Five Fantastic Tales
Timothy Schaffert, Kate Bernheimer, Kevin Brockmeier, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, and Maria Tatar pick a favorite—yet overlooked—fairytale-inspired book.
Left: Birdcage by Nicoletta Ceccoli
The Hearing Trumpet
I recommend this book for the author’s delight in wit and whimsy and horror and fear and fantasy and myth. The opening line sets the tone, when the narrator, the 92-year-old Marian Leatherby, introduces the talisman-like nature of the object of the title: “When Carmella gave me the present of a hearing trumpet she may have foreseen some of the consequences.
— Timothy Schaffert, author, most recently, of The Coffins of Little Hope
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Set during the 1930s depression, the novel features a Marathon Dance Craze and an obsession with suicide. As a teenager, I read it in my grandfather’s house—I was so enthralled and terrified by it. At the time, I genuinely had no idea what it was—a novel, a confession, the diary of a madman? I love one of the blurbs on the back cover: “Language is not minced in this short novel which presents life in its most brutal aspect. So if you don’t like that kind of book, don’t read it.” I like that kind of book.
— Kate Bernheimer, author, most recently, of Horse, Flower, Bird.
The Old Man at the Railroad Crossing
William Maxwell is known (and fairly well, at least among American fiction writers) as the author of a half-dozen graceful and absorbing autobiographical novels. But the tales he collected in The Old Man at the Railroad Crossing and as A Set of Twenty-one Improvisations are as clear-sighted, limber, and compassionate as anything he wrote. The treasures here are many—"A Mean and Spiteful Toad," "The Masks," "The Kingdom where Straightforward, Logical Thinking was Admired Over Every Other Kind"—but one of the best, which lends its title to his Collected Stories, is "All the Days and Nights," in which "Once upon a time there was a man who asked himself, 'Where have all the days and nights of my life gone?'" whereupon he sets out to find them, and does.
— Kevin Brockmeier, author, most recently, of The Illumination.
The Hungry Girls and Other Stories
This endlessly inventive collection was published in 1989 and is now out-of-print. I remember reading the title story as an undergraduate, and feeling at first puzzled and then disturbed and then increasingly delighted by this strange tale of dirt-eating girls in the French countryside. Eakins writes about the most peculiar creatures with the most convincing authority; she has a crisp, witty way of bringing together history and science and horror and bawdy humor. The story made such an impression on me that I borrowed from it freely (and unconsciously) while writing my first book; in fact, when I went back and reread The Hungry Girls a few years ago, I was embarrassed by how much I owed it.
— Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author, most recently, of Ms. Hempel Chronicles.
Set in Berlin in 1932, Ashes was inspired by Heinrich Heine's words, "Where they burn books, they will soon end up burning humans." We see the rise of Hitler through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl who gets in trouble because she is addicted to books. I am coming to this volume from Jed Rubenfeld's Death Instinct, a highbrow thriller with the same mix of historical fact and imaginative fiction, combustible in some hands, but Lasky knows how to manage it for young adults, as does Rubenfeld for the grown-ups.
— Maria Tatar, author, most recently, of Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood