The triumph of the short story

Good things come in small packages, they say. In Spain we say: “lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno” the same thinking can be applied to the short story. If you can develop characters and plot in not too many pages instead of hundreds you might have what it takes.

Your end of apprenticeship project in the Middle Ages required you to do a miniature of whatever your craft was; If you were a carpentry apprentice you had to make a tiny piece of furniture. These pieces where far more difficult to make than a regular sized piece. Again, the same goes for short stories. Boiling down a full story to a few pages requires a craftmanship not all writers have.

Short stories are the reason I fell in love with Literature (yes, with capital L). My high school Spanish lit teacher Soledad Sprackling had me reading Borges, and García Márquez. Later on I devoured Poe, Hemingway, Cortázar, Cervantes’ Novelas Ejemplares, Rosario Castellanos, Fuentes, etc. etc.

I recently read back-to-back books of shorts stories and was surprised to see that I have never written about short stories in this blog.

Las guerras perdidas is by Oswaldo Estrada, a dear friend and professor at UNC. Unfortunately, I never took any of his courses since our research interests did not match. Regardless, we became good friends. Last year on a weekend trip to Chapel Hill he even hosted a tapas dinner for me. His bittersweet short stories about loss and pain are beautifully written, his prose is reminiscent of García Márquez “Y aunque te bañes y perfumes, siempre hueles a tristeza.” Estrada’s insight into the human condition is precise, but sweetly narrated, which makes for a wonderful read. Highly recommended, five stars, two thumbs up!

Chilean Benjamín Labatut writes Un verdor terrible (oh yes sorry, both books are in Spanish). Labatut focuses his stories on physicists and chemists, scientists and their discoveries during the first half of the XX C. These are deeply researched stories that mix fiction and history in unknown (to the reader) quantities. It makes for scary but rewarding reading, riveting.

If you like short stories and read Spanish, I recommend both of these books. You are welcome.

Please leave your comments and recommendations below!

Books, books, books

Some of the books I had lying around

Some of the books I had lying around

Locked up at home during the Coronavirus quarantine, I get to read a lot, which got me thinking of books This blog exists because of books. You see, I started this blog to report my Harley-Davidson trip visiting universities across the South for my PhD in Spanish Literature, that is: books. Yes, I am addicted to books. Having said that, I am a slow reader. So, while I enjoy books, I do not devour books like some folks do. Anyway let’s start at the beginning:

My first blurry memories of reading are of Enid Blyton, I guess like millions of children. Fortunately in high school, I had the privilege of being taught by Mrs. Soledad Sprackling. And my mind exploded with what she had me read: Borges, Neruda, Lorca, et al. That was it, I was hooked. In college my super cultured friend Silvia Velez introduced me to Gabriel García Márquez and my mind exploded again! It has been a series of explosions since.

Luckily I can read in Spanish, English and French and find it very frustrating when I cannot read every book in the original language it was written in. In fact, when I was twirling about with the idea of getting my PhD, I wanted to study comparative lit Spanish / Russian, but there was no way I was going to learn that level of Russian in a hurry, so that was the end of that thought. Miguel de Unamuno, one of my literary heroes actually learnt Danish so he could read Kierkegaard, bastard.

Here is a list of some of my favorite books with only number 1 in a clear position – all the rest vary according to the day you ask me:

  1. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote. I have only read it three times, once with the amazing Prof. Louise Cohen. She shared with me her passion for this book, which I have written about in previous posts.
  2. Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Montecristo. Love, adventure, revenge, massive wealth, what’s not to like?
  3. Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina / War and Peace / Death of Ivan Ilyich. Tough call on this one…
  4. Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea. It takes a foreigner to describe Spain with such precision. High School is also where I got hooked on Hemingway.
  5. Gabriel García Marquez – Cien Años de Soledad (But really any by him). Of course, nowadays, I keep thinking of Love in the Times of Cholera
  6. Voltaire – Candide. Possibly the best satire ever written?
  7. Miguel de Unamuno – San Manuel Bueno, mártir. Proto-existentialism at its best!
  8. Mikhail Bulgakov – Master and Margarita. Or as the Rollings Stones interpreted it: Sympathy for the Devil
  9. Francisco de Isla – His early works. After all, I am the leading authority on the subject…

Of course, there are many, many more, but I don’t want to bore you, dear reader, any more.

Interestingly, my last read was. The Grace in Dying by Kathleen Dowling Singh which was recommended to me (like so many more) by my dear friend Patxi. It is about the spiritual journey of death, and how the best approach to death is meditation. I started reading it before the massive Covid outbreak and it has helped me digest the numbers in the news. I loved it. My next read, to celebrate the centenary of Benito Perez Galdos’ death will be Trafalgar, about the battle of the same name, not the square in London.

There you have it, some thoughts on reading and my some of my favorite books. Which are yours? What do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!!

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read

That is not one of the editions of Quijote that I have read