BOOKS: Friday Roundup

Yeah, I know it's Monday. No, I'm not apologizing. Last week was insane, man. Just insane.

But I'm here now. And I haven't forgotten about the weekly recommends. You didn't think I actually would, did you?

"A Composer and His Parakeets," Ha Jin - The lead off story in the 2008 O. Henry Prize Stories anthology, Ha Jin spins a lovely tale about Fanlin, an up-and-coming musician who believes great art can happen only by accident, not by intention. That conviction (not surprisingly) is turned on its head with the arrival of Bori, a parakeet, who quickly steals Fanlin's heart and provides the unexpected inspiration for Fanlin's greatest work.

"Village 113," Anthony Doerr - "Village 113" chronicles the displacement of a settlement to make way for a new state-sponsored infrastructure project and provides a fascinating glimpse into the complex relationship between individuals and society. Doerr lays out impossible dilemmas for several characters, but manages to tie them up in a neat (and chillingly realistic) way. By the end of the story no one is truly happy, but that's progress, right? Bonus points to Doerr for his brilliant (and very subliminal) way of contrasting the emptiness of the city to the bustling life of the countryside.

"A Change in Fashion," Steven Millhauser - "After the Age of Revelation came the Age of Concealment." And we're not just talking burkas, here folks. We're talking about clothes the size of rooms. Dresses so big women congregate inside them for their own separate parties, socializing and enjoying themselves as the men anxiously mill about outside. Millhauser's award-winning short story is weird, I'll give it that, but it's also a startlingly comic take on beauty and the foibles of fashion.

"On the Lake," Olaf Olafsson - What happens when your boat capsizes with your son in it? Will you save yourself? Will you put it all on the line for your little boy? The answer might surprise you ...

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