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Short stories give reader option

When I was a high school student, I always looked forward to getting my new English Literature textbook each fall. I generally managed to read it through sometime before Thanksgiving. As I recall it, each contained a classic novel, a play by William Shakespeare, a selection of poetry, an essay or two, and a number of short stories.
Depending on which novel and which Shakespeare play were in the spotlight that year, the short stories were usually the material I liked best.
Certain stories made a lasting impression, and evidently not just on me. “Beware of the Dog” by Roald Dahl, “Sredni Vashtar” by Hector Hugh Munro (aka Saki), “The Ransom of Red Chief” by William Sydney Porter (aka O. Henry) and “The Unicorn in the Garden” by James Thurber are readily available on the internet.
Several of these timeless tales have been dramatized as short films and/or television episodes over the years. And speaking of tailored for television—and movies—we have the perennially popular Sherlock Holmes mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle.
People who don’t read for pleasure often cite the lack of time. Short stories might appear to be the solution, but contemporary short fiction is hard to find. One exception is Karen Russell’s new book Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The title tale makes immortality a shade or two less glamorous than most young adult fiction would have us imagine.
Vampire Clyde and his wife Magreb live in a touristy fruit farm on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, nightly sinking their fangs into fat, juicy…lemons. But how long can lemons slake a thirst for blood?
Russell’s yarns are spun along a broad spectrum of times and places. In Japan during the Meiji Restoration, young women contracted as textile workers find themselves transmuted into giant silkworms. Bullies in an economically depressed New Jersey community find themselves confronted by a scarecrow resembling a former victim.
Sodbusters on the plains of Nebraska struggle to fulfill their obligations under the Homestead Act in order to obtain the title to their land. And really, how many stories have been set in Antarctica?
If you think you might prefer episodes that are somehow related, consider “The Red Garden” by Alice Hoffman. Over the span of two centuries, a rural Massachusetts garden with strangely red soil witnesses a series of discrete events.
And Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning episodic novel “Olive Kitteridge” is composed of thirteen individual stories linked—sometimes tenuously–by the unforgettable title character.
Board Meeting
The Board of Trustees of the Unicoi County Public Library will meet at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 21, in the library lobby. The public is welcome to attend.