Zippy, fun read honors rom-coms

Who doesn’t enjoy a good romantic comedy? Grumps and cynics, maybe. But for the rest of us, rom-coms have been providing comfort viewing and distorted ideas of how love is supposed to work since long before Harry Burns met Sally Albright.

The rom-com has evolved quite a bit over the last three-plus decades thanks to titans of the genre like Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers and even Judd Apatow.

Anyone who calls themselves a rom-com fan has probably heard about “From Hollywood with Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy.” Writer and critic Scott Meslow published this essential rom-com tome earlier this year and spends nearly 400 pages thoroughly chronicling the genre’s history, interviewing some of its seminal figures and dissecting its most well-worn tropes.

“From Hollywood with Love” is so committed to these films that it recreates the feeling of watching a rom-com with its zippy pace and obvious infatuation with its subject matter. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. Meslow doesn’t pull punches when it comes to some of the genre’s problematic tendencies and its darker stories.

— Joshua Axelrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Must-read short-story collection

The author of one previous book, Eric Hanson has a new collection of stories, “What I Was Afraid Of.”

“You have come to the wrong place if you want any of it explained,” the narrator of the opening story says. “I was just a child.” And that is a good guide for the rest of the book.

These are stories out of the Twilight Zone, dark dreams of weird and sinister happenings.

In one story, the narrator sees a man on the street who had died years ago in a fire. In another, a little boy who lives alone dreams that he has parents — and when he wakes up, his dream has come true. (But that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

The last piece in the book, “What I Was Afraid Of,” is the only bit of nonfiction in the book. Part of a memoir, it begins, “Childhood, from what I can remember of it, is a routine boredom punctuated by anxiety.”

The stories in this book skip the boredom, head straight to the anxiety. A dark, disturbing yet undeniably fascinating read.

— Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

Wyss uses surreal humor, vulnerability

In her debut short story collection “Splendid Anatomies,” Allison Wyss gives these corporeal and narrative fixations nuance and complexity, examining the oddness of the fact that we are every single one of us a sophisticated consciousness walking around inside a container made of meat.

Filtered through an off-kilter sensibility, these 16 sometimes extremely brief short stories begin to make you laugh merely looking at the table of contents with bawdy and embodied titles, and to make you think with “You’re Perfect As You Are” and “Only Real Art Lasts Forever.”

Wyss takes the familiar and plays up its inherent strangeness, whether it’s the practice of plastic surgery — the labor required “to sell noses, as well as eye work, chin work, boob work” — or the tradition of a grandmother telling her granddaughter a disturbing tale called ending “The Seamstress and the Spider” with a “very awful” ending, or being a tattoo artist, “drawing over creases, veins, bones, wrinkles.”

Her flash fictions, including “Garden,” “Sleep Birds” and “Fishing,” show what intensity and depth of atmosphere can be created in just a few hundred carefully chosen words.

— Kathleen Rooney, Star Tribune

Recommended for you