Reading Matters

Stories to warm cold days

Ron Rash
Ron Rash Harper Collins

About this time every year, a former colleague, in his Lowcountry drawl, used to opine: “I see hard times a-coming.” What I see a-coming are cold nights, a stack of short story collections and someone you’re in literary sync with who’ll listen as you read aloud.

Allan Massie of the Scotsman calls our Ron Rash “the best Southern novelist since Faulkner.” Ditto for Rash’s short stories. Dip into “Something Rich and Strange.” Come out awe-soaked.

My all-time favorite is “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” by the late UNC-Chapel Hill prof Doris Betts, now collected in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” It’s about the truest sort of healing.

A new favorite is the Irish writer Claire Keegan, whose short story, “Foster,” appeared in a 2010 New Yorker and put my heart in a sling for days.

Another is UNC-Chapel Hill prof Pam Durban. Her collection, “Soon,” just won the state’s biggie, the Sir Walter Raleigh Award. Nothing much happens in these stories, but everything changes.

Here’s Matt Cashion, a North Wilkesboro native, whose collection, “Last Words of the Holy Ghost,” won the 2015 Katherine Anne Porter Prize. Read his story “The Girl Who Drowned at School That Time,” and meet a genius.

Don’t forget Elizabeth Spencer, Junot Diaz, Andre Dubos and Wells Tower.