Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

20130519_110722I’m really enjoying this practice, you guys! It hits so many spots: an enriching start to the day, an entrance into the creative state of mind, a way to sample as many authors as I can, to get through the many books I have I’ve not yet touched. Christians often read daily devotionals, and you know, I get it. My daily devotional is a short story in the morning. It is truly edifying.

On that note, I’m reminded that last year I drew up a book proposal for an anthology of short stories. It’s a special one, and I’ll say more when I can confidently do so. But this series of recaps as well as my kitchen bookshelf has got me thinking even more about this proposal, about the stories I would include. I’ve been reluctant to submit the idea, though I know it’s good, in case I can’t follow up with the work because of how much time it may take. But I’m already doing much of the “work,” I see. I’m now prepared to revisit the proposal. I’ll keep you posted on any news.

And now for the week’s recap:

May 12: Er…I seem to have lost what I read. I have no idea. I’m sorry to whoever that was!

May 13: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Precious” by Miranda Hill, from SLEEPING FUNNYRandom House, 2012. A different kind of mothering with a fantastic twist at the end.  A brilliant story from a superb, original collection. Miranda made me so jealous with this book! Do read it.

May 14: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Price of Acorn,” by Natalee Caple, from THE HEART IS ITS OWN REASON. Insomniac Press, 1998. A couple sells their child in exchange for a washing machine. Great twist at the end. Really enjoyed this story!

May 15: “Throwing Cotton,” by Sarah Selecky, from THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY, Thomas Allen, 2011. Two couples share a cottage. Sexy. This story has a Margaret Atwood feel somehow, though it’s Sarah’s own. Her way with words is my inspiration. I reviewed the book here. Sarah is my coach, my cheerleader, a kindred friend. I love her heart. I lent this book to my sister in England last July when she visited and she took it back with her because I insisted she keep it so she could finish it. I have missed it so much I bought another copy.

May 16: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Two-Step,” by John Vigna, from BULL HEAD. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012. Excellent. Difficult to summarize, as there’s more going on than just a man visiting his brother in prison for three days. Think I’m going to really enjoy this collection. Gritty. I want to sink my teeth in. Even though I hate the cover. PS. How could I not like an author who has a website honouring his beautiful, sadly deceased dog? The pictures are mmm.

May 17: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Ordinary Life,” by Elizabeth Berg, from the collection of the same name. 79-yr-old Mavis decides she needs a retreat and locks herself in the bathroom with supplies for a week, while her husband Al tries to make her come out. Sweet, funny, insightful. I love this author. I read Open House soon after my first marriage broke up, and I was hers.

May 18: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Eight-ball,” by Samuel Martin, from THIS RAMSHACKLE TABERNACLEBreakwater Books Ltd., 2010. One of the hardest stories I’ve ever read. Absolutely tragic. This chiaroscuric, insightful collection has always been a big inspiration for me. Thanks, Sam. Review of collection here.

May 19: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Master of Disaster,” by Guy Vanderhaeghe, from THINGS AS THEY ARE. I’ve been wanting to read Vanderhaeghe since university and this is my first time. I’m an idiot. This is gold.

Just before I go, I’ll leave you with a short interview I did with Open Books Ontario. They said really awesome things about this blog and me, which made my day! Also, I lie just a little bit about my day. Since I got myself a mobile, that’s really my ideal day I’m talking about.

Hope you’re enjoying these posts. Know what I’ve found? Short story a day keeps the reading slumps away!

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

393136_10151598020025935_137351792_nHi guys! Apologies: I’ve been preoccupied with other things lately, and I missed the last two weeks’ recap. I’ll include them here with this week’s. Just a note: There isn’t a single book in this pile I wouldn’t recommend. God, I have good books!

April 22: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Spending time with Saleema Nawaz Webster, who currently deals with the aftermath of a fire having ravaged her home last night. Reading “Scar Tissue,” from her collection MOTHER SUPERIOR. Freehand Books, 2008. Thinking of you, Saleema.

April 23: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Miracle Mile,” by Alexander MacLeod, from LIGHT LIFTING. @biblioasis. I LIVED (not a typo!) this story. Superb. Great tension, and so evocative, especially of school track meets. Fantastic similes and metaphors. Very glad I own this book! If I had time now, I’d read one by his father.

April 24: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Some Wife,” by Jessica Westhead, from AND ALSO SHARKS. Cormorant, 2011. Hilarious and so astute you’ll recognize everything in it as truth even if you don’t know anyone like these guys. A man becomes obsessed with his coworker’s wife.

April 25: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Slatland,” by Rebecca Lee, from BOBCAT AND OTHER STORIES. Penguin, 2012. Holy moly, this writer. I can’t wait to read this entire book. A story about a relationship but so original in its delivery. Also funny in parts! Penguin president and publisher Nicole Winstanley said to me: “It’s better than a kickass hot coffee first thing in the morning.” I agree.

April 26: “How We Avenged the Blums,” by Nathan Englander, from WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK. Knopf, 2012. A young Jewish boy is beaten up and the boys on his side plan revenge. Excellent! Very much liked this story. PS. This is one of the most best-smelling books I’ve had the pleasure of smelling in ages (hardcover edition).

