Annie Condon’s ‘Nothing Broken’ was published in Issue Three. A fiction writer and reviewer, Annie lives in Melbourne, and her stories have been published in Kill Your Darlings (Issue 3), Meanjin, Going Down Swinging and various anthologies. Killings asked her to share her recommended reading.
Many years ago I had an ‘aha moment’ when I encountered the CS Lewis quote, ‘We read to know we are not alone’. Reading has always been a highlight in my life, and was the sole reason I bounded into the local primary school at age five, desperate to decode for myself the books my parents had read to me.
I was an only child, and inevitably that means a lot of time alone. So characters in books became my companions. Even in my earliest Enid Blyton phase, I preferred human characters to animals or fairy folk. That is, Darrell and Sally from the Malory Towers boarding school series got the thumbs up, whereas Mr Pinkwhistle was relegated to ‘one read only’ status.
To this day, I remain a realist. The fiction I read portrays people pushed to the brink. And the more contemporary the setting, the better. Favourite authors include, Curtis Sittenfeld; Tom Perrotta; MJ Hyland; Alice Munro; Ethan Canin; Dan Chaon; Andrea Goldsmith; Julie Orringer; ZZ Packer and Cate Kennedy.
I love burying myself in a novel, but equally I love the sharp intake of breath an effective short story can produce in a reader. I’m reading New Australian Stories 2 (Scribe) at the moment and dipping in to the myriad worlds of others has a satisfying and voyeuristic thrill. My writing teachers at RMIT always suggested ‘dive right in to the action’ when you write a short story, and the pull of explosive dialogue or a character’s unenviable position has me, as a reader, right on the edge of my seat. With this collection, I sometimes have to close my eyes because I don’t want to face what I think will occur next.
I’ve always had a fascination for American culture and writing, so I try to keep up with the US book and short story market. I purchase books not available here from Amazon (apologies to all local independent bookstores) and keep a close eye on The New Yorker. I also subscribe to the brilliant One Story, a non-profit literary magazine that mails one short story to subscribers every three weeks. This year I’ve had significant reading mileage out of The New Yorker’s ’20 under 40’, which in their own words, ‘features twenty young writers who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction’. Some of these writers are already household names (Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Wells Tower) but the discovery of Sarah Shun-lien Bynum led me to her book of interconnected stories about a young middle-school English teacher titled Ms Hempel Chronicles. The wisdom and pathos in these pages puts it into my top three this year. My other belated discovery was the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li. I was fortunate to be able to review her outstanding book of short stories Gold Boy, Emerald Girl for Readings Monthly, and her writing is absorbing and beautiful as she charts the lives of people coming to terms with the modern age in China.
I find a lot to be excited about in Australian publishing. Literary journals seem to be flourishing, and small presses such as Sleepers and Affirm Press are on the rise. More writers are focusing on the ‘city’ as a location for their characters, which I enjoy. Interestingly, novels seem to becoming shorter and short stories longer. I like the fact that journals are making room for stories up to 5000 words. And that both traditional publishers and small presses are publishing my current favourite form – collections of interlinked short stories. In the past two years I’ve read some brilliant examples of these. Patrick Cullen’s What Came Between and more recently Gretchen Shirm’s Having Cried Wolf.