to Russo - plus I’m a sucker for debut novels. If I were to end up liking the book, I would want to help spread the word about Headley (but if I don’t end up liking it, well, he’ll probably regret asking a blogger to read it.) Headley has posted the first chapter on his website, which is a good thing because the Philadelphia Library system doesn’t stock Small Town Odds, which means I would have to buy the book (I took all 52 of last year’s novels out from the library). I’ll read the first chapter starting tonight and see if it makes me want to read more.
To add to that weirdness, Saturday (right after I finished installing the dishwasher) I got an email from another author, Mark Winegardner. Seems he also stumbled upon my blog and saw the kind words I had for his book Crooked River Burning – one of my favorite books from last year. He is also the author who was picked to write the first post-Mario Puzo Godfather book. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything - just saying thanks - but I did see on his website that he'll be in South Jersey in April for a book signing. I would like to go see him, but I assume the book he wants to sign is his Godfather Returns, which I have no interest in reading. I can’t get him to sign Crooked because I never bought it; I took it out of the library. I’m not sure what to do about that. Hmmm, he does have a collection of short stories. Man, was I floored when I got his email.
Now if only Richard Russo would return my calls.