Thank you to editor Cal Marcius at Spelk Fiction for welcoming this microfiction, “Reading Games,” my first publication of 2018!
I’d list this story’s birthplace as Cork, Ireland. Here’s why.
I tend to get a bit blue around my birthday — always did. It’s a summer birthday, and it seemed all my childhood friends were vacationing when it came time to celebrate it, and I never got to bring in a shirtbox of cupcakes during the school year, either (am I already saying such old-fashioned things?) Little hurts accumulate, year over year, leaving me today an adult who far prefers celebrating anyone else’s. Not because of age, but because I’m afraid if I wanted to celebrate my birthday, nobody would show up. It’s such a relief when the day passes.
Luckily, I’m married to a friend who understands this, and this year, in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary, we planned a trip to Ireland that would conveniently include my birthday. I chose Cork for the day, and Cork surprised me with a birthday message from Robert Olen Butler (I happened to be in Kinsale Harbor when I received it, where the Lusitania famously sank, and which he featured in his novel, The Star of Istanbul. Isn’t that lovely and random?) I also found a 25th Anniversary Plate, an antique piece of china made in Carrigaline, which was very pretty. Paul + I took a beautiful tour of Kinsale Harbor, then back to Cork for the best fish and chips and dancing and music of the trip at The Oliver Plunkett.
We had a nice walk, and came upon a book store, The Time Traveller. Days before, in Dublin at the Writer’s Museum, I had gotten in mind that while in Ireland I wanted to get a copy of At-Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien. I thought I’d give the Time Traveller a look. Well, the Time Traveller is a beautiful bookshop. They didn’t have AS2B, but they did have something unexpectedly better: an examination of O’Brien’s gamesmanship as a writer. (At-Swim-Two-Birds out-incepts Inception, and predates it by most of a century!)
Now, my writing group put up a prompt at about the same time:
Have you ever been shopping for books and been excited by a book title only to be let down by the summary? This happens to me a lot.
This week go to a bookstore (either online or the brick and mortar type), or visit Goodreads or BookPage, and look at the titles of the books. If one sparks your interest write a flash based upon it (without looking at the actual summary). You can also look at titles of short stories or flashes but not ones that you have read before.
I went ahead and wrote a story called Reading Games, and was tickled to realize it was 96 words — the exact amount of words that comprise the jacket copy for Reading Games by Kimberly Bohman-Kalaja:
In “Reading Games,” Kimberly Bohman-Kalaja guides us through an entertaining and instructive exploration of a neglected genre of post-modernism, the Play-Text. Pioneered by authors such as Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, and Georges Perec, Bohman-Kalaja’s book provides a fresh interpretive approach to understanding the Play-Text.
Providing insightful analysis of the game and play theories, and drawing from a wide range of ideas–from the thinking of the great philosophers to basic chess and poker strategies–Reading Games makes the world of experimental fiction accessible by unraveling, step-by-step, the innovative strategies of those authors who play reading games.
So, prompts are puzzles, flash-fictions are compressions, and I hope all you birthday lonely-hearts out there know you’re not alone. Find ways to celebrate yourself to commemorate the day, even if it means buying a book.
The Time Traveller’s Bookshop is a wonderful resource, and publishes its own magnificent journal. Please check them out and support your local booksellers. I don’t know if the shop girl will see this, but if she does, I’m the customer who gave her an anniversary pin on July 8, as she made me feel welcome and happy on my birthday.
If you would like to read my story, I thank you, and you can find it here.