Uwem Akpan’s ‘Say You’re One of Them’

say you're one of themAs a librarian who has spent a fair bit of time in Africa, I am always looking for books that describe the Africa that I have seen. When I picked up Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them earlier this year,  I had no idea how painful the stories would feel, or how stunningly accurate the language would read, but it has now jumped to the top of my list of books set in Africa.  The longest story in the collection, “Fattening for Gabon,” is set in Benin, a country that few have heard of but where I was lucky enough to live during my Peace Corps service. In the same way that certain songs or smells or tastes can transport one back to an earlier time,  Akpan’s  merging of English, French, and local languages was so skillfully written it instantly transported me back to my neighborhood in Benin. 

Despite all of this, I was surprised by — and thrilled — when Oprah selected Say You’re One of Them for her book club.  Yay, Oprah!   Thanks to her, you can now listen to Akpan talk about his book and his life as a Nigerian Minister living in Zimbabwe.

For other good fiction out of Nigeria try:

~ Valerie W.,  Central Library

Short Stories – all the narrative you want, now condensed!

There comes a point during summer – usually toward the end – when my reading momentum begins to flag and I find it difficult to muster the energy required to pick up the next 400 page book.  The answer, for me, is short stories.  Done well, a short story does everything a novel does: there’s narrative, an engaging cast of characters, a conflict or source of emotional momentum.  Plus there’s the chance to opt-out: I can read just one story, and then put the book down for 6 months without worrying I will have forgotten the characters or plot when I come back to it, or I can continue to read story after story.  A book of short stories can be just the ticket when reading time is scarce, or you simply feel like something quick yet complete, like watching a half hour TV show instead of a two hour movie.

Many authors who write full-length novels also write short stories, so you can look to see if your favorite writer also has a book of short stories out.  If St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolvesthey don’t, or you’re looking to discover something new, here are some suggestions to get you started.

Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves tells beautiful, resonant stories, mostly about children and teenagers accidentally discovering independence, and all the twisted, complicated emotions that come with it.  “Haunting Olivia” is not to be missed.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain presents, among other stories, an American trying to plan a golf course in the war-torn mountains of Burma, and an ornithologist who discovers a near-extinct species of parrot while held captive by Columbian rebels.  Each story explores a different vividly Continue reading “Short Stories – all the narrative you want, now condensed!”

Loving in Limbo

In the movie Wristcutters: A Love Story we find Zia, played by Patrick Fuget, who is severely depressed after his girlfriend breaks up with him and decides to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. Too bad the pearly gates are not his afterlife, but rather a rundown desert limbo with fellow suicide committers. When Zia finds out his ex-girlfriend also committed suicide shortly after him he decides to go find her and sets off on a bizarre road trip with his Russian comrade, Eugene.

Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker named Mikal who is on a search of her own to find the “People in Charge” believing she is there by mistake. Each person Zia interacts with still shows the scars of how they “offed” themselves as a constant reminder of the decision they had made.  As his crazy road trip goes on, each interaction brings enlightenment to a world that seems beyond understanding.

Based on the short story Kneller’s Happy Camper’s, which is from the book of short stories The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God by Etgar Keret, this movie is a wistful and whimsical tale of the “life” after suicide.

Horror Stories

This is a great time of year to sit around and share ghost stories, as featured in this post from last week, but some readers prefer something a little stronger to properly curdle their blood. The distinction between ghost stories and other horror is nicely drawn in the Modern Library anthology Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, with over a 1,000 pages neatly divided into supernatural horror, and classics of all-too-natural terror and suspense such as Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Ambrose Bierce’s “The Boarded Window,” and Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar,” all of which have been featured in the library’s Thrilling Tales: Adult Storytime. Some other handy classic horror anthologies are The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time (not sure if I agree with their Continue reading “Horror Stories”

Ghost Stories

October is prime time for sharing scary stories, and people who might never think of checking out a horror novel stop by the library to find something to send a chill down their spine. I love chilling and thrilling tales, and read a lot of them as I select stories for the Thrilling Tales Adult Storytime, a lunch hour program (first and third Mondays at the Central Library) featuring live readings of short stories. Ghost stories in particular have a special place in my heart, with their subtle air of otherworldly menace and what Montague Rhodes James called “a pleasing terror.” Here are some of my favorite anthologies and collections.

The Heyday of the ghost story seems to have been about Continue reading “Ghost Stories”