Kevin Barry – Library Director
Nothing relaxes and quenches the thirsty mind like a quick read before dozing off at night. There are plenty of yarns numbering only four and five pages long. Some pack a wallop and some sooth the soul. Reading something short just for fun before bedtime is both healthy and habit-forming!
Get addicted quickly by going to the Ohrstrom Library Catalog. Type in Short Stories, American and hit “Subject”.
Need a specific recommendation? Begin with 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme (Fiction B28) and turn directly to his short story, The School (pp. 309-312). It is not only hilarious, but forces the reader to ask, “What’s grammar got to do with it?” The School is a satirical take on correct thinking in the classroom and will bring back memories! The structure of Barthelme’s narrative is a “take off” on the constraints of sanctioned grammar and syntactical rules that can inhibit discourse. Indeed, Barthelme’s weird, loopy syntax enhances his story and renders it more engaging. While his innovative use of phrases may at times seem disharmonious and goofy, they are also exceptionally effective and energetic.
The prissy grade school narrator tells a story with fragmented syntax that countermands his intended message of stability, rationality, and unity of thought. Indeed, it serves as an unintentional proxy for his students’ resistance and demand for meaning. The School rushes along at breakneck speed with one “surprising” event surpassing the next. From the moment the teacher speaks of “root systems”, the narrative shifts from one element to another – from orange trees to soil to sticks to snakes to herb gardens to fish, gerbils and then puppies, – all curiously tied to an ascending order up the evolutionary ladder. Barthelme’s writing resembles wild strawberries sprawling in segments across the page the way a root system meanders across the yard making it impossible to identify at times where the thing starts and stops. In the end, the students in The School’s classroom cheer “wildly” and you will too after reading this wonderful tale.