April 27: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Gaining Ground,” by Robin Black, from IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS. Great narrative voice and characterization. And funny! Random House, 2011.

April 28: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Slough,” by Pasha Malla, from THE WITHDRAWAL METHOD. Anansi Press, 2008. This is a freaking awesome story. I have to read it again.

April 29: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Guy in a Hoodie,” by Binnie Brennan, from A CERTAIN GRACE, Quattro Books, 2012. Two middle-aged teachers get tanked and try their luck scoring a joint. Funny, not so funny, and short. I think it could have worked a little harder at being better.

April 30: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Where the Bodies Are Kept” by @BarbaraLambert4, #JourneyPrizeAnthology No. 11, @writerstrust. Excellent. Reminds me somewhat of Carol Shields, but this has more of an edge. And so cool, now that I know Barbara, to recognize personal things in the story. Find Barbara’s site here. She’s the author of Cormorant’s The Whirling Girl.

May 1: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Mud Below,” by Annie Proulx, from CLOSE RANGE. Scribner, 2003. Damn, woman! When I grow up, I want to write like Annie! Such a good story.

May 2: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Killers,” by Hemingway, from MEN WITHOUT WOMEN. Two hitmen walk into a lunch room… Well-paced, funny, fantastic dialogue. Oh, pfft. Saying anything cheapens it. Perfection is what it is. But of course. [1928] Arrow Books, 2004.

May 3: #shortstoryforbreakfast, “Corduroy,” by Adam Giles, finalist in the 2013 U of T Magazine short story contest. Sad, but good. Don’t want to give it away: you can read it here yourself!

May 4: Hmm. This seems to be missing. I have no idea what I read, if anything.

May 5#shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Across the Lake,” by Deborah Eisenberg, from ALL AROUND ATLANTIS. Many thanks to David Penhale for the reco! Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), 1997.

May 6: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Loving Wanda Beaver,” from the collection of the same name, by Alison Baker (O. Henry Awards). Mmm. Takes me back to my summers in Chatham in the fields detasseling corn. Chronicle Books, 1995.

May 7: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Flirtations,” by Carrie Anne Snyder, from HAIR HAT. Penguin, 2004. Really great story, excellent, natural dialogue, too. A couple with a dubious relationship goes to an academic function together. Penguin, 2004.

May 8: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Reverse Cowgirl,” by David Whitton, from the collection of the same name. Freehand Books, 2011. Not at all what I expected! The weirdest story I’ve ever read, I think, and I loved it. Enjoyed the narrative voice, the imaginativeness, the structure of the story. It involves time travel through a very interesting medium.

May 9: Was in TO and enjoyed freshly baked banana chocolate chip muffins instead for breakfast with friend AmandaLeduc (author of The Miracles of Ordinary Men, ECW Press, 2013) chez the other beautiful friend Allegra Young.

May 10: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “A Drowning Incident,” by Cormac McCarthy. He wrote it while still in college. An awful story: the content I mean. 

May 11: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Ghost Stories,” by Alex Leslie, from PEOPLE WHO DISAPPEAR. Freehand Books, 2012. Very well-crafted! Excellent dialogue and such original use of language. A girl and her uncle trek through forests looking for a ghost town. ‘Course, there’s more to it than that. You’d have to read it to know.

Saleema Nawaz Updates Us on Fire Damage—And Her Books

To all who’ve read and so generously responded to my previous blog post Help Canadian Author Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire:

THANK YOU. Your responses showed kindness, understanding, empathy, and also a kindred love of literature. I feel certain that your comments have buoyed Saleema’s spirits even while she’s faced with the destruction of her home. As Sam Gamgee said to Faramir a long, long time ago, you have shown your quality, the very highest.

However: Saleema has posted an update on her blog. Please read her post. There are pictures, too. Importantly, she gently requests that since their books were mostly undamaged except by smoke, it’s not necessary for us to send her any to help her rebuild her collection.

Again, I thank you so much for your responses and suggest instead, as Denise Bukowski commented, that you buy Saleema’s books. Mother Superior is a collection of, well, superior short stories. Bone and Bread, her new novel, has already been welcomed with high praise, and the Quill & Quire has called her Anansi’s new star.

This post serves to end the campaign to send books. Even if I jumped the gun, for which I apologize, I don’t feel the posts were in vain. Saleema saw your gracious, caring comments, and at a time when all was uncertain, felt us as the ground beneath her feet.

Thank you all again.


UPDATE on the Campaign to Help Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire

Hi all,

I just heard from Saleema and I have her permission to repost her email to me here.

Hi Steph,

Thank you again for your incredibly touching and generous idea you shared on Bella’s Bookshelves.  As much as I love the idea of receiving a hand-picked book from literary folks all over Canada, I could never accept them. Not least because many of our belongings (including books!) have been saved, but also because we are now guests in somebody else’s house — we will be staying with my in-laws for the next two months.

[Steph: No worries! You can send the books to me or give them to her personally. If you send them to my address, which you’ll find on my Contact page, I will personally deliver them to Montreal or ship them myself.]

