A Different Kind of Book Review: 52 Stories in 52 Weeks by Phillip McCollum #bookreview #Mondayblogs

The following is a work of fiction, but the sentiments about Phillip McCollum’s collection of short stories, 52 Stories in 52 Weeks, are factually based. You can skip this different kind of book review and go directly to Fantastic Shorts for more information on how to get your own copy of this collection of great short stories. Or proceed and then you know, you’ll want your own copy. I promise you.

***

Kate was having a good morning. After two years of living with Michael’s half-sister Misty, they finally had their small condo to themselves. Last night, the three of them christened Misty’s new apartment with a champagne-sized bottle of sparkling apple cider. Kate was proud of Misty. She had been on the fast track to becoming a juvenile alcoholic. Her stint in prison cut that short, but since being released Misty not had taken a sip of anything alcoholic. Instead, she veered to the other extreme and banned alcohol from her apartment. She would not relent even to celebrate her new home. Kate and Michael respected her rules, knowing that a chilled bottle of Chardonnay waited for them in their own home.

This morning, Kate was puttering around, filling in the gaps that Misty had left behind. First she wanted to tidy up her and Michael’s bedroom. She smiled as she smoothed down the comforter and inched around the corner to Michael’s side of the bed.

“Ow!” As usual, Kate was running around barefoot, enjoying the feel of cool tiles on a day that promised to be hot and humid. Her right big toe had just made violent contact with something that felt like a brick. Kate looked down at the offender. It was a book. A big book.

“Are you okay?” Michael had been enjoying his coffee on their little balcony and was by Kate’s side in a matter of seconds.

“Uh, yeah, I just stubbed my toe on this … geeze … it’s the size of those Norton anthologies I had to read in college.” Using both her hands, Kate lifted the book and looked accusingly at Michael. “Must you leave this on the floor?”

“Must you not look where you’re going? It’s right next to the bed stand, Kate, which you’ll notice is already stacked with books, some of which are yours.”

Kate sighed. Michael had put himself on a fast track to get a dual bachelor’s degree in literature and history. Most of the books piled next to the bed were hers but from when she was a college student. Now that she was an adjunct at the community college, she had little time for leisure reading. She gazed longingly at the stack of novels. Then she looked back at the book she was holding. “Is this assigned reading?”

The tome was titled 52 Stories in 52 Weeks. She didn’t recognized the author Phillip McCollum, but the subtitle definitely intrigued her: One writer’s journey in tackling, shackling, and shooting his inner critic.

“No, I wanted to have a break now and then from my assignments. God, I love to read, but sometimes I just want to read and not be analyzing. This is a collection of short stories and the cool thing is I don’t need to analyze anything. I can just enjoy the stories and the author follows each one with a brief explanation of how he wrote the story.”

Kate started flipping through the pages, being careful not to move the bookmark out of its place. “Wow, there’s mind maps in here.”

“Yeah, isn’t that cool–”

“And statistics? What kind of writer is McCollum?”

“Oh, he’s very versatile. I think he has a background in technology which would explain how he put this book together. You know, including statistics such as his word count and a synopsis and then his process summary after the story. Sort of reminds me of how I organized and wrote computer programs when I was in the military. Anyway, I know he has a version of his stories without all this extra information, but I jumped at the chance to get the whole kit and kaboodle.”

Kate gave Michael a sideways glance. He was so adorable when he said things like “kit and kaboodle.” Michael was tall and quite well-built. He had allowed his black hair to grow out so he was no longer seen as a Jarhead, but his physical presence could be intimidating to strangers.

“You haven’t finished it.”

“It’s fifty-two stories, Kate.”

“Are they all in the same genre?”

“Oh, no, and that’s another thing I love about this collection! Look.” Michael took the book from her. “The first story is a “weird western” as he calls it. “And then there’s science fiction, horror, some where fantasy is mixed in with sci fi or horror. You could say there’s something for everyone. He mashes up some genres like with “Lights Out: An MC Ruff and DJ Tumble Adventure.” That’s sci fi, mystery and humor.”

Kate tilted her head and appraised Michael as if seeing him for the first time.

“I didn’t figure you for a guy who would like stories like that. I had you pegged as a classic literature or literary fiction kind of guy.”

Michael smiled and leaned in to kiss Kate. “We’ve been together long enough for you to know that I believe in reading widely and often.”

He looked back down at the book. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like some of these stories but McCollum is such a good writer, he got me hooked with each one. “Lights Out” was a real eye-opener for me. I felt sure I wouldn’t be that interested in rappers in outer space but, well, you remember the series Firefly?” Kate nodded. “The story reminds me of that series plus he makes it so believable. It is laugh out loud funny too. I’m only a quarter of the way through his collection, but I’ve enjoyed each of his stories that I’ve read so far. I am partial to his westerns, but that’s just my own interest in history. He really brings to life these old western towns, the hard lives people lived back then, the desperate choices they had to make.”

