Library Chicken Update :: 3.21.18

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!

I’ve got a stack of memoirs and nice thick novels--not to mention my still unread Christmas presents and way too many can’t-pass-up-this-great-ebook-deal Kindle books--waiting patiently for me to get over this short story obsession, but it’s showing no sign of slowing down. I’d like to say I can quit anytime, but (with the occasional break for other ongoing obsessions) I’m not actually sure that I can.


A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN by Virginia Woolf

Girl Who Reads Woolf continued: I really have no excuse for not reading this years ago, but now that I finally have, I’m going to retroactively declare it a personal all-time favorite. (See also: “The Yellow Wallpaper” below.) It felt surprisingly contemporary, which is, I guess, a reflection of how far we still have to go. (Challenge Accepted: “A Classic You’ve Been Meaning to Read” from home/school/life’s 2018 Reading Challenge Bingo)

(LC Score: +1)


I had heard of Gilman’s famous feminist horror story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a long while back, but somehow never got around to tracking it down. Fortunately for me, it is anthologized all over the place, so once I embarked on my current Season of Short Stories, it was only a matter of time before I encountered it. And it is CREEPY and WONDERFUL and so much FUN to read — go find it immediately if you haven’t had the pleasure. As is my standard operating procedure, I immediately set out to track down Gilman’s other work, only to find that this is pretty much the only story of hers that is widely known and available. The selections in this Reader, including other short stories and excerpts from her novels (including the feminist utopia Herland) may demonstrate why that is. Gilman used her fiction to try to change the world, to make it a more equal and better place for both men and women, and so with the exception of “Wallpaper”, most of it is simplistic and didactic and not very fun or interesting to read. However, Gilman herself turns out to be a very interesting person, so I’ve got a biography on hold and in the meantime will probably read “Wallpaper” two or three more times.

(LC Score: +1)


Olsen is another author I recently discovered via my current short story binge. Her two most well-known stories are “I Stand Here Ironing” (which I stop to reread every time it shows up in yet another ‘best of’ anthology and which you should definitely check out after you finish “The Yellow Wallpaper”) and “Tell Me a Riddle” (ditto). She is a deeply compassionate writer and my only disappointment with this collection, which includes her short stories, a fragment of an unfinished novel, and a few pieces of her nonfiction writing, is that it is so very short. Apparently Olsen, who died in 2007 at the age of 95, was too busy being a social activist and labor organizer to sit down and do much writing. Her biography is also now on its way to my home and I confidently expect to be intimidated by her hard work and lifelong commitment to meaningful causes.

(LC Score: +1)


Unlike Gilman and Olsen, Hempel is a modern short story writer. This collection collects her previous four collections, consisting of mostly bite-sized stories of everyday life that mostly include at least one dog. Her fourth collection is noticeably harsher than the first three, with more sex, more violence, and more bitterness, but this was a great read all the way through.

(LC Score: +½, returned overdue)

More giant anthologies! Because clearly I have a problem! I thought the Norton anthology was a not-bad roundup of solid stories, many of which I had encountered previously in similar anthologies, though I didn’t love the slightly lit-snobby introduction or the giant photo of the editor (because editors are a big selling point? what?) that took up the entire back cover. The Pushcart anthology covers Pushcart Prize winners from 1976 to 2001 and boy howdy, do we ever start out with a terrible no-good truly awful entry from 1976. It’s one of those stories about a sexy sexy lady from a male author that leads the reader to wonder if said author has ever actually encountered a female human. One also has to assume that editor Henderson (who chose to include this story) has lived a life entirely devoid of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, female friends and/or romantic companions. Unfortunately, it takes a while for the collection to improve after that low-point beginning and I didn’t much enjoy the remainder of the 70s and 80s (aka the Era of Melancholy White Men). Things do begin to perk up in the 90s and it finally gets interesting once we hit authors such as Junot Diaz, Katherine Min, and Steven Millhauser. As is obligatory (by law, I believe) in any anthology of American short stories, a Joyce Carol Oates story is of course included, but the one here was notable for NOT exploding into senseless violence at the end, so that was refreshing.