[Saleema’s response: Thanks so, so much … Of course, I would never object to somebody buying my books!  But honestly that is the most I could accept, and the support I have already felt from everyone is the most amazing bolstering help I could ever receive or want.  Please do feel free to post my earlier email.  I’m hoping to do a blog update, but I’m so exhausted, having been up for so long with just a couple of hours of snatched sleep… I’m not sure how soon it can come.]

You have no idea how much it means to me that so many people came to our aid…with offers of places to stay, food to eat, clothes to wear, and so wonderfully, books to read.

Some books have been lost to water and falling plaster, but most seemed to have been spared based on our cursory visit to the building this morning. In fact, although half of our kitchen, the bathroom, the front entryway and most of the living room have been destroyed (not by flames, but by falling plaster, fire axes, and water), our bedrooms and our hallway were spared from everything except for very heavy smoke. Many of the books were actually on bookcases in our hallway and in the half of the kitchen that was spared.

It is like a tornado has ripped through the place, with odd items here and there lying intact amidst the destruction of splintered wood and crumbling plaster.

I’m not sure how costly (or, indeed, possible) it will be to remove the smell of smoke from our large collection (and from everything else we own), but it is one we will cheerfully investigate.  I am so grateful to you and all the loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have reached out to us.

With so much thanks,


I’ve asked Saleema to keep me posted on whether or not the books that were not damaged by water or fallen plaster and such can be salvaged from the smoke damage (this can be pretty bad as to render the books unreadable), and if so, whether or not insurance will cover it. If the books can be salvaged and insurance will not cover it, perhaps we could start a campaign to help her pay for the recovery.

Alternatively, I’ve asked her if she has a wish list. Again, I’ll let you know. If not, even if she receives doubles, your copy will be better than what she has, and she could always pay it forward by donating hers. Don’t be afraid, either, of not knowing what to choose. As a former long-time bookseller, I can advise: Let your heart tell you. What book would you match her to? What book would you press into a friend’s hand and say, oh, you must read this? Whatever you send, it will be picked with concern and thoughtfulness and received with gratitude.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your generosity of spirit so far.


PS. Saleema is on Facebook, and her Twitter handle is @pinkmeringue

Help Canadian Author Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire

426457_10151528279906368_309430823_nUPDATE: This post is no longer in effect. Please read this one!

In case you haven’t heard yet, Saleema Nawaz, author of the collection of short stories Mother Superior and the recently released and very well received Bone and Bread, lost her apartment in a fire last night. I can only imagine how devastating this must be, and I’m deeply saddened by her loss. She wrote briefly and bravely about the experience. She lost 16 packed bookcases of books. I’m very thankful that she and her partner are safe.

What I’d like to propose—since we are all book lovers and would be utterly destroyed by the loss of our precious books, which we’ve taken years and much time and love to collect and read—is purchasing one or more books to help Saleema and her partner rebuild their library. I’m thinking we could buy our favourite book(s) for her, so she’ll have a shelf or more to remind her she is supported both as a Canadian author and friend, and has our best recommendations as well.

We all know that a house without books is not a home. We know that books are friends and lovers. And we know that without our books, we would be uncomfortable, displaced. When I look at the familiar volumes on my shelves, no matter where I’ve just moved to, they help me feel instantly at home.

This idea is fresh, and admittedly I’m writing this without her permission. I haven’t been able to reach her. Saleema will likely find this out from this post. She may protest. I don’t know.

I bought Mother Superior on her birthday. If I can do something to give back to an author who’s enriched my reading experience, right now there’s no other way I can think that’s more appropriate.

There are few things more tragic than losing one’s home for whatever reason. If the fire didn’t annihilate the books, likely all the water did.

To help, please just leave a comment below and I’ll email you with details. Saleema doesn’t yet have an address, but I will arrange the particulars of this campaign and then get back to everyone. Either all the books can be sent to my home and I can drive them to her, or we may be able to send them directly to her. She will have an apartment soon, and it would be fun for her to keep getting mail at this new address, since books in the mail are not only exciting but also make a house feel like home.

Thank you so much in advance for your support of this endeavour. If anything changes once Saleema reads this, I’ll be sure to let you know.

PLEASE NOTE: I’d really appreciate if the books you buy or donate are your very favourite, not ones you just need to get rid of. Thank you!

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-19 08.00.24Another week of good stories. Some better than others, but I remain convinced that I don’t have a shitty book in this whole house.

April 15: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Of God and Cod,” by Anthony De Sa, from BARNACLE LOVE. So much richness in one little story. A man leaves his family behind for a voyage from Portugal and Newfoundland. The beginning of what promises to be a very good collection of intimately connected stories. Doubleday, 2008.

April 16: #shortstoriesforbreakfast is abominably late today. But better late than never. I read “Elk Talk,” by Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favourite writers. It’s from PILGRIMS. Yes, she wrote short stories, and a novel, before Eat, Pray, Love! And her short stories kick ass. I’m jealous all over. A family in the country is surprised by unwelcome neighbours who appear on their doorstep en masse and invite themselves in. And the father has an elk call apparatus. [1997], Penguin, 2007.

April 17: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “For Puzzled in Wisconsin,” by Bronwen Wallace, from PEOPLE YOU’D TRUST YOUR LIFE TO. M&S, 1990. A woman’s reflections are triggered by a letter to the newspaper. “Dear Allie: My husband has an intricate tattoo on his chest. I am very fond of it, and I don’t want to see it go with him when he dies…” Very good, but I wouldn’t expect less from Wallace.

