The Matter is Life – Short Stories

How do you feel about short stories? Are they a regular part of your reading or do you find that after you read them you feel like the story is incomplete?

I remember thinking when I tried short stories in the past they felt unfinished since I had become accustomed to reading a complete book. But there has been one author who had consistently made me feel right at home, like my grandmother or wise older auntie has sat me down and left me with a few lessons on life. Because her age and life experience exceed my own and she can tell a story like no one else, I pull up a chair, grab a pot of tea (well maybe a pitcher of sweet tea for her) and I hunker down for what I know will be another treasured and cherished moment in our relationship.

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel after reading J. California Cooper. Everytime. Although it’s been several years since I’ve read one of her novels or collections of stories, it’s like we haven’t missed a beat. We are picking up where we left off and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how I can review those feelings. It just doesn’t seem possible.

Perhaps one of the reasons I gravitate to her writing is because it feels natural and real. Cooper doesn’t sugarcoat life. All of us have lived and experienced a variety of things in life, but learning from each other adds flavor and gives dimension to our own lives. Maybe we see friends or family, even some of ourselves in the stories. Maybe we see the selfish and vain ways of those of others, we shake our head and wonder how do they turn into that person? Or do we see a bit of ourselves in some of the people we meet in these stories, can we empathize with some of them? Do we not long for them to have some happiness in their lives too?

In the 8 stories contained in The Matter is Life, Cooper makes you laugh. I couldn’t help think of my own grandmothers, great-grandmother, now deceased, who made me laugh for so many years and could boss me around just like her daughter, my wisened grandmother loving does today. In the first story, The Big Day, I thought about how this cherished older woman is loved by many. A respected matriarch one who, “ain’t ready” for whatever it is they are going to be doing that day or for the day that awaits all of us should we live long enough.

“I smiled to myself, cause I am loved, chile.”

In the next story, How, Why to Get Rich, you can’t help but admire the industrious and ambitious fortitude of a young girl with her cousins. As the brains of the bunch, she’s figured out how they can get rich if they just work together, it’s easy enough right? How I remember thinking life was so simple at that age, you work and make money and it’s so easy because you can do whatever you want or buy whatever you want? Nope, not at all what we think until we experience a taste of real living.

Yes…I’m doing a lot of thinking. On how to get rich. Even just how to make a real good livin for my life! Cause I already know why.”

In Evergreen Grass, let’s just say, you should find contentment in your own yard. Make your own grass green because on that grass on the other side of the fence, well, it’s not the kind your looking for, if you have good sense.

The next 3 stories Vanity, I Told Him!, and No Lie, are heavier, weightier, as life can be. Themes of selfish pleasure desires, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse are present in these. But one thing I couldn’t forget was the incredible and crushing weight of loneliness. Yes, The Matter is Life.

Finally, The Doras. This story of Dora from a young age into her old age is one of hardship, loss, struggles, dreams and love. It was very satisfying to finish this collection with the Doras.

Overall, I didn’t think I had much to say about a collection of short stories, but the feelings and emotions and the words, they just tumbled out. Reading JCC always makes me think of my dear friend who introduced me to this author many years ago. She was my best friend, more like a sister. It’s been 12 years since she fell asleep in death and every time I read Cooper, I remember how much I miss her. How I’d love to talk to her about this author that holds a special place in my heart, thanks to her.

So tell me, are you a fan of short stories? Are you familiar with any of J. California Cooper’s works?

19 thoughts on “The Matter is Life – Short Stories

  1. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus says:

    This looks like an interesting story. I admit I am not a fan of short stories, and also a bit jealous that others can enjoy them so much. I sometimes even feel like I have not “grown up” to that level where I can enjoy them. I like lengthy journeys in my books with lots of description and character development, and, unfortunately, few short stories can provide that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • booksbythecup says:

      Diana it’s hard to call it with short stories. I can remember thinking they didn’t work for me either but for me JCC can get the job done and I feel like I learn something with what’s she shared.

      I think one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about short stories is that I should read one and walk away.

      I also enjoy long books (lengthy classics) for the same reasons you mentioned but I’m finding that I enjoy a change of pace sometimes and short stories (good ones) have been working for me from time to time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. FictionFan says:

    I don’t know this author at all but you make her sound wonderful! I sometimes like short stories and other times don’t. I think it depends on whether there’s an actual story in them – often contemporary short stories can feel more like fragments. And I’m sure it also depends just as much on my mood. I shall look out for J. California Cooper next time the mood strikes… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • booksbythecup says:

      I love the authors frankness and candor and in a short story, it’s hard to pull off for some of the reasons you mentioned but for me she’s been spot on. I find that with short stories I can enjoy them best when I take one at a time and let it sit for a while and then maybe the next day or two try another. If you try her I’d love to hear what you think!

      Like

    • booksbythecup says:

      Cooper can be frank and in some of the stories the triggers I mentioned could be tough but overall I enjoyed the collection. I’ve gone to my shelf and pulled out my other books from the author. I might just read one of hers a month and reread some of the ones I’ve read in the past.

      Like

  3. Spunkyreads says:

    This is such a great review. You’ve convinced me to pick this one up. Short stories for me are usually a hit or a miss. I don’t always enjoy them because like you said they feel incomplete. I tend to like more character driven books so I guess the scope of that is limited in short stories so they don’t work. Isn’t it amazing when an author just clicks and you feel like you understand each other?

    Liked by 1 person

    • booksbythecup says:

      Thanks Sushma! This is an older book so maybe online, I’m pretty sure I ordered this years ago and am now getting around to it.

      There are so many reasons this author works for me for some of the reasons I mentioned above, but also because when I turned the last page I thought about the friend who shared the author with me. I’m tempted now to binge read the others I haven’t read and reread the others but emotionally that might be exhaustive so I will try to read one a month going forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Grab the Lapels says:

    I went through two different creative writing programs. Such programs tend to focus on short stories more because when we workshop our peers’ stories, it’s easier to digest and give feedback on a complete work (one short story) rather than a chapter in a novel they are writing. Therefore, we tend to buy and read more short stories in general. I did for a long time. Over the years, I’ve gravitated back to novels. The problem for me is not that I like novels better, but that short stories SEEM easier to write and loads of them are published but don’t hold a candle to a great short story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I love short stories but for some reason don’t read them very often! I guess because it takes me a bit longer to get through a collection than a novel. I like to take my time and not rush through the stories. I have quite a few collections on my shelves at home that i need to get to!

    I’ve not read this author but you describe her beautifully. I love that you have such a personal connection to her through your departed best friend. It’s lovely what you wrote about connecting to your friend again when you read Cooper. This was just a wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • booksbythecup says:

      Taking your time I found is the key to really enjoying them. I am making a list of the ones I have and am going to work my way through them, hopefully one collection a month or even over a few months of necessary.

      This post meant a lot to me for those reasons! She was a huge reader too and we would often exchange or tell each other about books and what we were reading. It’s nice to have someone who loves reading like you do to discuss the books with you! ♥️

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Michele says:

    I’ve not heard of this author, but will check it out. I love short stories! Short stories, novels, memoirs, the phone book, ……lol I think short stories have to have so much meat in them, packed tightly in order to not for the reader to walk away feeling like they got it……short & sweet. I try to do mine that way. But as a reader, I don’t need all the background (most times). I guess that’s why short stories appeal to me so much. And why writing one takes me so long to accomplish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • booksbythecup says:

      It was an adjustment for me when I tried to start reading short stories since I didn’t read many in the past. But this author always leaves me feeling something when I read hers.

      I can imagine (but have not experience) the challenge of writing short stories or books.

      Liked by 1 person

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