James Holden: The Best Thing I’ve Read In 2014

Last year I blogged about the best thing I’d read in 2013 (you can find it here). I limited myself to short stories, because I read a lot of them, if I manage to blog it’s about short stories, and it’s also what I (try to) write.

So I thought it might be good to do the same for 2014. As with last year, it’s worth pointing out that I’m so behind on my reading that these stories weren’t necessarily published this year – they’ve been chosen from the ones that I got round to reading. Despite the breadth of stories that I read, I did somehow manage did read two stories that featured a dead Susan Sontag (Dreaming of the Dead by Nadime Gordimer, and a “Socratic dialgue” by David Thompson from McSweeney’s 32, in which Sontag, Virginia Woolfe, Charlie Chaplin, Franz Kafka and Orson Welles discuss the greatest film ever made).

McGregorJon McGregor’s This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Hapens To Somone Like You was easily the best collection of short stories that I read all year. His stories are frequently witty, and often dark, and the subject matter ranges from floods to road accidents to a possible drownings. But one of the best things about it was the way it exuded a really strong sense of place. Mainly set in the East of England, he really evokes the sense of loneliness – and damp – that can sometimes characterise the area. (Brilliantly, you can find a map on his website with all the locations of the stories on it here). My favourite in the book was “Wires”, about a girl who finds herself in a road accident – it startes off in such a funny way (I especially liked her musing what her facebook update should be as she’s about to crash), but there is a real sense of menace at the end of the story. I’m still struggling to work out what’s going to happen next and that’s one of the best things about this story. Sadly I can’t find “Wires” elsewhere, but you can find “We Wave And Call”, from which the collection takes its name, here.

There was also a connecting theme in Frances M. Thompson’s self-published book Shy Feet, but it had a much more global outlook as it was centred  around travel. It was well designed and put together, and also contained one of the most affecting stories I’ve read this year – “Katie’s Maps”. It’s only a handful of pages, but the story of a young girl who collects maps contains enough life and heartbreak over those brief pages to make one feel exceptionally sad.

I’ve already written about Zadie Smith’s Love Amongst The Corsets here, so the final piece I’m going to put forward comes from Liars League’s September session, which was themed High & Low. Simon Sylvester’s Art Is Long, Life Is Short tells the story of a women who applies to work with an artist and finds herself living as part of an artwork – think David Blaine by the Thames but with a less-pretty ending. As someone who spent five years working in the cultural sector defending some of its crazier moments, I’m always Perspexopen to stuff that pricks the some of the wilder pomposity of artists. But its not just the subject matter that drew me to this – Sylvester creates a memorable and satirical story with a compelling human voice at its centre. You can find it on Youtube here.

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About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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