When Jonathan invited me to write for Personal Anthology my first impulse was to protest that I don’t read short stories. A quick glance at my bookshelves proves this is a bald-faced lie, but an interesting one. Why the resistance?
Thinking about Grace Paley cracked it for me. Paley is one of my chosen ancestors, a writer whose existence makes my own work possible. She is also, of course, famous for her short stories (and hospitable remarks). They are stories I’ve swallowed whole, stories whose ethos, music, and rhythms I’ve fully internalized, extending and revolving them in my mind, misremembering, embroidering, retelling, and living alongside them until, it seems, I no longer think of them as short stories. What are they instead? A world I visit. The sound of my own Jewishness. A guiding myth. Parables. A series of gestures contained in my body. Memories that live alongside all my other memories. (Stories that live alongside all my other stories.)
So here are twelve short stories (including a mini-anthology of Paley stories) that live in that fully internalized space in my head. They are not the only or even the best stories I have read, but an honest attempt* at excavating what stuck with me whether I wanted it to or not. The resulting list reflects the whiteness and boomer-centric bias of my Gen X era American education. I have been reading to disrupt those biases ever since but clearly I have more work to do.
*With one exception: I’m sorry, I just cannot include Amy Hempel’s ‘In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.’ Due to its inescapable presence in the late 1980s, it will be in my head for the rest of my days, and you know what? In spite of its brilliance and my sense that it is an ur-text for many other grief books including Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, I am sick of having it there. Begone sad primate.