Why we like the stories that we do is a mysterious thing. Here at the library, we try to recommend books by creating categories for types of readers (those who like a particular genre, setting, subject, audience, etc.) and matching the book to the person. This works to a certain degree, but if you think about your own reading tastes it becomes clear that simple labels just aren’t sufficient.
I know that I am a mass of contradictions when it comes to what I like to read. Over the years I’ve learned that I veer from detached to passionate when it comes to the types of fiction I enjoy. As a case in point, consider two very different books that I just finished reading.
We’re Flying by Peter Stamm is a deceptively simple collection of short stories. Each tale illuminates a set of circumstances (sometimes mundane, other times extraordinary) in clear and direct language. The characters vary in age and location but all seem perplexed by existence and the choices they have to make.
“A Foreign Body” is the tale of an extreme cave explorer who has lost his nerve. “In the Forest” follows Anja who chose to live in the woods during her adolescence. “Seven Sleepers” is the touching story of an organic farmer finally finding a connection during an outdoor concert. Throughout the work, the narrator refuses to pass judgment, maintaining a distance that makes the stories all the more poignant and complex.
Distance is the last thing you will get from the narrator of Flea Circus: A Brief Bestiary of Grief by Mandy Keifetz. This is a very intense (and gripping) narrative of one woman’s not very successful attempt to maintain her equilibrium. The story moves back and forth in time but is grounded in a distinct event that is returned to again and again: the death of the narrator’s lover.
The novel takes the form of a journal, of sorts, with alphabetical headings. The author’s use of language is rich, witty and, if you give into the flow of it, it becomes quite captivating:
Clearly, as I say, I am not thinking clearly. This much is clear: my grief had deranged me. Split me into two camps. Inside me contend a keen like a sonic boom, and a survival instinct, a self-correcting keel. A keen and a keel.
In addition the novel has a distinct sense of place, effectively capturing an urban landscape of crowded tenements, colorful street life and a seedy bar in Red Hook.
So clearly I lack consistency when it comes to my taste in storytelling. If you share my Jekyll and Hyde tendencies when it comes to fiction, rejoice in the fact that we have a whole library full of books to satisfy our conflicting urges.