Book Review: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

I love Flannery O’Connor! This short story collection was a birthday present from my brother and I was overjoyed to see this amongst my shipment of birthday books from him. The first book of hers that I read was Everything that Rises Must Converge, one her short story collections published posthumously. O’Connor was an extremely talented author from the mid-twentieth century American South who died tragically young from lupus after publishing one novel, Wise Blood, and the short story collection titled A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. O’Conner’s wit is unmatched, she is very easily my favorite short story writer other than N. K. Jemisin. A Good Man is Hard to Find is full of haunting stories that left me unsettled after reading them. O’Connor’s fervent Catholicism is also very noticeable throughout the stories, they’re all full of overtones of original sin and man’s unworthy nature. I really like O’Connor but I do have some reservations in recommending her stories to other readers for a few reasons.

One of the biggest issues with reading O’Connor these days is her prolific use of the n-word. And when I say prolific, I mean it. O’Conner uses the word intentionally, conveying the terrible meaning of the word every time it is written. O’Connor uses the word to highlight the fragility of the social order in the post war South but that doesn’t make it comfortable to read. Her use of the word is so problematic that it’s even brought up in the introduction by Lauren Groff. I don’t think that the short stories would have the same undertones if the n-word wasn’t used but I still was really uncomfortable reading some of the stories. I think if you do decide to read this story collection, you have to be prepared to read it critically and I would NOT read it aloud. Just because the word was written in the fifties and the author didn’t view it as problematic then does not mean that it is not a very, very problematic word. The other issue a future reader may have is the unsettling threat of condemnation and sinfulness inherent in man found in every story. I really enjoy reading the stories because of that element; it makes me more contemplative of my own actions. However, just because I enjoy it, doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. Either way, these stories were a quick read that could be digested over a nice lunch hour. I would recommend the stories to the intrepid reader but perhaps not for those who can’t watch a scary movie without sleeping with the light on. O’Conner is the master of Southern gothic after all! Happy reading!

Book Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

This was an odd novel but I really enjoyed it, mostly because of its quirks. I first ran across Convenience Store Woman while I was in Vroman’s in 2019. This particular copy was a birthday present from my lovely boyfriend who selected it for me from the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, NY. If you haven’t been, I would highly recommend once it’s safe to roam about to far-flung book stores. The book itself didn’t last long in my hands, I read it in an hour or two on a fine Saturday morning, well as fine as it can get in the wintery slush of February. I admit, once I finished the novel, I was somewhat puzzled and unsure of how I would write my review. I liked the book but I’m still not entirely sure why. Ms. Murata acquits herself well in her first English-translated publication and the story itself is interesting. The book left me in a contemplative mood and I’m glad that I digested it a little bit more before telling all of you about it. Quick sidetone, the baking will return soon! I’ve been so busy with the start of the semester that I haven’t quite gotten my rhythm yet but I hope to have it back soon. I hope that enough of you are interested in both the books and the baking to stick around and see what I get into next! Now, on to Convenience Store Woman!

The book follows Keiko Furukura, a thirty-six years old convenience store worker in Tokyo. Keiko has been a convenience store clerk for all eighteen years of her adult life in the same store, “Smilemart”. Being a convenience store worker has given Keiko a purpose in a world where she feels that she’s always on the outside, looking in. Throughout the book, Keiko struggles to balance between where she has found meaning and where others want her to find meaning. Keiko made me terribly sad at times, especially when she described her own alienation from those in her life and how the convenience store provided a place where she could escape that. I also understood her in a weird way. I’m around the age when Keiko began working at the convenience store and I understand the joy and pleasure that Keiko derived from working at a place where the rules and expectations are set for you and all you have to to do is meet them. I think there is comfort for all of us in Keiko’s story and I would recommend reading this book. I was greatly annoyed by Shiraha, one of the major male characters but I don’t think that should prevent anyone from reading the book. Disregard Shiraha and enjoy the rest of the book please! Happy reading to all!