Category Archives: short stories

What I learned from reading Wodehouse

I’ve read several (well, that might be a bit of a stretch, I’m now on my fourth) books by PG Wodehouse in the past year, and I’ve quite enjoyed them all.

As much as I knew I wanted to read Wodehouse — particularly Jeeves and Wooster, but you start where you can sometimes — I was much more interested in his novels than the short stories. Because I’ve disliked pretty much every encounter I’ve had with a short story in the past decade plus. I was reading greats: Flannery O’Conner and Tobias Wolff, to name two, but I didn’t like ’em. So I thought I had developed a dislike for the short story form itself.

I’d liked O. Henry in high school, but when I revisited his work more recently, I found it trite, and the form too short for the stories therein.

I’d liked James Joyce’s Dubliners in college, but maybe it was the classroom setting and excellent professor?

But Wodehouse’s stories (I’ve read The Man Upstairs and A Few Quick Ones and I’m now reading Plum Pie) have universally thrilled. They don’t all have me laughing out loud, but a fair number do. I love the writing and language, the reappearing characters and stages, and I like the stories.

The one novel I’ve read so far is Frozen Assets, and I loved it, too.

Side note: I’ve fallen in love with The Overlook Press’s Collector’s Wodehouse editions of these books. I love the diminutive hardcover formats, the striped endpapers, the style and colorings of the covers, everything. Thankfully(?) there are many more for me to read!

Wodehouse wrote more than ninety books, so I’ve got plenty of titles from within his repertoire to keep me busy for a while (yay!), but what other short stories / writers do you think I’d enjoy?

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Faith’n’Fiction Roundtable: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff

For Faith’n’Fiction Saturday this week, I participated in a round table discussion with several other bloggers about: In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs: Stories by Tobias Wolff (Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, 1981), 192 pages

Brief book summary

In the Garden of the North American Martyrs is a collection of short stories. The brief volume consists of stories with disparate settings and characters, but after letting the book sit in my mind for awhile, they melded quite nicely together.

I thought the writing was brilliant, but I didn’t fall in love with the stories or the — incredibly clearly drawn — characters while reading.


And now a small part of the discussion, which is spread out over the blogs of all the participants, divided topically. I present you a discussion on tone and content of the stories, discussion on “Face to Face”:

Hannah: Overall, I thought the writing was excellent, superb even. I was struck by how much they felt like man stories, though. I don’t usually think this way, but the collection as a whole seemed very manly.

Amy: You know you bring up an interesting point. I also felt very aware of gender as I was reading, and while there were a couple of stories told from the point of view of a woman, it did seem that many of the stories focused on how things related to the men in the story, who were in fact most often the characters.

I’m curious about all of your thoughts on the story, “Face to Face” This story annoyed me, because Robert essentially was a creep from the start, ends up pretty much raping Virginia, and while she ends things with him, she does so with pity for him. It’s not that I think this is an unlikely scenario, it’s just that it was very uncomfortable to read, and it bothered me that while yes something was clearly wrong with Robert, the women in his life called him, “Poor Robert.” I’m not exactly sure what this is meant to say about the nature of women or even people for this matter.

Hannah: I agree, Amy, that “Face to Face” was uncomfortable to read. It certainly wasn’t the only awkward one, though, in terms of content.

I thought “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs” was an interesting look at gender roles — but moreso at self-perception, introspection. This story made me think. Another peep inside academia, too.

Pete: In fact, I greatly enjoyed the book even when I didn’t understand it. As someone else mentioned, the short about the woman and the man dating was intensely disturbing, in part because of the man’s ‘rape’ and other behavior, and in part because of the woman’s reaction to it. It scares me that there are probably actual relationships in the world that are just that mis-guided. There was a moment at the end of that story, though, that was my favorite part of the entire collection. She tells the man that the relationship isn’t going to work and there’s this amazing moment were the writer says that she sees him choose to be alone for the rest of his life. I thought that was sad and beautifully done.

Visit the other participants in this month’s roundtable

My Friend Amy: Overview
The Quirky Redhead: The stories we liked best and the ones we didn’t
Strange Culture: The Coen Brothers and thoughts on “Smokers”
The Fiddler’s Gun: The themes and where was the light? (by the way I really encourage you go to and weigh in on whether or not books need “light”)
Stuck-In-A-Book: About short stories
Rebelling Against Indifference: The title and how the stories worked as a collection


This book is on the Image Journal list, which I’m reading my way through. In some ways it seems very different than the rest of the books on the list.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Resurrecting an old habit (and words!)

One evening last week, my husband and I read a short story out loud to each other.

When we were first married, we usually had a book going (at least in the colder months, when it’s easier for my active husband to sit still), but it’s been several years since we’ve done so. We read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud in advance of the movies. We never really intended to abandon this habit, but somehow it happened. Last year, after months of trying, we finally received the 800-some page The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton. I had read all the Father Brown stories the library had a few years earlier, but I knew I hadn’t read them all. And I found them enjoyable! I figured this was the perfect read-together book. Still, we didn’t crack the book open until early 2009, when we read one story together.

And then, one night last week, we read the next story.

We read The Secret Garden. And I enjoyed it very much. And I found lovely words that I didn’t know!

logomachy, n Strife or contention in words only, or an argument about words
page 35, The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
“After a time this ‘progressive’ logomachy had reached a crisis of tedium; Lord Galloway got up also and sought the drawing-room.”

argent, adj Silvery
page 36, The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
“The argent light lit up all four corners of the garden.”
I should know this one, but I couldn’t remember.

factotum, n A person hired to do all sorts of work; handyman
page 41, The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
“The instant the factotum had closed the door, Valentin addressed the girl with an entirely new earnestness.”
Doesn’t this one just sound cool?

monomaniac, n One with an excessive interest in or enthusiasm for some one thing, crazed; one who has a mental disorder characterized by irrational preoccupation with one subject
page 43, The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
“‘Is Brayne a monomaniac?'”

bodkin, n A dagger or stiletto; a pointed instrument for making holes in cloth; a long, ornamental hairpin; a thick, blunt needle for drawing ribbon or tape through a hem, etc.
page 46, The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton
“‘Well, the first question, you know, is why a man should kill another with a clumsy sabre at all when a man can kill with a bodkin?'”

More great words on my Words from my reading page.

What new words have you found lately? Do you read aloud? What books have you found good for reading aloud? Obviously, this book will take us awhile to finish, but any suggestions for what next?