(LC Score: +2)

THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison

This is the third ‘Best American’ anthology I’ve read (see: “yes I know I have a problem” above) and I was frankly not expecting all that much from editor Updike in this 1999 collection covering stories from 1915 to 1998. I was surprised early on by the relative lacks of overlaps (even from the other Best American books I’ve read), but I still dreaded the approach of my least favorite decade, the 70s. Updike shocked me, however, with wonderful stories from the likes of Rosellen Brown and Alice Adams, leading me to the surprising conclusion that maybe I don’t actually hate the 70s, I just hate the MEN of the 70s! Granted, we’re still very much in White Suburbia Land, but believe me when I say it’s a vast improvement. Updike and Kenison are also the first editors of this type of anthology that I’ve encountered who seem to care about how one story flows into the next, and how each reflects its neighbors’ themes. An unexpectedly good read.

(LC Score: +½, returned overdue)

THE NEW WEIRD edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The VanderMeers are my go-to couple for weird and wonderful stories and this anthology does not disappoint, even though it is perhaps a teensy bit padded with essays attempting to define the “Weird” genre and an open-ended round robin story that finishes off the book. Nevertheless, a very fun read with many new-to-me authors that I can add to my to-read list.

(LC Score: +1)

AMERICAN GOTHIC TALES edited by Joyce Carol Oates

I may not always be thrilled to see Yet Another Oates Story in the table of contents of my current anthology, but I do enjoy her editing choices. This was a great anthology of the creepy and horrific in American short fiction, including both the classic “literary” authors and a fair amount of genre representation. It would be a lot of fun to use this as the basis for a homeschool literature course.

(LC Score: +1)


Florey sets out to tell the history of sentence diagramming--and as it turns out, there’s not all that much to it, so in this very short book (with many illustrations and lots of blank space) we also get a digression on Gertrude Stein and the author’s opinion on the use of “ain’t”. It’s interesting, but very slight, and Florey occasionally got on my nerves with her “witty” jabs at modern-day political correctness. I felt cheated, though, to learn that she didn’t even diagram all the examples in the book herself, passing off the real Henry-Jamesian monsters to another expert. Sheesh.

(LC Score: +1)

HOLY DISORDERS by Edmund Crispin

Hey, look: it’s a novel! I was worried I’d forgotten how to read these! This is the second Gervase Fen mystery, staring Crispin’s English professor turned fourth-wall-breaking sleuth in a murder plot that involves mysterious attacks on church organists and eventually leads to dastardly German spies. (It’s set during WWII.) I have to confess that I lost track of the plot fairly quickly, perhaps because I was reading it in 10-minute chunks on my phone while waiting in my car to pick up assorted teenagers from various social/school events, but that didn’t really impact my enjoyment of Fen and friends. As a bonus, one scene seems to exist primarily to give Fen the opportunity to make an extended riff on “The Raven,” so that was fun.

(LC Score: 0, read on Kindle)

MULTIPLE CHOICE by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell

This quirky, original book has a narrative organized in the style of the Chilean college acceptance exam (think SATs) and was a fun, quick read, though I can’t really count it among my novel-reading this week since it’s barely a novella. The storyline never really resolves into a cohesive whole, but it’s a great book to pick up for an hour or so, especially if you’re looking to get into more works in translation.

(LC Score: +1)


  • Library Chicken Score for 3/21/18: 10
  • Running Score: +10 ½


On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:

  • JACOB'S ROOM by Virginia Woolf (the Girl Who Reads Woolf continues)
  • MARGARET THE FIRST by Danielle Dutton (historical novel about Margaret of Newcastle, inspired by Woolf’s mention of Margaret in A Room of One’s Own)
  • INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri (another author I’m finally getting around to reading after seeing her in the anthologies)
  • THE COLLECTED STORIES by Grace Paley (ditto)