I have always been fascinated by mythology and, to a lesser extent, the religions surrounding it. Or that created the myths in the first place. Having been raised religious only to eschew that way of life as I get older, as many people in my generation have, I still remember the stories that are part of the mythos of Catholicism*1: God creating the world in seven days*2, Noah’s ark, David and Goliath, The Book of Revelation, and others. These are shared archetypical stories transcending cultures, even if details differ. The Creation Myth*3, The Ark*4, Divine Intervention*5, and The End of the World as We Know It*6 link with the stories mentioned. With these tales being archetypical, it’s only natural that they get repackaged and repurposed as time passes. Sometimes they’re brought into modern times but maintain the same message or ideas. Other times authors take them in a different direction or focus on characters that were sidelined in the original tale, which is particularly common with female characters. These rewrites can be serious, satirical, feminist, drive homeAn Aesop*7, or just stories that use mythology as a jumping-off point for something otherwise original.
Set in a fantastical China where a variety of so-called beasts coexist with people, in an indeterminate era that evokes some sense of the past in the sense that the vocabulary chosen and style of writing is reminiscent of what one may find in translations of old texts (a deliberate choice), Strange Beasts of China starts off in a somewhat sterile fashion, detailing one type of beast per short chapter, as though a guidebook to a fantastical world that we have already been immersed into, the way that Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them is about the magical creatures in the world of Harry Potter, except we’re discovering this world as though through these reports of the beasts. And as the narrator becomes ever more enmeshed with the beasts she introduces, the narrative begins to take on a frenetic pace – the guidebook structure doesn’t crumble altogether, but becomes infused with its own life: what are the beasts, these Others, and who are the true beasts here? As the author mentions in an interview with the CBC, she was “making pretty straightforward metaphors about marginalized, underrepresented and oppressed groups”, and it’s not difficult to derive this from the text, but the change in pacing, in tone, as Strange Beasts tumbles along, half detective story/half guidebook, makes it difficult to tear yourself from the blurry and messy story of the beasts within the story, as the sterility of the guidebook entirely falls apart to reveal how fragile are what details we take to be the truths that constitute our world.
I’m not usually a great fan of short stories, and so I wasn’t too sure when I picked up Strange Beasts of China that I’d get into it, but the short stories are all interconnected, dropping clues for the reader – never enough for you to figure it out, I don’t think, but enough to make some guesses – such that you won’t be able to tear yourself from the story once it reveals itself.
I love reading anthologies, as they allow me to discover new authors by giving me a glimpse into a few completely different stories. I am also a huge fan of short stories in general as I think the form really lends itself to creativity because writers have to create a whole world within a limited space. I also really like reading short stories because you can really divide and stretch out the reading experience. Reading a single story a day is a great way to keep your mind engaged with reading if you’re short on time. These anthologies also work great as audiobooks as you can listen to one story with ease on a commute, while running errands, gardening or doing any number of housework.
Now that my spiel is out of the way, here are some anthologies that include multiple authors in them for a variety of ages! While there are target/ideal readership ages (created by the publishers) for each anthology, I still think there’s no shame in reading an anthology for a younger audience. I personally love children’s fiction and there are so many great authors that write compelling stories for any audience.
All links will take you to the Vaughan Public Libraries catalogue where you can request these titles for yourself!
This anthology features stories by 17 Indigenous authors, with notes and information about the authors at the end of the book for further reading. With great writing and a solid introduction to new writers, readers will definitely want to seek out other stories by Native writers and learn more about Heartdrum, the publishing imprint behind this collection.
Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh. This anthology, made in partnership with We Need Diverse books, features a star-studded cast of children’s authors. Readers will no doubt recognize some of their favourite authors such as Soman Chainani and Jacqueline Woodson and the many other successful authors that make up this compelling and engaging collection.