Cathedral bookjacketI’ve never written a novel or a short story (unless you count the required writing course I took about a million years ago as a freshman in college) but in some ways, I think that it might be harder to write a short story than a full-fledged book. A short story has to suck you in immediately, tell a full plot in a small number of pages, and shoot you out at the end with a quick climactic pay-off. A great short story will stay with you forever. Raymond Carver’s "A Small Good Thing" with a young boy’s unpicked up bakery cake has been part of my very soul since I first read it years ago.

The past few months, I’ve read several collections of really amazing short stories. When I did a search in our catalog, I found that there have been a ton of short story booksSingle, Carefree, Mellow bookjacket published in the last couple of years; I checked a bunch out and found a bounty of vivid stories that I find myself still thinking about weeks after reading them. Kelly Link’s stories in Get in Trouble are a feast of surreal images that are also weirdly believable. Katherine Heiny writes about infidelity in her collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow, but she does it in a refreshingly nonjudgmental way. And then there are always my old favorites, Flannery O'Connor and Peter S. Beagle.

If you're in the mood for a short story or two or three, try one of these collections.

I recently got a Fitbit, a wonderful little device that tracks how much you walk, and I’ve become a little bit obsessed with seeing how many steps I can walk every single day. I’m not quite as obsessed as David Sedaris is about walking (or maybe it’s because I don’t have nine hours every day to devote to walking the way Sedaris says he does). I know that I’m somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale but I really do try not to let my slight ocd tendencies affect those around me (though my husband, when he’s washing the dishes as I’m hovering about in the kitchen cleaning up after him, might disagree with that last statement).

The Man Who Couldn't Stop bookjacketDavid Adam does suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. For the past 20 years, he has had an irrational fear of contracting AIDS, and in an effort to understand this, he has written The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought. It’s my favorite kind of memoir - personal, poignant, heartbreaking stories of the author mixed with everything I’ve ever wanted to know about a bigger subject. This is an immensely down-to-earth, accessible book about a difficult subject. I came away with an understanding of the definition of OCD, the possible causes, the treatment of OCD and a huge amount of empathy for all those that lean towards obsessive- compulsive disorder.


Her bookjacketThe 2015 books are starting to arrive and I zipped through my first psychological thriller of the new year. Harriet Lane’s Her sucked me right in with a deceptively ordinary story of two mothers (though if you prefer to read about parents who dote on their children, you'd best skip this book). What a fabulously entertaining, suspenseful, well-written book. The story centers on the build-up of revenge plotted by one of the characters towards the completely oblivious other.

Told in alternating chapters by the two main characters, the interplay of reality and perception is pretty chilling. It’s sort of The Bad Seed with middle aged women. Her is a story that builds from the misunderstandings and disappointments in our lives and the twist lies in the overlooking of those matters.

I’m ready to be pulled into more psychological suspense novels in the coming year; here are a few that I'm eagerly anticipating. I hope they turn out to be as unpredictable and surprising as Her.

The Kept bookjacketDuring these cold days of winter, what could be better than finding a book that takes you on a journey through the bleak days of a winter of 1897? The Kept is the perfect book to hunker down with while the wind howls and the threat of snow is upon us.

This is the story of Elspeth Howell, beginning on the day she returns home from her midwifery duties to her isolated farmstead in upstate New York and finds her husband and 5 of her children murdered. Only her 12-year-old son, Caleb, has survived. The book traces their journey to find the men who committed that horrific deed. As the journey progresses, so also do we slowly learn much of what has brought them to this point in their lives.

Scott has written a beautiful, bleak, extraordinary story. It's the kind of book that made me want to rush through my workday, wake up early in the morning, and stay up late to read. On the next blustery day, pick up The Kept and take a journey through the snow to Watersbridge, New York with James Scott.

I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like bookjacketI like my music to tell a story and that's exactly what Todd Snider’s songs do. His memoirish book, I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like: Mostly True Tall Tales is full of stories. I can listen to Todd's (he's such a down-to-earth kind of guy that I feel he'd want me to call him by his first name) music all day. And then his live shows are great not only because he plays his fabulous songs but also because he has hilarious stories to tell. In his book, he sets down some of those entertaining stories plus a whole bunch more. It's great to hear the (mostly true) stories behind his songs and how he ended up in the singer/songwriting world. You get to hear about some of the inner workings of the music business and the inner life of a fallible, creative guy.

“I thought about what I wanted, knowing that I’d probably fail to get it. And I decided that I wanted most to fail at being a singer in a band .  .  . That’s what I wanted to fail at in this life. And, oh brother, have I. Over and over again. Spectacularly.”

As a bonus, Todd's a local boy; he grew up in Beaverton and he has several songs that feature Portland prominently. He's got a great voice, and I'm not just talking about how he sings; you get a real sense of who he is as a person in his songs and his stories. Now instead of having to wait for his next show, I can read a chapter of this book, pop in one of his cds, and pretend I'm sitting in a club right next to the stage while Todd Snider performs.