Friday, 3 August 2012

Summer reading

Very much enjoying the summer sunshine and London 2012. Did you see the tribute to children's literature lead by J K Rowling at the opening ceremony? I'm reading Helen Simpson's collection of her best short stories A Bunch of Fives. Something immensely satisfying about reading a perfect short story in one sitting. I've managed to squeeze in two or three stories every day amidst the coverage of the women's artistic gymnastics which I've avidly followed since Nadia Comeneci won gold at Montreal in 1976.

I've followed Helen Simpson's career since she published Hey Yeah Right Get a Life in 2001. This collection includes my favourite story Burns and the Bankers about a career woman at the top of her game who is seething with irritation at having to attend a banking federation dinner on Burns Night which drags on forever when she would rather be spending time with the four children she rarely sees. Initially bored with all the toasts to Rabbie Burns as her male colleagues get steadily drunk she becomes interested when an academic makes a speech about the life and loves of Burns.

Heavy Weather is a highly amusing yet wretched account of the toll of bringing up small children:
In life before the children, she had read books on the bus, in the bathroom, while eating, through television, under radio noise, in cafes. Now, if she picked one up, Lorna shouted 'Stop reading, Mummy,' and pulled her by the nose until she was looking into her small cross face.
I loved this account of a family holiday in Dorset with Frances trying to cope with a baby, a deeply jealous two-year old and a husband who cannot understand why she can no longer be spontaneous. I'm hoping that the elegant Russian gymnast Kseniia Afanaseva will win a gold medal in the floor exercise next week and that I'll be squeezing in a few more of Helen Simpson's wonderful stories.


Alex said...

I wish I could learn to love short stories, but while I can appreciate the craft that goes into them I just somehow can't find the enthusiasm to pick them up for pleasure. I see that the Teaching Company has just put out a course on short stories and the novella. I might have to find the money for it.

Audrey said...

Is this Helen Simpson as in Major Pettigrew? If so, I'm definitely going to look for it...but then again, from the way you've described the stories, I think I would anyway!

Audrey said...

Oops, wrong Helen! But I'm still looking forward to reading this. :)

Darlene said...

I passed up an invitation to join some friends for dinner in favour of the opening ceremony. It was brilliant!

For years I turned my nose up at short stories but now I love them. Better late than never! Fingers crossed we will get this collection in at my library so I can give that favourite of yours a try.

Bonnie said...

I love short stories. I find they are perfect to read in-between novels or when there is just too much going on in my life to commit to a longer read. The short story is a wonderful lesson in economy.

I love the passage you quoted. As a young mother I often took a book to the bathroom with me. Have a wonderful weekend.

Anbolyn said...

I have a few short story collections that I am very fond of, too. One of my favorites is 'Delicate, Edible Birds' by Lauren Groff. I've heard lots about Helen Simpson and now would like to try her for sure.
I loved the gymnastics - it was all very exciting!

Bellezza said...

At first I was making connections with Helen Simonson of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, until I realized you said Helen Simpson. Still, how wonderful to dwell in a short story while one is so absorbed in the Olympics (like myself!). I can't get enough of watching them! The stories of courage and strength, combined with their skill, are so inspiring! I did see J. K. Rowling, and while I thought the opening ceremonies somewhat disjointed, I did appreciate how they highlighted so many of Britain's contributions to literature. Plus, you gotta love the Queen and Bond. ;)

Sunday Taylor said...

Oh, we completely missed the opening ceremony! I would have loved to see the tribute by J.K. Rowling. Helen Simpson is a writer I have not heard of and after your recommendation, I would like to get a copy of one of her books.

lyn said...

I love HS. My favourite story is Festival of the Immortals, about a literary festival where the long-dead authors - Bronte, Austen, Burns - are there to do readings & panel discussions in person. It was published in the Guardian a few years ago here,, & it's in her collection, In-Flight Entertainment. I still have a couple of unread collections on the tbr shelves. Must get back into short stories again.

GG said...

I really enjoy short stories, this sounds very good. Not a writer I know but definitely sounds worth checking out on Kindle. GG

lifeonthecutoff said...

Yes, I did fee the opening ceremonies and I especially loved the tribute to children's literature; J. K. Rowling's part and the children and dancing doctors and nurses and all the monsters and Mary Poppins and all of it. While not much of a 007 lover, I was impressed by latest Bond Girl.

Oh, and I love short stories and will try this. Thank you.

lifeonthecutoff said...

Ooops. Lots of typos. I did fee? ha! should be see, of course.

Cathy at PotterJotter said...

Thanks for the recommendation - I am off for a fortnight in Italy soon and am taking an Anne Tyler (because of you!) and also an old favourite ... Rebecca. Happy summer reading! xCathy

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Alex, yes I think there is a tendency to see short stories as somehow inferior to the novel. I imagine they must be harder to write to be truly effective.

Audrey, I made the same mistake! To my knowledge Helen Simpson has only published short stories, though.

Darlene, yes at one time I would never read short stories - I'm devoted now though!

Bonnie I liked what you said about the short story being a wonderful lesson in economy. I have read interviews where Helen Simpson has argued a similar point. The miniature form has much to be said for it.

Anbolyn, not heard of the story you mentioned I'm always interested in good short story writers. Yes I do like the artistic sports. Got into the synchronised swimming, too!

Bellezza, opening ceremony was great! Not so sure about the closing ceremony but you can't have everything. I missed some of the track and field but adore the artistic sports. Look forward to Rio!

Sunday, J K Rowling read from Peter Pan. It was magical and I'm glad literature was not forgotten.

Lyn, oh yes Festival of the Immortals is a favourite of mine, too. I loved the way Jane Austen is very sarcastic to one of the event organisers! So clever the way she characterises the writers. I'm checking out your Simpson posts.

GG, I'm still wavering about the Kindle. I do like the idea of summoning a novel at the click of a button!

Life on the Cuff. Latest Bond girl! Heh.

Cathy, oh I love Rebecca. Do post on the Anne Tyler and have a great time!