Short stories, long impact
Posted: August 3, 2011
Recently I had the distinct pleasure of reading 2 short stories aloud and participating in a discussion. At Golda Meir House, every year they invite “guests” to read a short story to a gathering of residents. I immediately accepted the invite, figuring they’d assign me a story and I’d go from there. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was a “BYOS”--bring your own story (actually, bring your own two stories)! Here’s the problem: I don’t read short stories. I’m completely committed to novels and I never found short stories satisfying (OK, I admit that I really don’t know if they are unsatisfying because I don’t read them!! I prefer getting fully absorbed in a lengthy good novel). When I requested a suggestion they replied “check out the New Yorker magazine”—about as helpful a suggestion as “go to the library”!
So I ran down to the Brookline Booksmith—our local, independent bookstore—and asked the always-helpful staff. They pointed me to Elizabeth Berg’s collection: The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. My plan: read the stories in order until I found one that was appropriate and quit reading after that. I read the lead story and to my surprise, I loved every minute of it AND it was satisfying. The companion story, The Day I Ate Absolutely Nothing That I Wanted was a hoot and also enjoyable. I had my stories for the reading. Nonetheless, a few nights later, I had read all of the 15 stories and found that, with the exception of one or two, I had been thoroughly absorbed.
I eagerly went to Golda and read the two first stories—which provoked a wonderful discussion. Some thought it was ridiculous that someone would eat that much junk food in one day (from the title story, of course) and discussed the obesity epidemic. Others related to the day of eating things that taste like cardboard and bemoaned how much we push ourselves to achieve some ideal body image. Everyone had an insightful comment; everyone listened intently to one another. I came away from the experience with two impressions:
1. It turns out that I do like short stories! So much for restricting my reading selections without knowing all the options. Will definitely read more by Elizabeth Berg then branch out to other authors. Suggestions, anyone?
2. Whenever I spend time with our residents, it’s motivating and inspiring. We all know that so much time has to be spent on budgets, reviews, letters, meetings and the like. But what makes the time and occasionally-grind-like existence of management worthwhile is the exceptional moments of connecting with the people in our buildings.
As always, please send me your thoughts.