Ideas of Heaven
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Ideas of Heaven

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  386 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Intense in subject yet restrained in tone, these stories are about longings—often held for years—and the ways in which sex and religion can become parallel forms of dedication and comfort. Though the stories stand alone, a minor element in one becomes major in the next. In "My Shape", a woman is taunted by her dance coach, who later suffers his own heartache. A Venetian po...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2005)
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Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber is subtitled "A Ring of Stories" because the stories are connected one to the next, and they come full circle in the end – someone mentioned in passing in one story reappears as the protagonist/narrator in the next until the last story is tied back to the first.

The stories are also linked by a running theme: Silber explores the ways in which sex, love and religion are "always fighting over the same ground – with their sweeping claims, their promises of transport" a...more
These stories really fell flat for me. If I was not required to read this book for a writing class, I would have put it down during the first story. First, Silber uses the SAME voice and clipped pacing for each of her stories, which are supposed to take place across generations, cultures and locations. Each story is told in first-person, from the point of view of vastly different characters. Yet she implores the same voice and style for each. It's really very distracting. Second, as other review...more
What I liked about the stories: I liked the pacing, the ability to plausibly fit biographies and hard life-adaptations into 20 or 30 pages of story. It's very different from the short time-frames I usually read in short stories.
I wasn't crazy about the style. Too simply conversational, too parsed and easy to digest. And really, people across time periods from different cultures think so alike? They just use different vocabularies? This was my main beef with the book -- the style of discourse was...more
Well. I gave this a shot despite it not being my thing- the author taught at the Sarah lawrence program (and teaches there regularly) and I liked what she read there. In truth, it was well written, but the style was a bit hard to take - she basically talks to you the entire time, and the 'ring of stories' (I m not a fan of the long short stories, personally) didn't seem to connect, to me, other than people having really unhealthy attitudes toward love. Despite all that, I finished it in a few ho...more

"What is Love doing to me? I thought. That question itself comforted me. So I was ruled by Love, his follower. Chosen to serve. I was like a priest being sent to a different parish."

With traveling "even when you can't wait to get out of some hellhole you've chosen to visit, later you're never sorry you were there."

"And when I came back from Yosemite, after not speaking to another person for a week, tired and unbathed and rank-smelling, I was more changed than I'd expected. it was not that I wa...more
Darrell Reimer
Ideas Of Heaven: A Ring Of Stories by Joan Silber was so delightful and easy for me to polish off, it took some time to register just when and where her characters began to haunt me. All six stories are written in first person narrative. Each voice has its own rhythm, tone and charm — their narration has a deceptive ease which makes their uniqueness all the more remarkable. As I read I began to feel like the bartender in whom complete strangers are only too happy to confide their most troubling...more
Doris Brunnette
I usually really enjoy short stories that link in some small way to the previous ones, the next one... but I guess the theme never really drew me in. I kept waiting for it to get better, but many of the stories I wished I hadn't wasted my time reading. Maybe the links were too obscure for me--I tend to read multiple books at the same time, so have 2-3 days in between going back to a particular book, and if I had read this straight through I may have been more impressed. Enjoyed the first and las...more
Sep 04, 2008 Catherine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Catherine by: Natania
Shelves: natania, 2008
I liked this book deeply - it's a book that pulled me into that deep, still place that you can sometimes find when you're absorbed in finding out what happens next, rather than being aware of the fact that you're reading, and your tea is cooling, and it's raining outside (or hot, and the laundry needs switching, and there are errands to run).

The book is a sequence of short stories, and while Alice Munro is mentioned in the inside flap, I liked this book much better than Runaway. For one, the sto...more
I picked this up b/c Anthony Doerr compared it to A Visit from the Goon Squad in the Morning News Tournament of Books.


This book is interesting in the way that minor and major characters spill from one story to the next in a casual, unintentional fashion. In the last story, you re-meet some characters from the first story, which completes the "ring" of stories. This strategy appealed to me in the same way that I liked A Visit From The Goon Squad, but I didn't like Ideas of Heaven quite...more
Like "Fools," I read this once, then turned around and read it again just to get a better view of the connections between the stories. They're worth the attention. I've been on a Silber streak; I like her voice, and I've enjoyed what this author has to say about people and life and their thoughts, longings, and lies, and while some may feel this collection is too serious, I found it hopeful as well. "I watched her, as if I had invented her, out of my own cleverness; as if this were the only life...more
Jeb Harrison
The epitome of the "linked" or "composite" novel, Ideas of Heaven gives us a new appreciation of the short story. However, the fact that the stories were linked by character relationships from one to the next was relatively unremarkable, in my mind, compared to the tone of Silber’s voice. And though there's been a fair amount of time spent talking of this genre as one that’s been around but has only of late been officially recognized, it was in talking about Silber’s stories – her sometimes trag...more
This collection of linked stories covers a wide range of voices, places and time
periods, but the pieces are connected through their reappearing characters and their twin preoccupations of sex and religion. Silber’s stories read like novellas, capturing whole lives in thirty pages, the sections of narrative monologue punctuated by precisely rendered scenes. Her characters are artists and seekers, so they are theatrical and introspective, able to see themselves with detachment and humor, as playe...more
I really enjoyed this book. I liked how the stories entertwined, and a character from one would pop up in another, and I would get a completely different take on the character's behavior or motives. Sometimes it was just a glimpse, but it would explain something said by another character in another story. The stories were well written, and I liked how they weren't all contemporary. I don't think her writing style was as effective for the stories in Italy and China, but still quite enjoyable. The...more
Made it through the first hundred pages, but struggled to do so. In fairness, I was stuck (and tired) at LAX, so it might not have had my full attention. However, unlike Strout, who at least had some story, there didn't seem to be much craft. The stories were so quiet that I have a hard time imagining that I'd get much out of it even if I gave it full-throttled attention. Could absolutely be that I'm missing something, and judging by the responses here that might be likely, but I didn't find any...more
Kathleen Maher
Apr 20, 2012 Kathleen Maher rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: every reader
Recommended to Kathleen by: I first read In the City by chance and have followed her ever since.teh
Shelves: my-favorite
This is my favorite book and one of my favorite authors by I can't get her to show up among my favorite authors! For years this has been my favorite book of short stories or inter-connecting novellas depending on where you put the word count for short stories vs. novellas. I would count these as novellas but I love the novellas and write them...from writing them, I've gotten the impression that readers or publishers or agents very much dislike novellas--which I can't understand. Personally, I'd...more
What an incredibly blah book!! It astounded me to learn it was a finalist for the National Book Award. Of the six stories, only one or two were even worth reading. The best story is Ashes of Love and it earned one and a half of these two stars. The last story was okay, nothing great. Ideas of Heaven was not an enjoyable book. Many times I felt myself reading for the sake of reading and coaxing my way through the stories.