April 18: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cleats,” by Johanna Skibsrud, from THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN. My first Skibsrud read. And I like it. It’s pretty funny, this one, mature and well-done. I’ve heard more negative about Skibsrud than good, and I feel like I want to prove them all wrong. I don’t even need to read more to do that, but I will. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 19: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Big Bitchin’ Cow,” by D.W. Wilson, from ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE. I keep reading stories, like this one, that make me think, yes, this is exactly what mine’s supposed to be! A father chases his son across a frozen lake, remembering the past between them. So damn good. The structure is perfect. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 20: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Out of the Woods” by Chris Offutt, from his collection of the same name. A man goes and picks up his wife’s dead brother. Such a poor summary for such a masterful story. I love the vernacular, the tone. The greatest thing to come from the US is its literary talent. Like Woodrell, Offutt is a great American writer whom Tobias Wolff (yet another goodie) says is one of the best. I agree. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

April 21: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “With Daddy,” by Allison Baggio, from her collection IN THE BODY. In the wee hours of the morning, a girl’s father plucks her from her bed in the house where she lives with her mother, and takes a trip. Heartbreaking, an excellent story idea, and an interesting exploration of the collection title in a juxtaposition sort of way, but something tells me this story could have been better. Having worked on Girl in Shades, though, and having thought it rather strong, I look forward to reading the rest of this intriguing collection. ECW Press, 2012.

If you have suggestions, do let me know and I’ll add them to my list. Thank you to those who’ve recommended already. Duly noted!

Next up: who knows! I get to pick each day depending on what I feel like for breakfast!

Writers’ Trust Identifies Literary Stars of Tomorrow

This is a Writers’ Trust press release

Finalists Announced for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers

Toronto – April 18, 2013 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada is delighted to announce finalists for a literary award that plays an instrumental role in discovering and promoting the next stars of Canadian literature.

The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers rewards writers under age 35 who are unpublished in book form. Alternating each year between poetry and short fiction, the award will be given this year to the author of an exceptional work of poetry. The $5,000 award is supported by the RBC Emerging Artists Project, which invests in up-and-coming artists to help build their professional careers. Two finalists will each receive $1,000.

A jury comprised of the poets Mary Dalton, Phil Hall, and Susan Holbrook read 135 blind submissions and selected three finalists:

Laura Clarke for “Mule Variations”

Laura Clarke is a Toronto-based writer and a graduate of the MA program in creative writing at the University of Toronto. She has published work in The Antigonish Review, Grain, PRISM international,Qwerty, and Freefall. The jury said of her work: “Something both hip and ancient is given full rein: hard limits slurping in the sun, Aristotle and police reports, electric fences and pick-up lines, subway riders with donkey heads. A washed-out sardonic tone delivers a sure push that is humane and celebratory.”

Laura Matwichuk for “Here Comes the Future”

Laura Matwichuk holds an MA in art history from the University of British Columbia and is a recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She lives in Vancouver and will be a writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre later this spring. Her poems have appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 and Emerge. The jury citation said of her work: “Matwichuk hangs poetry from the syntactical hooks of the sentence, offering us prose poems that are flexible, slightly surreal, both expansive and focused.”

Suzannah Showler for “The Reason and Other Poems”

Suzannah Showler holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in many places, including The WalrusHazlittThe Puritan, and Joyland, and she won the 2012 Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry. She is the poetry editor for Dragnet Magazine and curator of the website Art of Losing ( She lives in Toronto and is working on her first collection of poems. The jury said of her work: “These poems distinguish themselves by the quality of their poetic intelligence. They are astute, linguistically and syntactically adept, and full of sonic energy.”

The winner will be announced on May 28, 2013, at an event hosted by acclaimed poet and past Bronwen Wallace Award winner Jeramy Dodds. The event will be held in Toronto at the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, located at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The nominated work of each finalist is available for free to download exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore starting today at

“At RBC, we believe in the power of creative writing to enrich our lives,” said Shari Austin, Vice-President, Corporate Citizenship, RBC and Executive Director, RBC Foundation. “That is why we are proud to support the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, because it helps promising young writers to build their professional careers and fosters the next generation of great Canadian writers.”

“The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award has a stellar track-record of launching literary careers,” said Mary Osborne, Writers’ Trust executive director. “A nomination for this award signifies exceptional potential and gives young writers a boost at a crucial point in their development as artists.”

About Bronwen Wallace

Bronwen Wallace was a poet, short story writer, and mentor to many young writers as a creative writing instructor at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston. This prize was established in her honour in 1994 by a group of friends and colleagues. Wallace felt that writers should receive greater recognition early in their careers and so this annual award is given to a writer below the age of 35 who has published poetry or prose in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies, but has not yet been published in book form.

About the Award

Over 19 years, this award has distinguished 66 young writers with a nomination and many have gone on to receive literary acclaim. Several past honorees have new books out this spring, including Michael Crummey, Shashi Bhat, Natalee Caple, Dina Del Bucchia, and Tanis Rideout.

