Book Review: “Stories”, Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, eds.

Like many people, my commute can be pretty variable.  With little traffic, and favorable traffic light timing, I can make it to work in less than 20 minutes.  Add something innocuous as a car on the side of the road, and it can almost double.  In the early part of the summer, I started to get pretty annoyed at grinding through traffic and the same old iPod playlists and my patience were wearing a bit thin.
So, in an effort to stave off crankiness, I decided that I might try listening to audiobooks during my commute.  I have to say, that it’s really helped the crawl to the point that I almost don’t really mind if things are a little slow.  Almost.
For the latest book, I tried an anthology of short stories succinctly named “Stories”, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, which includes a number of very well-known authors as contributors.
Reading a bunch of short stories consecutively can get a little tough (which I tend to read a few between other books, sort of like a literary intermezzo), but I thought that here they serve as good “commute-sized” fare, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The aural format really fits the short story very well, feeling like someone is “telling you a story” rather than “reading this novel outloud”.

As with any anthology, there were hits and misses, but overall this was a very strong selection – varied in scope and tone, which I think kept it fresh.  Some standouts:
  • "Blood" by Roddy Doyle: interesting take on a vampire story and wonderful lead-off to the collection.  Great off-beat wry-writing.  Irish accent of reader was perfect for the story – definitely rethinks the whole “bloodsucker” cliché.
  • "Fossil-Figures" by Joyce Carol Oates:  An evil twin story. Incredibly creepy and dark.  Told slowly and dreamily – there were conventions in the writing that really worked aloud – but I’d be curious if they worked in text. 
  • "The Stars Are Falling" by Joe R. Lansdale: Wonderfully dark tale about a WWI veteran returning home to a wife that isn’t necessarily happy to see him.  Gripping.  Sad.
  • "Loser" by Chuck Palahniuk: Dirtball frat kid on LSD goes on a game show that is never referred to by name but is clearly “The Price Is Right”.  Not really dramatic, but pretty funny and a nice counterpoint to the standard "fantasy" short story.
  • "Unwell" by Carolyn Parkhurst: Nasty tale of an old woman that manipulates her sister – as she had her entire life.  Pretty mean-spirited but pretty good.
  • "Parallel Lines" by Tim Powers: Strangely enough, another story about an old lady’s overbearing sister.  Here, her twin dies and seeks to return from the grave.  Taut story, good turns.  Very well-executed.
  • "Human Intelligence" by Kurt Anderson:  Clever story of a young scientist that discovers an alien base in the Arctic and of the alien “spy” who’s been marooned here for more than a millennium.  Odd, abrupt, comic twist on the ending that I’m not sure will work for everyone, but did for me.
I have to say that I'd be very curious to see how this list would change if I'd read these stories rather than heard them. That aside, all in all, this is a very good collection that I’d recommend to even the most casual “fantasy” fan.  

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: “Stories”, Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, eds.

  1. Yay, book reviews!! I generally listen to NPR on the way to work, because my tape player in the car is broken. But once we get (fingers crossed) a CD player, I must check these out.
    I swear when I found a slew of good audiobooks years ago I would drive around the block just to listen for a while longer.

  2. ps Don't you get spooked listening to scary books-on-tape? Maybe you only do this during the day – try driving on a campground road in the pitch dark. The last time I heard a scary story in that situation I heard an odd noise and almost hit the roof of my car.

  3. Hah! No — my commute is pretty light-filled (or at worst, dusk-filled) — though when traffic gets a little hairy, I find that I have to use my iPod's 30-second "rewind" feature to make sure that I didn't miss anything

  4. Listening to books is a terrific way to pass the time more quickly. We have, in the past, rented books on tape for car rides. I sometimes check out books on CD for the kids, if they have a lot of summer reading and need to listen to one of the books that is a bit hard to get through.

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