Although I just finished this book moments ago, I'm certain I'll be selling...more
Catherine Siemann
Oct 25, 2009 Catherine Siemann rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Catherine by: Barbara
I'd not heard of this book when a friend loaned it to me, though it was a National Book Award Finalist about five years ago. It's a series of interconnected short stories, contemporary and historical, all centering around the longing for love and for spiritual fulfillment. The narrators are female and male, gay and straight, contemporary and historical; the stories are spare but revealing, often very moving, and much more so cumulatively. This is a book that didn't take me very long to read, but...more
This book is a collection of short stories, and they were loosely tied together in theme or context. I'm not a big fan of stories; not sure why - I find that it's difficult to get really drawn into a short story. I would imagine also that it's much more difficult for a writer to fully develop characters and a plot in a short story rather than having the luxury of many pages to develop them. Although the stories were well written, the only one that I felt really affected by was the story of the...more
Christy Sibila
The interlinking short story is my favorite genre, so I was fated to love Ideas of Heaven. However, I do wish some of the stories were more closely linked. In particular, the title story of a missionary family besieged in China would have benefited from a stronger link to the next story. But that may just be praise thinly disguised as criticism; the missionary story was so intense and amazingly well written, it simply left me wanting more. Keep writing, Ms. Silber!
Thank you, Marilyn, for bringing this book to my attention. Joan Silber is my new mentor!
Six linked stories the link very tenuous in some. Each piece follows the life of one person -- from childhood or early adulthood through to death or near to death. The life span of each story becomes a tiny bit too predictable, but the ground covered is satisfying, from Renaissance Italy, through the Boxer Rebellion in China, to modern America and France. The way the beginning story wraps around the end one is intriguing.
Ben Worsley
Nice group of intertwined stories. Except for the second, the individual protagonists seemed a bit monochromatic. Also, the central thesis of the book, how religion and romantic love are to some degree interchangeable and equivalent, seemed a bit belabored. However, the deft at which the author wove the interconnectedness of the stories and the themes made up for these shortcomings. Worth reading.
A well-written"ring" of stories that made me keep flipping back and forth to find out the connections among characters, etc. I discovered her due to an interview she did in the Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, and her book lived up to the meticulous writing that I expected. Some of the stories were "jst" good, but many were great or amazing.
Bronwyn Claire Asha
I think I mostly liked this book of short stories. All connected by ideas of temptation and religion, they approached this theme interestingly but many of the stories ended on a sad note and it wasn't the most uplifting of books. Mostly well-written but nothing about it blew me away. I'm changing the rating from a three to a two actually...!
I don't usually like short stories, because they often leave me feeling unsatisfied. But these each covered many years of a person's life, and that and the connections among them gave much more of a sense of completion.
Yet another one of those "I don't like this kind of thing, but I like this instance of it" books.
Leigh Ann
Stories in these book relied heavily on summary, which, though artfully done, made me feel like I was seeing the characters through a glass darkly.

Still, I respect the "ideas" behind offering a ring of stories but wonder if a book of ringed stories should, nowadays, be marketed as a novel.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot, but not nearly as much as "The Size of the World." It almost seemed like this was an experiment which the author then perfected in her later work. Worth reading, but if you're only going to read one Joan Silber book, stick with "The Size of the World."
I really liked this book - a group of linked short stories, all very different, and all somehow related. the writing was interesting and lyrical, and remained believable over a wide range of experience and perspective. kind of cerebral, moved with a light touch. very absorbing.
Joan Silber's collection of short stories relevant to each other is interesting to say the least. The idea of being broken and shattered, which she smartly draws from poetry from Rilke and Gaspara Stampa. I'm no scholar yet this one had me interested and went down easy.
I really wanted to like the book ‘Ideas of Heaven,’ but sorry to say I was only able to weather three of the six stories. The author’s writing style was fine, however I did notice that each of the individual story’s content was somewhat unsettling and repetitious.
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Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
More about Joan Silber...
Fools The Size of the World: A Novel The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes Lucky Us Household Words

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