Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu

I didn’t get much reading done last week due to working on revising a short story of my own to make a contest deadline while on a trip to coastal Connecticut. During the day we explored the historic port city of New London and nearby towns and in the evenings I worked on my story. 

New London Harbor Light

New London is a wonderful old city full of history, great architecture, and a downtown area that’s on the cusp of exciting revitalization. It was once the second largest whaling port in America. I was fortunate to meet three of the most important (in my opinion) people in town: the mayor, the owner of the local bookstore (Monte Cristo Bookshop), and the head reference librarian of the New London Public Library. Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on the New London Public Library which is one the most beautiful libraries that I’ve seen on my travels. It has an addition built in 1974 that--surprisingly for that time period--harkens back to some of the earliest library designs.


“The Paper Menagerie” is the only short story to win the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. I’m not much into fantasy, sci-fi, or magical realism, but it is a short, short story so I gave it a shot. You can download a free copy here. If you're not into these genres either, do not be put off.

I first heard about this story via Ann Kingman's and Michael Kindness's Project Short Story. "The Paper Menagerie" was their January read-a-long story. If you don't yet know about their book podcast, click here and give it a listen.

On the plane back to Chicago I finally got around to reading "The Paper Menagerie." I was immediately drawn into the story and ended with tears streaming down my face and a huge lump in my throat that took some time to fade. I had other things to read with me but turned off my overhead light and sat back to reflect upon the story for the rest of the flight.

As someone who has recently stepped up her own efforts at writing fiction, I am in awe of the emotional effects that Liu creates. I re-read the story yesterday and picked up even more of the subtleties Liu weaves throughout the story. I went into this story knowing absolutely nothing about it and so I am not going to say much about its content here other than its a story about the magic of love and the pain that can result from a lack of communication and misunderstanding. It has the emotional kick of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and the cultural and generational resonance of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.

Just do yourself a favor and go to this link and download your own copy. Read it, and then share it with others.

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