The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

flanneryTitle: The Complete Stories
Author: Flannery O’Connor
Genre: Short stories, literary fiction
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Print copy from my personal library
Number of pages: 576 pages
First line: Old Dudley folded into the chair he was gradually molding into his own shape and looked out the window fifteen feet away into another window framed by blackened red brick.

Sigh. So, I’ve failed our first month of the challenge. I am on page 335 of this book, and I’m telling you, it is slow going. I was so excited to read this one, too! But so far, I can only point to one story that I’ve actually liked: “The Crop,” which is about a single woman living in a boarding house who lives inside the stories she writes.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not enjoying these stories more, and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. First, O’Connor is a brilliant writer, but her stories are depressing. I really don’t think that January, a month when I struggle with the blues anyway, was a good month to choose to read these stories – although I’m not convinced that reading them in a warmer, sunnier month would make much difference.

Second, I am simply the wrong audience for early 20th century American literature. I’ve tried – really, really tried. Last year, I read Faulkner and Steinbeck. Yuck. The year before that, I read The Great Gatsby – double yuck. And don’t even get me started on Hemingway.

So, I apologize. I am determined that I will finish this book, but it definitely won’t be today. I can’t really write a review, but I definitely would like to hear what all of you have been thinking as you read – finished or not. I’ll give you a few questions to get you started, if you like. If not, feel free to post anything and everything about the book, the author, your reading experience, and then link your post below. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

~ What is your overall impression of O’Connor as a writer?

~ Is there a story that you have particularly liked? Or particularly disliked?

~ Does her work remind you of any other authors or works?

~ What do you think her stories say about how she feels about people in general?

~ Do you get a sense of any particular message she is trying to send with her writing?


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10 Responses to The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

  1. Word Lily
    Twitter: Wordlily
    says:

    I didn’t finish this one when I tried a few years ago, either. The stories are certainly bleak, yes. I thought (other than the depressing-ness) that it might just be me not connecting to the short story form — which I really do struggle with in many cases — although I’ve since found that I enjoy PG Wodehouse’s short stories (about as far from depressing as you can get?).

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Hannah – I am hit and miss with short stories. I definitely prefer long fiction, but every once in a while, I’ll find a collection that I love. Most recently, it was The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards.

  2. Jen K says:

    I’m sorry this wasn’t what you expected especially since you were rather excited about this one. I plan on participating in this challenge but I knew I had no interest in this month – I read a few of the stories for class in high school and college, and I just didn’t have pleasant memories – like you said, they are well-written but depressing. I particularly remember one about a traveling bible salesmen that marries a customer’s daughter and abandons her. No one in that story came off in a good light and it was just a miserable situation.
    As far as Steinbeck goes, I didn’t really connect with The Grapes of Wrath but I loved East of Eden (it was a slow starter for me, but once I was into it, it was amazing), and Of Mice and Men is nice and short and poignant if you wanted to give him another shot without the huge commitment.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jen – I have found that very few of her characters come off in a good light! And I did read Of Mice and Men in high school, and didn’t hate it. I think I also read Travels with Charley and actually liked it. Maybe I should give East of Eden a try, then!

  3. She grew on me. She described her first book of short stories as “nine stories on original sin.” I know that everything she wrote was very intentional. And I’m curious enough to want to “get it.”

    The n- word was uncomfortable. It was a good illustration to me how much a culture can change in forty years. It was normative in the south back then, and now it is so repulsive.

    THANK YOU, Carrie, for spurring me on to read Flannery. I don’t regret it.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Carol – oh, yes, how could I forget the “n” word? It is uncomfortable and jarring and makes for a strange reading experience, as I experience a jolt every time I come across it.

      I want to “get” her stories, too, but I don’t think I do. The “original sin” idea makes sense. I guess I just don’t like to wallow in stories about it!

  4. Kailana says:

    I turned this into a year-long project. It was just too dense and slow to get through in one month. I am slow with short stories anyway…

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kelly – I don’t think it will take me all year, but I’m sure it will take me most of February to finish!

  5. Sheila (Book JOurney)
    Twitter: bookjourney
    says:

    I think I would struggle too… I have never been a fan of short stories, I thin mainly because I want more – more character development, more tot he story… I want to know who I am reading about even if they are a creation of the authors mind :)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sheila – amazingly, she gives a huge amount of character development in a short amount of time – I just don’t like the characters!