I don’t normally gravitate toward short stories, and I’m not really sure why. However, this year I decided to branch out and read a few. I’m so glad I did! Here are two books of “shorts:” one a collection of essays, the other of stories, and all worthwhile reading.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
Admittedly, this book does not have the sexiest title. It sounds like a textbook, but really, it’s a fascinating collection of short essays by the best-selling author of The Fault in Our Stars. It’s also the title of a podcast Green hosted from 2017-2020, and the chapters line up with the structure of a podcast episode. In each essay, Green chooses some aspect of modern life, discusses it, then gives it a rating from one to five stars. The topics range from the profound (“Our Capacity for Wonder”) to the seemingly trivial (“Diet Dr Pepper”) – although nothing is really trivial in Green’s thoughtful analysis. He marries everyday stuff with weighty truths – like how Super Mario Kart can help us ponder systemic inequality. Laced with poetry, photography, and song lyrics, these essays will make you think, make you smile, and ultimately feel hopeful about humanity. Plus they’re just a few pages each. Win-win!
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
This book’s stories really pack a punch. Technically it’s five short stories plus a novella, all linked together by a common theme: being Black and Virginian. Johnson herself is a native Virginian, yet in an interview with The Guardian, said “it still isn’t quite my home. I feel a slight barrier…” All the stories reflect this discomfort, as Blacks who were instrumental in making the state what it is still are not fully accepted there. In “Control Negro,” a university professor creates an experiment with his own son as the subject, trying to determine what will happen if he is given all the opportunities of “Average Caucasian Males.” “My Monticello,” the novella, imagines a dystopian world where a group of Black neighbors, plus a few whites, are forced out of their neighborhood by white supremacists and seek shelter at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate. With rich human insight, Johnson gives us a piercing look into Black lives in our country.