Stories from the Vinyl Café

I think there should be a rule about making direct recommendations to associates, something like “don’t make recommendations unless you’ve known the person long enough to understand what they like.” My massage therapist told me that I should read this book, and I later learned that she had made the recommendation based on the radio broadcast readings of the stories, and not the text itself. Which may have made some difference, as the text was… not what I have been used to reading for the past couple of years. And perhaps that is something that I need to consider on this literary journey of mine: I should be taking in at least a little “fluff” reading from time to time. I do not know what the exact healthy ratio should be, but it seems that zero to one hundred is not great when it comes to reading stuff like Stuart McLean.

This is a collection of short stories that lack metaphor. They are, in essence, “plain tales from the hills”. They are all beautifully written, and many of them provide clear realizations of everyday thoughts and events in the lives of ordinary people. They are funny and elicit outright laughter when read out loud in front of eager audiences—again, as it seems these were meant to be. If that is your jam, then get your bread ready. McLean has a YouTube channel chock full of his performances. As far as a “reading for writing” exercise goes, there is a lot to be learned from the way that McLean crafts his little vignettes. I can see how he did what he did, and my own sensibilities balk at the absolute simple purity of his craftsmanship. I like things gritty, crunchy, complex, and far-flung. These stories are the opposite of all of those. I will say, though, that the story “Polaroids” in this collection came out of left field with just how dark it was. As I sit here writing this review, it is the only story that I can recall in vivid detail, but I suppose one out of a dozen is not bad.

At any rate, this book took me away from Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life, and Others. Because I will, without exception, prioritize something that someone I trust tells me I must read. So please, be careful with your recommendations. I have already had to donate a stack of Clive Cussler paperbacks this week, I would just as soon rather not repeat that.


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