About the RBC Emerging Artists Project

In 2012, RBC invested $6.2 million in programs that support Arts and Culture in Canada and around the world.The RBC Emerging Artists Project consists of support through sponsorships and donations to organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.

About the Writers’ Trust of Canada

The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.


You can view the 2013 finalists on the Writers’ Trust site.

You can read Bronwen Wallace’s writing, too, but she does seem hard to find, except for the short stories. Try


  • Marrying into the Family – 1980
  • Signs of the former Tenant – 1983 (winner of the Pat Lowther Award)
  • Common Magic – 1985
  • The Stubborn Particulars of Grace – 1987
  • Keep That Candle Burning Bright and Other Poems – 1991

Short stories


  • Arguments with the World – 1992


  • Two Women Talking: Correspondence 1985-1987 – 1994 (with Erin Mouré)

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-14 14.30.46Oy. This post was supposed to be set for this past Sunday but, well, this Sunday passed. As did Monday. These are the days of our lives, yes? As the world turns. Had we but world enough and time, etcetera.

Here’s a recap of the short stories I read last week. Most were exceptional. I swear, if I didn’t have favourite authors and wasn’t so excited about some upcoming novels, I’d read only collections for the rest of my literary life.

April 8: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Runner,” by Derek Hayes, from THE MALADJUSTED. Quirky, humorous, observant, and honest. This is a collection of stories that explores people’s idiosyncrasies, our special brands of neurotic. I’ll bet all of us can relate to at least one character! Thistledown Press, 2011.

April 9: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The hilarious and fitting “Della Renfrew,” by Jessica Grant, from MAKING LIGHT OF TRAGEDY. Holt Renfrew’s daughter applies for a job at Holt Renfrew. Oh, Jessica. Please, please write more. Lots more. And hurry the hell up about it. Porcupine’s Quill, 2004. Such great, natural writing! A fantastic example of an author who knows what it means to write wholeheartedly.

April 10: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Attempts at a Great Relationship,” by Lee Henderson, from THE BROKEN RECORD TECHNIQUE. Henderson also wrote a novel called The Man Game that I bought a long time ago and now really look forward to reading even more. Why haven’t I read this collection till now?! Why haven’t I heard of this guy? I bought this collection on a whim, while browsing the basement in Greenley’s. I bought any short collections that I didn’t already have, and found many Canadian gems. Anyway, this is a fantastic story. His metaphors wither me as a writer. His characters, their dialogue, the setting, the structure of the story! Gah. Two couples go to a wave pool, and we get all four perspectives. Funny and tenderhearted. Penguin, 2008.

April 11: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Transported to Louisiana by Tim Gautreaux, a new fave: “Welding With Children,” from the collection with the same name. Running out of ways to express the greatness of what I’m reading. These days I just emotionally shake my head in appreciation. This story is gold. The colloquial language, the characterization, the voice, and the very idea. A grandfather has to look after his “white trash” daughters’ children while trying to get his daily errands run. I look forward to reading not only the rest of this collection but also the rest of Gautreaux’s books. Many thanks to Hugh Cook for the recommendation! Picador, 2009.

April 12: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Tikkun” and “Say It Again…” by Ayelet Tsabari, from her newly released collection, THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH. Wholehearted, very sensory, and the Middle Eastern setting is so well conveyed. Concepts foreign, perhaps, to us, but made familiar through good writing. Also, she can write a great sex scene, let me tell you. It takes skill! HarperCollins, 2013.

April 13: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Chronology of an Egg,” by Peter Tieryas Liu, in WATERING HEAVEN (nominated for this year’s Frank O’Connor award!). “I tell her I think she’s beautiful and she tells me she has an unusual genetic quirk that scares off most men. ‘Every time I have sex, I lay an egg.’ I assume she’s joking, get her email address.” This story is hilarious…and slightly horrifying. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the collection. Signal 8 Press, 2012.

April 14: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Sucker,” by the talented Carson McCullers, from THE COLLECTED STORIES OF CARSON MCCULLERS. Great characterization! The narrative voice is so clear, as well as the tone. There was an ominous feel to it, and I was just waiting for something terrible to be recounted. And then when it was…ho boy. Creepy. McCullers is another American fave. I adored The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Mariner Books, 1998.

Thanks for following along, all! Any collections you want to recommend? I’m open! Send me a message over Twitter, FB, or here.

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

2013-02-05 07.25.15The short stories I read this weekend were a nice mix, by women and men, contemporary and older, even different in format, since one I read, today, was from a pdf. Here are the breakfasts I enjoyed this week:

April 1: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Many Faces of Montgomery Clift,” by Grace O’Connell, author of the novel Magnified World. This story, which reminded me so much of a friendship I had, was part of Writers’ Trust Journey Prize Anthology #24. I enjoyed it so much I emailed Grace and we had a neat chat about it.

April 2: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Going for seconds after reading Matthew Trafford’s aptly titled “Gutted” from The Divinity Gene. I’m caught. Hook, line, & sinker! “Gutted” specially blew me away. I read it three times. “Camping at Dead Man’s Point” is interesting in that he uses himself as a character in the story, a gay guy named Matthew Trafford, but the story also includes a walking, talking dead guy. An original, cool way to make a good point in this one! Trafford deserves much more attention. Douglas & McIntyre, 2011.

