It is always fun thinking about favourites and today I’ve been looking at short story collections. Five of my favourites, in no particular order, are:-
Winnie The Pooh by A A Milne
Yes, this does count as a short story collection; perhaps it is the all-time perfect short story collection. After checking the end-papers displaying a map of the Hundred Aker Wood (that’s how it’s spelt on the map!), we are introduced to Christopher Robin and Pooh, watch as Pooh gets stuck in a very tight place, go on hunts for heffalumps, commiserate with Eeyore when he loses his tail and celebrate his birthday with him, then we survive a flood with the help of an umbrella. We meet Kanga and Baby Roo then everyone goes on an Expotition to the North Pole before it’s finally time to say goodbye. My hardback copy was a present from my brother when he was a grown-up and I was still a child (I’ve got a second, paperback copy from when my daughter was young). I love Winne The Pooh.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
A fair leap from Winnie The Pooh, although they sit near each other on my strictly alphabetical order bookshelves! I love Murakami’s novels, as I have said before, but he is also a skillful short story writer. In this particular set he concentrates on the lives of men who are alone in some way or another and the seven stories are written with his usual blend of the familiar and the surreal. For me, the standout story is Samsa In Love because it mirrors Kafka’s Metamorphosis in that the central character awakes in bed to find he has been transformed into something utterly alien to him – in this case he has become a human being. Stepping outside our human experience and describing our normal functions as something utterly inexplicable gives this story a wonderful strength.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
I’ve raved about this collection before and doubtless will again. These stories, all of which contain typewriters as a central or peripheral theme, are written in a way that reminds me of the already-dated sci-fi stories I read in my teenage years: the writing from the 1950s that I was reading in the 1970s. In this volume, I think my favourite story is These Are The Meditations Of My Heart which is the sweet and uplifting tale of a girl alone in a big city who finds her sense of belonging when she buys an old typewriter on a whim. I would also give honourable credits to The Past Is Important To Us which is a rather bleaker story on the theme of time travel and obsession and to Steve Wong Is Perfect which rounds off the collection with a story about a guy who seemingly can’t stop bowling perfect strikes; it deals with how people react to fame.
The last two collections on my list are the two where my copies appear to be eternally missing. I am sure I have both, but when I look for them they are not there and I think I need to re-purchase them.
The Complete Short Stories of H G Wells
This is a very thick tome, not quite at the level of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, but not far off. Wells wrote a lot of short fiction and most of it is very good indeed. The Time Machine, which many people know, is one of the longer pieces in the collected works. For me, the stories that have stuck through the years are The Empire of the Ants (yep, the ants are on the rampage and it isn’t pretty); A Vision of Judgement, which has had me rather dreading the possibility of there being a deity for most of my life; A Story of the Days to Come about which I can remember nothing except that I really enjoyed it. However, if I were to recommend one story above all others it would be A Dream of Armageddon in which the narrator sits opposite a man on a train who tells him a tale of a dream world which he wakes to every time he sleeps and is more real than the world he inhabits in his waking hours.
The Menace From Earth by Robert A Heinlein
Pure 1950s sci-fi which contains a story that still haunts me years after I first read it – Year Of The Jackpot. It charts a year where things go increasingly wrong, which starts with small reports in the newspapers of people behaving oddly and gradually expands until the hero realises that the world is heading to a doomsday. As things get progressively worse, he and the girl he falls in love with along the way set themselves up in a remote area and prepare to sit out the destruction of most of civilisation. There are times even now when I read a news story that is just plain odd, and I think of this story and how it ends, and I feel a chill.