Variations

Variations is a collection of short stories inspired by real events that explore transgender history in Britain. The stories take a variety of forms, from diaries, letters and oral history interviews to blogs and screenplays. Across the collection, Juliet Jacques follows a series of trans people and their experiences from the 19th through to the 21st century. She opens each story with a paragraph that contextualises what follows and regularly includes footnotes with further context. This gives such an air of authority that I began to question whether this book gathered together fiction or fact. In a way, it does both. Jacques has written a history of trans experience but disguised it as fiction.

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Jolts

Jolts is a short story collection from the Argentine writer Fernando Sdrigotti. It’s a punchy collection that looks at being an émigré from somewhere and an immigrant to somewhere. Across the nine stories there is anger, frustration, a sense of being lost in spaces in between, broken up by leaving bits of yourself in the places you inhabit and move on from.

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Ways of Living

Gemma Seltzer’s collection of short stories centred on the lives of female Londoners is in some respects more Ways of Leaving than Ways of Living. Its principal characters are seeking escape. In their escape, they’re also looking for understanding, whether that’s understanding themselves or being understood by others. The nature of friendship is placed under a microscope and found to be largely a matter of convenience.

The women could be anywhere. That they are in London adds a different flavour – the proliferation of people performing an artistic life and vying for attention, the particularities of multicultural working class life in the unmonied areas – but the lives portrayed here could be lived in any city. Even a global city is parochial, when you dig down into it. Perhaps the London-ness of these stories is that the strangeness of the characters’ behaviour is normalised.

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Into The Wilds

Into The Wilds is an anthology of short stories from British South Asian writers and the first publication from new imprint Fox & Windmill. Set up by two graduates from the University of Huddersfield as a start-up company, this independent publisher aims to publish works that reflect British South Asian culture. Habiba Desai and Sara Razzaq, like many readers from a non-white background, didn’t often see themselves in the fiction they read and decided to do something about it.

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Many People Die Like You

Many People Die Like You is Lina Wolff’s first collection of short stories, originally published in 2009 and made available in English by And Other Stories in 2020. The English language edition has two additional stories. All are translated by Saskia Vogel, who also translated The Polyglot Lovers.

I love Wolff’s writing in both of the novels I have read. I especially love the way she revels in people’s strangeness, and this collection didn’t disappoint. It takes us into Wolff’s odd but compelling world of unconventional women and the men they are bemused and offended by, and sometimes attracted to. In these brutal and funny stories, Wolff has things to say about loneliness and questions the absolute necessity of belonging.

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The Human Fly and Other Stories

T C Boyle is a writer that I have intended to read more by since I read and loved his short story ‘She Wasn’t Soft’ in a Bloomsbury Quid edition in 1996.

A decade later, I was visiting a friend in New York and found the collection The Human Fly and Other Stories on a table in Strand Bookstore.

On the back cover it says, “His many and varied novels are part of the American literary landscape – but one of the best ways to appreciate T C Boyle is through his richly imagined short fiction.”

I bought it, and it has been on my bookshelves ever since. From time to time I’ve taken it down and pondered it as my next read but always put back. I decided to add it to my 10 Books of Summer list this year to ensure that I actually get round to reading it.

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Staying Home: Short Stories

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Read 02/06/2022-03/06/2022

Rating 4 stars

Staying Home is a collection of four short stories selected from the 2020 Comma Press Short Story Course. These course collections are available exclusively in Kindle format for 99 pence each, and are often the first time the included writers have been published.

The 2020 course collection features four women writers, one of whom is a friend. The course took place online in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, and this is reflected in the subject matter of one the stories. Continue reading

The Book of Ramallah

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Read 29/05/2022-02/06/2022

Rating 5 stars

Comma Press in Manchester publishes a series called Reading the City, in which stories from cities around the world are brought together in an anthology, often stories that have not been translated into English before. I picked up The Book of Ramallah at the recent Northern Publishers’ Fair at Manchester Central Library.

During the pandemic, I’d watched Mayor, the 2020 documentary by David Osit that follows Mousa Hadid as Mayor of Ramallah over a two year period. Hadid comes across as that rare thing – a man of honour in politics. It’s a moving, funny, heartwarming look at what it means to be a Palestinian in a city hemmed in by occupation. It made me want to know more about Ramallah. This collection seemed a good place to start. Continue reading

How to Bring Him Back

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Read 29/05/2022

Rating 3 stars

How to Bring Him Back by Claire HM is a single story in the Fly on the Wall Shorts series. It follows Cait, a writer from Birmingham, as she tries to conjour up the man she wronged almost a quarter of a century earlier. Its form is that of a writer’s confessional, an attempt to shape the past into a semi-fictional narrative. It left me wondering how close Cait is to Claire HM. Continue reading