April 3: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Mother Superior” and “My Three Girls,” by Saleema Nawaz Webster, from Mother Superior. Enjoyed both, particularly the first one. The second was somewhat horrifying, but also very well done. I could keep reading! Freehand Books, 2008. Already in the first few stories there is a theme of motherhood and children.

April 4: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cracked Wheat” and “Pisces,” by Hugh Cook, from Cracked Wheat  and Other Stories. Middleburg Press, 1984. Early stories by my former English prof. I read the book years ago and remembered “Cracked Wheat” fondly, reading it again. I recall why the story has stuck with me all these years. Well-written.

April 5: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Foley’s Pond,” “Occidental Hotel,” and “Spokane,” by Peter Orner, from Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. (Reissue August ’13; Little, Brown. I hope they reprint all of his, as they’re hard to find.) You know you’ve just read some stellar writing when the first thing that comes out of your mouth is a giant sigh and “holy shit.”

April 6: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Premier’s New Pajamas,” by John Lavery, from Very Good Butter. ECW Press, 2000. NO ONE writes like John. No one. I miss you, cher ami.

April 7: #shortstoriesforbreakfast, “Better to Lose an Eye,” by Jamie Quatro, from I Want to Show You More. Powerful and surprising. I’ve read some of her stuff on McSweeney’s too, and it’s hilarious! Quatro’s been getting a lot off attention in the US. She’s one to pay attention to. Thanks to Hugh Cook for bringing her to my attention.

In all, a great week of stories. I’m understanding little by little more about how stories work, and what makes a good story better than another. I’m also finding myself hungrier for more literature in general (the way eating breakfast makes you hungrier the rest of the day), and finding myself becoming more inspired by ordinary things.

Next week includes some lesser-known Canadian authors, plus Diana Athill.

Stay healthy: read well.

Short Stories for Breakfast Weekly Recap

the books

the books

About a week and a half ago I began the tradition of reading a short story for breakfast. You can read about it here. This post is a recap of all the stories I read, plus a little more. A different spin on my LitBits posts, kind of!

March 21: Really enjoying a short story for breakfast every morning! This morning was Jess Walter’s excellent titular story from We Live In Water. A man tries to find out what happened to his father, who disappeared when he was a kid. Tough, heartbreaking, but not in the way you might expect. So much is revealed in such a short period of time, with such clean prose. I loved the structure, the tone, the bravery of it. Walter is a master, there’s no doubt. HarperCollins, 2013.

March 22: Short stories for breakfast: “Flies” and “The Table” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Unique style, evocative of a sort of fairy-taleish Europe. I like! Freehand Books, 2013.

March 23: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The striking “Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man on Earth,” from Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s How to Get Along with Women. Funny but also really not. How the innocence of kids playing a game they don’t quite understand is lost, and how a heritage of cultural trauma goes from curiosity and exploration to something more. Invisible Publishing, 2012.

March 24: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: All-girl band, east/west Toronto divide story “Saudade,” by Nicole Dixon, from High-Water Mark. Captures the competition and complexities of women relationships. Porcupine’s Quill, 2012.

March 25: #shortstoriesforbreakfast A boozy, confessional start with “The Sorrows of Gin” & “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” from The Stories of John Cheever. One of my favourite American writers. Satirical, clever, excellent dialogue. Ballantine, 1980.

March 26: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Stuart Ross’s “Me and the Pope,” “Cow Story,” & the titular story from Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. Genius gems. I LOVE this book. Funny, absurd, satirical, timely. Freehand Books, 2009.

March 27: #shorstoriesforbreakfast: A teary start with “Elephant Air,” by Fran Kimmel from Everything is So Political: A Collection of Short Stories by Canadian Writers. Fernwood Publishing, 2013.

March 28#shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Pheasant,” by Raymond Carver, from Carver, Collected Stories. I can read story after story from this collection, but after reading this one, I just want to sit with it for a while. I don’t believe there really is anyone better at short stories than Carver. Library of America, 2009.

March 29: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Emergency Contact,” by Michael Christie, from The Beggar’s Garden. Yes, finally I’ve picked it up. This story, about a woman who will go to great lengths for her infatuation with a paramedic, is funny, sad, tender, and skilfully written. Ugh, this guy is so freaking good. I just want to read him all day. From HarperCollins (I have to add, this hardback is DREAMY.)

March 30: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Prowlers,” by Charles Baxter, from A Relative Stranger. On love and other demons. A former best friend, a woman loved by two, a blizzard. And a lot of reading between the lines! WW. Norton, 2001. I actually think this might be out of print! 

March 31: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Revisiting my Catholic upbringing with “Remember for Me,” by Susan Zettell, from Holy Days of Obligation. Marvelling at the characterization. NuAge/Signature Editions, 1998.

short stories bookcase in the kitchen

short stories bookcase in the kitchen


Short Stories for Breakfast

As much as the magazines and websites and professionals stress that you must eat breakfast every morning, I just can’t. I’m not ready, I don’t want it. It takes me a while to ease into my day. But everyone argues that you must have nourishment to start your day properly, to jumpstart your metabolism, blahblahblah. Sorry. No can do.

