Even when the days are gloriously long, your time for reading is sometimes – not. Short stories and memoirs are perfect summer fare for Adrienne McRae, who features One More Thing (Stories and other Stories) by B.J. Novak and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris at Bacon today.
From Adrienne: I recently went to a seminar on working memory. Working memory (or in my case, lack thereof) is affected by stress, distraction, anxiety, you name it. Working memory is… oh, look at that pretty bird! What was I saying?
Basically, the take-away from that lecture was that dividing your tasks, routines, day, etc. into bits and chunks of information frees up your mind to focus on one thing at a time and more easily move through responsibilities without dropping too many balls. For this reason, I have found myself gravitating to short stories and memoirs these days (which are essentially the same thing!). Going into summer, these types of books make for excellent beach reads which are easily digestible in your own bits and chunks of time.
One More Thing (Stories and Other Stories) by B.J. Novak
BJ Novak is a writer and actor. Best known for his writing on “The Office,” he has a quirky, odd and strangely engaging way of writing and telling a story. Some of the stories are three pages and some are closer to 50. You can pick and choose as I did, how much time you want to allot to the experience. Novak makes great observations on human nature and I had to laugh at the end of the book when he wrote, “Did you flip through the book and read the shortest stories first? The author does that, too.” His path through the story is dark when you expect light and light when you are expecting dark. The stories on the surface are easy and quick reads but somehow have a way of engaging your mind days, weeks, and months later. The underlying deeper meanings go below the surface, allowing you to reminisce back to moments in your own life. I think that was his goal all along. Many will pick up that the title of the book – “One More Thing” – is an homage to Colombo who famously pestered each unsuspecting foe with that famous line “Just one more thing,” knowing all along the truth but making each find that truth on their own and in their own unique way.
A few of my favorite stories were “The Closure” and “The Rematch,” which are twists on familiar tales with unexpected but oddly satisfying endings.
“Closure” follows a would-be broken hearted heroine in her journey for, well, closure. A young woman who wants to meet her ex one last time. She starts by forgiving him for all of his past transgressions during their time together and one last goodbye kiss. From there the story takes an unexpected turn, a trademark of Novak’s, and you end up in a fantasy version of breakup revenge or the ultimate closure.
“The Rematch” speculates on what would happen if the famous tortoise and hare race were run again. The story picks up immediately following the race. The tortoise, notoriously shy, is now full of exuberance and smugness and sets off on a victory tour. The Hare, humiliated, falls in the throes of depression, experiences weight gain, and ultimately turns to religion to find his place in the world. Both the tortoise and the hare are not who they seem and the race has changed them in ways they could not have expected, ultimately revealing their true character. After much planning, there is a second race. The result, “Never in the history of competition – athletic or otherwise has there been more of a beat-down than what the tortoise experienced that afternoon.” The moral: “slow and steady wins the race, till truth and talent claim their place.”
Novak concludes his book with a set of equally humorous discussion questions. “Do you think ‘why not’ is ultimately a better question than ‘why?’ Why or why not?” Food for thought but also a fun way to get through the end-of-the-book sadness I always feel when a good read is over.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
David Sedaris is a great storyteller. Me Talk Pretty One Day meanders through vignettes on the journey to self-discovery and the paradox therein. Sedaris focuses on his childhood years of speech therapy, his struggle with his own identity, and dealing with different aspects of personal loss. In every great sadness, there is beauty and irony and that is the vehicle through which his story is told. While memoirs are a bit different than short stories, I feel the way I digest them is about the same. Each chapter is a new story or set of stories yet the characters remain the same.
Sedaris discusses his long stream of family pets that were each quickly replaced. He tells the tale of having to put down a family pet for which his mother reimbursed his expenses. She noted on the memo line “pet burning.” He also discusses his first teaching job for which he felt underqualified and overpaid. He ran his class through projects mainly consisting of daily celebrity gossip, one-pot recipes (he had recently purchased a crock pot), and dissecting soap operas. Like the pet stories, the end of the story took a turn towards failure but with learned comic revelations. Food for thought. Like most things in life there are lessons to be learned wherever you look. Do you see a situation as a tragedy or a comedy?
There you have it. Quickly consumed reading you can put down for a day or 3 months or a year and easily pick back up where you left off. Hopefully dividing your free time into these bits and chunks will free up your working memory to remember things like, “Where did I put my sunglasses?” Oh, they are on my head.
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Adrienne McRae has a shy smile. Behind it? A sense of humor, a lively intellect, a kind heart, a beautiful sense of style.
Born and raised in Southern California, she has lived in Nashville long enough (14 years) to know that Martin’s Barbecue is her favorite restaurant.
She tries to be patient. A job well done brings her contentment. Dull scissors make her crazy.
Why so particular about the scissors? Adrienne is a talented clothing designer and seamstress. “I love love love fashion design,” she enthuses. “It’s another form of art to me, the more couture the better. There are official regulations on whether a garment can achieve couture status – a certain percentage of the garment being sewn by hand, no licking the threads to thread the needle, being made in a designated house of couture. There are something like 19 houses that have earned the official term ‘couture.’ Seventeen of them are in France. I have dreams of someday taking an official couturier class in Paris.”
In the meanwhile, she’ll continue to cherish the mornings when her children get in bed with her. She’ll continue her active volunteer work at Nashville Ballet, Currey Ingram Academy and Oak Hill School. On a day when she’s got a little time, she might get out the scissors.
(Note: she made her children’s clothes in the photo above.)
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What short story collections and memoirs would you recommend? I’m crazy about Adrienne’s picks. Another collection I plan to read this summer:
Also, Sean Kinch’s recommendation:
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Top image: Copyright