A Month of Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories

I’m very slowly making my way through Flannery: A Life Of Flannery O’Connor, a biography by Brad Gooch. She’s such an odd person that I’ve noticed I’m slipping comments about her in your blog posts. What I’ve learned so far comes from Gooch’s book: Mary Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic living in Georgia during a time when and in place where Catholicism had recently been illegal and these worshipers were the minority.

Falling in love with birds at a young age, O’Connor was actually first famous for appearing in a brief film in which she demonstrated that she had taught her chicken to walk backwards. I think it’s unfortunate that all the animals following her chicken go backwards too, because the film was played in reverse, undermining her prized pet’s backward strut.

As she grew older, O’Connor was a difficult student. She almost failed home economics until her teacher insisted she produce something to earn a passing grade. O’Connor brought in the complete suit she had sewn at home for her chicken.

I’m not terribly far into the biography; I read one small section per night before I zonk out. However, as I’ve made O’Connor comments on your blogs, many of you noted that, like me, you own Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories.

Included in this chunky book are thirty-one O’Connor originals, including previously unpublished works. My favorite feature is the stories are organized chronologically, with “The Geranium” being her first published piece and “Judgement Day” being the last sent off just before her death.

Here’s the plan:

There are thirty-one days in May and thirty-one stories in The Complete Stories. I shall read one each day and put up a review for the chunk of stories I read the following week (I’m always posting on Tuesday and Thursday in 2020). My hope is I can keep track of whether O’Connor improved in her writing or changed dramatically — that sort of thing. Is there a big shift?

If you join along, you’re welcome to leave your comments on my blog, write your own reviews of each story or a chunk of stories, or write one final review when you’re finished. Whatever you like! My goal with a read-along is simply getting other people to read the same thing with me around the same time so that we have something in common. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments.

If you don’t own The Complete Stories or can’t find a copy, many of these stories are published elsewhere. I’m including a list of titles if you want to jump in and back out at any point.

May 1st-7th:

  • The Geranium
  • The Barber
  • Wildcat
  • The Crop
  • The Turkey
  • The Train
  • The Peeler
  • My review posted May 12th

May 8th-14th:

  • The Heart of the Park
  • A Stroke of Good Fortune
  • Enoch and the Gorilla
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • A Late Encounter with the Enemy
  • The Love You Save May Be Your Own
  • The River
  • My review posted May 19th

May 15th-21st:

  • A Circle in the Fire
  • The Displaced Person
  • A Temple of the Holy Ghost
  • The Artificial Nigger*
  • Good Country People
  • You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead
  • Greenleaf
  • My review posted May 26th

May 22nd-28th:

  • A View of the Woods
  • The Enduring Chill
  • The Comforts of Home
  • Everything That Rises Must Converge
  • The Partridge Festival
  • The Lame Shall Enter First
  • Why Do the Heathen Rage?
  • My review posted June 2nd

May 29th-31st

  • Revelation
  • Parker’s Back
  • Judgement Day
  • My review and final thoughts posted June 9th
“In the driveway, with peacocks, Andalusia, 1962. (Photo by Joe McTyre/Atlanta Constitution.)”

*I do not believe in censoring writers, as censorship is one of the most dangerous slippery slopes in a democracy.

I taught The Autobiography of Malcolm X for many years to college students, including a those who were black, white, and brown; spoke English as a second language; were from North America, South America, Europe, Asia; and those who were incarcerated — and was able to navigate conversations about race using a text that included racial slurs such as the one O’Connor uses in her short story title above without using the racial slurs myself. Opening the conversation and asking students what they should say and when is most important (check out this PBS article on Huck Finn in classrooms.

This is all to say that when I quote O’Connor’s words (such as the title), I won’t censor them, but when I’m writing my own thoughts, I will not use racial slurs.

25 comments

  1. I’m often asking you to read about obscure Australians, so it’s only fair that I read at least a few of O’Connor’s short stories in order to be ready for your reviews. Is she in fact obscure? Hopefully one of your many non-US readers will tell me whether she is known outside your borders (On the other side of the wall, as that idiot says).

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    • O’Connor is one of the most famous short story writers in the U.S., so I would hope you’d be able to find her in Australia. Several of her stories you should be able to Google and find online because so many people upload them for their courses.

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  2. Great plan! I started The Complete Stories a year or 2 ago but it was before I realized I needed to take a different approach in reading short stories. To have the right expectations. So when I do get back to this one I will use that and read them with a few days in between. I’ve found for me personally, good short stories leave me thinking and lingering in them after finishing so I try not to read them to close together.

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  3. While I am (obviously) super interested in participating with you, I am intimidated on many levels. First, this is a 555 page book. What a tome! That means the stories are an average of only 18 pages each, so it shouldn’t be all that scary… Second, the description of this text describes Judgement Day as a “rewritten and transfigured version of The Geranium“. As someone who last studied short stories in 9th grade, this intimidates me even more. I always feel like when I read literary fiction I am missing something – that I don’t get it. But, you’ll be sharing your thoughts as you go, so perhaps this will make it easier for me to connect to the text? And finally, I’m intimidated to commit to reading another book in May because that’s when farm life really picks up and I have a bunch of travel.

    So. That’s the most noncommittal answer you’ll probably get. I’m scared. Will I participate? Perhaps… I’ll check the book out of the library, at least. ❤

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  4. This is a great idea and I would definitely be in…except that I don’t have this book! I do have a shorter O’Connor collection that includes ten of these stories. I’ve made note of the dates so I can at least read along with the stories I have!

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  5. I’ve heard of O’Connor not so much because of her fiction (or chicken suit) but because her theological thinking was influential for a lot of Christian writers whose work I have read. I haven’t picked anything by her up yet, but I will be fascinated to hear what you make of her!

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    • She went to church at 7AM every single day of her life except when she was unable due to her illness. I was reading her biography by Brad Gooch, but after about 250 pages, I realized I felt like I wasn’t getting close to O’Connor, so I switched over to her collection of letters, a book entitled The Habit of Being.

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  6. Ah, this is a great idea! I didn’t realize there were 31 stories, that’s such a perfect fit for a month-long read, and one a day seems like it should be very manageable. I will try to keep up! I’d probably only do one post at the end of the book, but I look forward to following along with your thoughts weekly and chatting about the stories (assuming I don’t fall behind, that is!).

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    • Oh, how exciting! I was thinking about doing one big review only, but then I realized that doesn’t feel like much of a read-along. I was worried I’d start rambling about the stories in my Sunday Lowdown and take up a ton of space there, so I decided to go this route instead.

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  7. I have actually never read (and honestly until I found your blog, never heard of) Flannery O’Connor… What sorts of short stories does she write? Literary fiction?

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