More than ever I’ve been listening to my intuition—literally, here, my gut. It tells me the best time for me to eat is between 10:30 and 11:30, and sometimes even later. I eat when I’m hungry. I used to eat every couple of hours, but that was because I was so restless. Now I’m finding calm and not needing to eat so much.

But I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on nourishment to start my day properly. And if I can’t jumpstart my metabolism, how about jumpstarting my creativity?

A few months ago, I decided to see how many short story collections I had, so I pulled them out from wherever they were, got a bookcase from Greenley’s, and shelved them all together. Not only was this very exciting for me, seeing them all, but it also elicited a kind of Pavlov’s dog response. All that potential in one place. The culmination of a deep and abiding passion for short stories.

But I was also overwhelmed. Lately, the shorter the book, the better, and I’ve been reading more short stories than anything else. But how was I going to read them all with so little time? How would I overcome that feeling of wanting to read them all at once?

Out of this question and the whole breakfast issue, Short Stories for Breakfast was born. In the morning, no less.

On the menu this week

On the menu this week

The first thing I do when I wake up now is pick a book of stories, bring it down into the kitchen, put on the stovetop kettle for lemon water, and then enjoy a short story for breakfast. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t survive without food for breakfast. I’m thriving.

Yesterday morning, I read the excellent and also gut-punching titular story from Jess Walter’s We Live in Water. It’s not the first story I’ve read from the book, and I’ve skimmed through some of the other pages, and I can tell you, this is very good writing. No surprise there. But this is my favourite so far of his books. I love his style, the topics, the theme of “personal struggle and diminished dreams,” the roughness of it all. Walter’s been called one of the greatest young American writers today. I will not disagree. We Live in Water is from HarperCollins, where he couldn’t have a better team of supporters.

This morning, I read two stories because they were somewhat short, called “Flies” and “The Table,” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Da Costa lives on the west coast and has won several literary awards. He was born in Angola and raised in Portugal, and this cultural background enriches his stories. He’s a writer, editor, and translator. This collection is from Freehand Books, also this year, and, well, I can’t help it, but I recommend this one, too. It’s not your usual breakfast, which is partly why I like it so much.

You guys, I feel so great and excited about this new idea. I love starting out the morning this way. I’m getting to read a bunch of authors at once. I’m incorporating variety, which, as they say, is the spice of life.

This is my new reader’s diet. I imagine that not only will my creativity get stronger (had an idea for a NEW short story on my  walk today!), but also my reading muscles will tone, and my writing will become nice and lean.

Stay tuned for literary tweets and Facebook statuses sharing what I had for breakfast every morning. Isn’t that more exciting and appealing than telling you I had oatmeal with cinnamon and slices of banana and chia seeds and hemp hearts? Or granola and almond milk? Buckwheat pancakes with blueberries? I’ve always preferred breakfast foods at supper time anyway.

LitBits 29

Surprise! Yes, it’s long absent me. I’ve been collecting LitBits for you since SEPTEMBER. But let’s shift the focus away from how much I suck to how much these things don’t:

1. Amanda Leduc is a young Canadian author. She has a novel coming out in May, called The Miracles of Ordinary Men, from ECW Press. And because I very happily work for ECW, I had the extreme privilege of working on Amanda’s book. READ IT. It’s very good. Allegra Young is also a young Canadian, a classical music producer at the Canadian Music Centre. She’s sent me some of the music put out by and I listen to it fairly regularly. Allegra lives in Toronto and Amanda, in Hamilton, but that hasn’t stopped the two of them, as dedicated lovers of CanLit, from conceiving a new and daring project called Bare it For Books. Today, their endeavour, in support of PEN Canada and Canadian authors and literature, was featured in the National Post. Please read it here, and buy a calendar when it comes out! I can’t wait! I know at least one person, besides me, who’s getting it for a Christmas gift.

2. This is super cool!! The world’s largest collection of authors on vinyl – for sale! It seems he’s selling the collection as a whole rather than having a sale somewhere or online, so maybe an organization will buy it and make it accessible to others, or perhaps they will be archived and then sold? I would love some of these! I grew up lying on my stomach on the living room floor listening to authors on vinyl. Great times.

3. Uh oh. A new bookish place to spend our money. Gone Reading: Gifts for Readers.

4. Remember this post I did, The Rights of the Reader? So many thought it was awesome. I did too. So my sister bought it for me, in England. But you, like Inderjit Deogun, can buy it from the Book Depository! Inderjit said: “The book was nothing like what I was expecting but I mean that in the best way possible. Once you get into it, you realize it’s actually quite insightful. I really ended up enjoying it! Thanks again!”

5. You likely already know this if you followed Canada Reads this year, but February, by Lisa Moore, is the 2013 winner. For my part, participating in the chats and watching the videos, I strongly felt that this year’s discussions were the best yet. I was wholly impressed by the insight into and the debates surrounding the books, the coverage of the material within, and the lack of viciousness and cutthroat strategy we’ve seen in previous debates. This year’s books were very much respected, and I believe they were carefully considered during eliminations, and that February, while it wasn’t my choice for the win, won not totally because of Trent McClellan’s points, which I felt were somewhat repetitive and cliché, but on the merit of the book itself. How utterly refreshing and exciting. I have renewed faith in the contest. It was also exciting because all but one of the authors are alive and as such, their panelists got to know them and also react. Lisa’s reaction on the final show to her win was moving. Most of all, the passion and admiration the panelists held for their respective books themselves was palpable and portrayed exactly the kind of reception CanLit deserves. There are quite a few links to click on for the debates, the question and answer periods, and related events, on CBC’s Canada Reads page. CBC’s changes to the program this year were perfect. My thanks also go to CBC’s Erin Balser (@booksin140) for sending me the books and allowing me thus to participate in the thrilling discussion.

