Lorrie Moore - Birds of America
This collection of short stories (twelve of them to be exact) is holding first on my list of books right now. Each story is like an intimate portrait. You're only given a small piece of each character's life, yet with this glimpse through their open windows you seem to know them through and through. Their relationships are unique and real and sometimes cringe inducing. They are broken but the twisted mess is beautiful. It's like reading a map of one way roads and detours and then throwing it away and just driving. It's all the things that make us human.
S.E Hinton - The Outsiders
Some of the greatest stories come from the people we rarely listen to. From the first sentence to the perfectly framed ending you can't let go and when it's over you don't want to. It's like dirt in an open wound and golden yellow dust moats in the attic; it's raw and sweet and tragic and beautiful, desperate and hopeful. Each character has a distinct and poignant voice, each one alive from their first description. Ponyboy, who narrates the story, is a greaser caught in a societal war, a war he knows he cannot win but only attempt to survive. It's a story too many young adults can still relate to today and the fact that Hinton wrote this manuscript when she was just sixteen nudges this book a little closer to my heart.
John Updike - A&P
I follow The Outsiders with A&P because they just feel like family. The narrators' voices sing off-key with rough but harmonizing melodies. A&P is one of Updike's short stories first published in 1961. Our narrator, Sammy, describes with perfect detail his encounter with three girls strolling (sunburnt and barefoot.) into the grocery store he works at. The images created are pristine; undoubtably realistic and the miniscule notations are dropped into your mind as if the observations were actually your own. It's a quick read but one that stays with you like a memory.
Guy De Maupassant - Love
Of everything I've ever read about love, Maupassant achieves in three pages what so many cannot in hundreds. This narrative, which can be found in A Parisian Affair and Other Stories, is presented as pages of a hunter's (or, depending on the translation, sportsman's) journal. He writes of a morning in autumn when he accompanies his cousin on a hunting trip. The narrator's account ends with a bird wailing for the mate he has just killed. The story is haunting; describing, with one perfect image, loss,love and the tragic beauty of nature and life.
Lemony Snicket - A Series of Unfortunate Events
Yes. I'm serious. Lemony Snicket or Daniel Handler as some may refer to him by, creates a fantastic world of heroes, villains and preposterously unhelpful adults. The books follow three orphans: Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, who loose their parents in a tragic accident. Snicket, the writer of all 13 stories as well as a prominent character, chronicles their adventures from place to place. Handler's literary references (which include Woolf, Poe, Shakespeare, Baudelaire...the list goes on) and cultural tie-ins may whisk right over the heads of younger readers and even many adults; but with some attention to detail the collection of allusions is dizzying and the organized tangle of intertwining events is beyond impressive. This series epitomizes imagination while never loosing the ironic edge which separates these stories from so many other children's book series. Every detail down to each title is poetic and strangely beautiful. So go ahead, raid your kid's bookcases (or have them steal a copy from school), and settle in with the Baudelaires.