“Do I have to wait until you’ve finished reading all his stories?” Kate leaned against Michael. She wondered if she could coax him into reading one of the stories out loud to her.

“No, just use a different bookmark. Or you can skip around. He gives the word count for each story so you know how much time it might to take read. Of course, you’re a slow reader so any of them might take you awhile–”

Kate slipped her hand under Michael’s t-shirt and scratched at his naked flesh, causing him to recoil.

“Stop!” He managed to protest in-between giggles.

“Be careful. I know all your soft spots. I’ll stop if you promise to read me a story.”

“Okay!” Kate pulled away and gave Michael a minute to compose himself. For a former Marine, he was pretty easy to incapacitate.

“Let’s start at the top, with “Seven Hundred and Seventy-Six.” It has a Twilight Zone quality to it. I know you’ll love it.”

“Sounds good to me!” Kate plumped and stacked the pillows and positioned herself so she was reclined, her legs resting across Michael’s thighs. What an even better morning this was turning out to be.

***

Just a reminder: You can get more information on ordering 52 Stories in 52 Weeks here. This collection is a true treasure trove of damn good writing.

20 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Book Review: 52 Stories in 52 Weeks by Phillip McCollum #bookreview #Mondayblogs

  1. Marie, I’d say I’m speechless, but I’m obviously typing *something* here… But I’m pretty close. 😉

    Wow. This review is the best one yet. And so pleasantly unexpected! It’s also a good reminder while I’m dealing with a “life roll” and not writing as much as I had been that I’ve done it before and will get back to it again.

    This means so much, so from the bottom of my heart–thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Oh, you are so welcome, Phillip! I admit, I almost thought this message was from a bot 😉 I hope things are okay. Life does roll and you have to roll with it!

      • Things are good, thanks for asking. Just prioritizing things to support my wife’s work on her new film as well as a lot of changes happening at the day job.

  2. You remind me of my advice to students about reading assignments: read the story for the story, then go back and reread for how and why and what the author is accomplishing. With novels, no one in high school will read twice and I never expected them to, and I conceded that (literally told them that I did not expect it) while offering strategies to allow them to both enjoy the reading and gather information about it.

    • Definitely the advantage of short stories is (usually) you can reread them in a short space of time, not so much novels. I’m a slow reader and rarely could I finish an assigned novel even once through, knowing that some analysis would be expected. It took a bit of the pleasure away from reading, even though I know that wasn’t the intent of the professor.

      • Yours is a very common concern. I tried hard to address it. Over the two terms I offered students multiple strategies for both reading and note-taking. The goal was for them to discover a method that worked for them, a way to enjoy and recall the text so that they could talk about it. I am not a fast reader myself, much slower than is average for someone with my education, though I can skim. My “fast” readers were usually not reading at all, but skimming. They read only for content and missed the art, missing the music of the language because they often couldn’t (or wouldn’t) slow down to hear and enjoy it.

        Some books I read aloud in class, just the beginning or every other chapter.* When we read Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, each student chose a short story (1-2 pages) to read aloud and I read all the rest. Sometimes hearing the novel, hearing the voice of the book is enough to catch interest. The reader becomes invested. We focused on the poetry of Mango Street, and of how our understanding of characters changed—the girl who seems so selfish and superficial rides with a dying young man to the hospital, a man she doesn’t even know but whom she grieves for. We find there is more to her than the careless ambition we first recognize.

        * I will always remember the girl who came to school excited about a book. I had read the first chapter of Dorris’s A Yellow Raft in Blue Water on Thursday and then she was home sick over Friday and the weekend. Her family went off without her and the cable was out so she picked up the book and read to the end. She said she couldn’t stop. She said she had never read a book all the way through. She was college bound and smart, but this was the first assigned book with a person of color and women narrators and women at the heart of the story. That book often turned students around (though I cannot talk about Dorris). It was the boys who wanted to come back and give it a testimonial. In anonymous reviews it was rare for a student to give it less than top marks.

        • I like your teaching style. I taught one semester of first-year composition when I was a grad student. I hated it and failed at figuring at how to connect with the students. Being a newbie I couldn’t stray from the curriculum, and I wouldn’t have known how anyway. I really like the idea of reading out loud in class.

  3. How lovely to see this review of Phillip’s short story collection, Marie! Love the discussion of the collection. 😀 Bravo to Phillip!

    • Thank you! I really do enjoy writing reviews in this way. And, indeed, bravo to Phillip. I expect great things from that young man 😀

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