6. I just recently made room on my shelves for bookends. Probably the spaces will be filled before I could get one of these pairs, but have a look. Which is your favourite?

7. Who’s hungry for waffles? Giant typewriter waffles! I love the innovation.

8. I’ve noticed that many of my bookish friends are also knitters. Here are some bookish knits compiled for you by the lovely Ainsley for  Random House’s Literary Retreat site.

9. Flavorwire compiled some cool literary fashions for book nerds. I would love the Sylvia Plath Bell Jar tee!

10. I haven’t got an iPhone, or any mobile for that matter (yet), but I do like these case/wallets!

11. Have you seen this already? The Literary Gift Company has From Neverland to Wonderland: A Map of Children’s Literature in Britain. I’d love to hang this in my guest bedroom, where all my YA and children’s lit resides. Of course, feel free to browse the rest of the site!

12. Introducing ECW Press’s Poetees.

13. Ready for a product break? Grace O’Connell won my heart when I met her in Picton for last year’s IFOA, and also on Twitter, where we’ve had a little chat about her love of fairy tales. And it’s always fun to meet another bookish person who has the same books as you do on your shelves. Here’s Grace talking about the books she shares with boyfriend Evan Munday (works at Coach House, also a Canadian author). PS. Hazlitt is a great literary mag, you guys.

14. We booklovers tend to also love looking at photos of others’s shelves and the reading nooks they carve out for themselves. Where do you read? My favourite photo in this post of 10 Excellent Reading Nooks is the last.

15. Just in case you hadn’t yet heard: Penguin is publishing Khaled Hosseini’s newest, And the Mountains Echoed! I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (I think this was my fave), and I wait for his next with bated breath.

16. And again, in case you don’t know, and I’m super excited about this, Esi Edugyan’s next book is coming out with HarperCollins. She’ll be working with Patrick Crean again, under his new imprint at HC, Patrick Crean editions. I’ll be reading her newest for sure. Half-Blood Blues blew me away.

17. LibriVox is a repository of free public domain audiobooks. This may interest both those who love audiobooks (Literary Hoarders? I’m looking at you!) and those who would like to volunteer to read to get more books in stock.

18. Classic children’s literature–inspired bedrooms. Mine would have been the Surrender Dorothy one, no question.

19. This isn’t a new post but it’s an interesting one, and in case you missed it, here is how Canada’s Orange Prize, created for women writers, was born. (A hint: out of frustration. Surprise!)

20. The official unofficial Viking / Penguin tumblr. With gifs.

21. Zombies are so in right now! So Margaret Atwood, yes, the real one, and UK author Naomi Alderman partnered to pen The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home. With zombies. You can read it at Wattpad.

22. You know what? I really like JK Rowling. I find her a fascinating, open woman. Here is Rowling talking with Jian Ghomeshi on Q.

23. I also really love Kate Beaton, the Canadian artist who did the hilarious Hark! A Vagrant. She does tee-shirts, too, among other stuff. I love this Canada tee. Here is the rest of her store. I cannot look at anything she’s done without laughing. It’s the faces. Oh, the faces. Well, and the words. Hahaha!

24. Did you guys hear that Johnny Depp launched his own publishing imprint? No kidding. Like Patrick Crean’s new imprint, Johnny’s, unsurprisingly called Infinitum Nihil, is with the ever innovative HarperCollins.

25. This is pretty neat: The Novel Diner, for hungry readers.

26. Zohara: Art on Tights. This site is so cool! And I want these tights.

27. This is the most awesome book design I’ve seen. It’s for Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. There was also a F451 jacket design contest. You can see all the designs at that link, and wow, some are amazing. So much talent out there. And here is the winner.

28. What’s a LitBit post without a little more jewellery? Can’t help it, and I’m an etsy junkie. Here is Jezebel Charms: Charming Literary Creations. For the guys: in case anyone still wears cufflinks: Penguins in your sleeves, also here for a more vintage look, and here. For the Agatha Christie enthusiast: subtle Miss Marple text earrings. More bookish charms. And for the more refined: The Reader’s Catalogue, from NYRB.

29. I shared this before, but if you haven’t read Billie Livingston’s One Good Hustle, this very interesting post, “Tales from the Conman’s Daughter,” may convince you to get to it soon. I knew I wanted to read the novel before reading this, but her article made me move her book to the top of the pile. I haven’t reviewed it, which would by now require a reread, but I enjoyed it very muchJ. And Billie is absolutely fabulous, and hilarious, and awesome. She’s one of my favourite people to correspond with. Never a dull moment! On that note, I owe her an email.

I’ll leave you with this hilarious parody of JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy.

Till next time!