Kebabs = something new I'm trying in an effort to skewer several bite-sized updates on what I'm reading and/or writing this day or week. It seemed a more appropriate image than the other that leapt to mind (because it was just awaiting its opportunity): the Spam-and-cheese striped casserole which is to the best of my knowledge lurking in the recipe book of some poor Flannery O'Connor character (goddamn Protestants and their casseroles!). It may in fact turn out stripe-y due to the shorter paragraphs, with the blank space in between, but I prefer kebabs.
I'll soon be taking advantage of the usual Christmas accumulation from my for-all-intents-and-purposes-in-laws, including the Paris Review collection Object Lessons and a book of short stories by Mavis Gallant. The idea with the former is previously published short pieces that are introduced by another author/reader, which I gather doubles as incentive to buy it even if you've read all the included stories (those sneaky bastards!). I haven't, in any case. By skipping around, I've so far made it through Lydia Davis' Ten Stories From Flaubert (introduced by Ali Smith), James Salter's Bangkok (intro'ed by Dave Eggers), and Ethan Canin's The Palace Thief (Loore Moore doing the honors).
The only of these six authors with whom I had no previous familiarity was Ethan Canin. I found The Palace Thief to be unusually ambitious for a short story, and it makes me want to check out more of Canin's stuff. Apparently it was made into a movie starring Kevin Kline and Jesse Eisenberg and some other people, which isn't entirely surprising considering the socio-political subject matter and the prep school setting.
The Lydia Davis contribution is interesting because it is basically a translation of "stories" culled from some of Flaubert's letters, which, as Ali Smith points out, makes the thing a sort of multi-level project. It reads like both Flaubert and Lydia Davis, which I wouldn't want to be misinterpreted as meaning that the translation is poor or manipulated (and I wouldn't know, having never seen the originals), just that the choice of what to translate, in this case, was part of the art.
While on the subject of guided literature, I've also been picking my way through About These Stories, a collection-plus-commentary put together by David Huddle, Ghita Orth, and Allen Sheperd. Included in the book is one story each by all three authors followed by self and peer commentary. After Huddle's story, the title of which has slipped my mind, he talks a little about the idea of "framing" a story by having it narrated by one character who tells another character's story. It's nice to read a thoughtful essay about the purposes, advantages, and dangers of the story-within-a-story mechanism.