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A Guide to Being Born: Stories

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,956 ratings  ·  314 reviews
Reminiscent of Aimee Bender and Karen Russell—an enthralling collection that uses the world of the imagination to explore the heart of the human condition.

Major literary talent Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, coming Summer 2016, combines the otherworldly wisdom of her much-loved debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, with the precis
Hardcover, 198 pages
Published May 2nd 2013 by Riverhead Books
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 ·  1,956 ratings  ·  314 reviews

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I have lamented before how difficult I find reviews for short story collections, even the ones I love. And it is a shame because I want to do this justice: I loved this. Ramona Ausubel has written the best short story collection I have read this year and I want to convince as many people as possible to pick it up.

This collection is pretty much custom-made for me: it combines lyrical language and stark imagery with themes of family, lost and found; the stories are weird and poetic and in parts di
Joce (squibblesreads)
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'd give this 6 stars if I could.
Maya Lang
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, lush stories that are sobering, heart-breaking, mesmerizing, shocking. Two of my favorite things: 1) I was full of admiration for the author's ability to connect micro and macro. A small detail lingers and becomes its own moment, but without being overdone. (Often, the sentences are perfect.) You feel the whole world of the story contained in a moment between two characters or in an observation, but the "big picture," the macro, is never neglected. Each story feels perfectly ...more
Aug 16, 2016 added it
Second disappointing book in three days. I need to reconsider my life choices. Clearly.
Timothy O'Donnell
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have given myself several days to digest this collection of short fiction by Ramona Ausubel. I'm not one for reviews but I wanted to say something because this book made me do something I've never done before when reading a story.

There is a moment in one of the stories (I won't name it, you'll have to read for yourself) where I audibly gasped. The air in my lungs vanished. My heart sank. It sounds hyperbolic but I was literally heartbroken for a split second. Then the story resolved in a way w
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am not a huge fan of short stories but I actually enjoyed these. The one that really hooked me was Poppyseed, it touched my heart. It was written in such a way that readers can feel empathy for the parents, such a sad sad story but heartwarming too, which is odd. Atria was disturbing, and I don't want to go into detail and give anything away. Chest of Drawers I just cannot get out of my head, the idea of a man having drawers as his wife's pregnancy progresses just made my skin crawl and it's n ...more
April Cote
Aug 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. A bizarre, magical twist on stories about life, family and love. All but two stories had my full attention. The two that didn't just fell flat for me, they were not bad, just couldn't hold my attention.
I highly recommend if your looking for stories on life issues you can connect with, even if they have a fantasy twist that leaves you happy but confused that you understand the magical twist on a personal, emotional level.
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I finally liked short stories!
Nov 16, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked this, but it never tipped over into love. Not quite sure why. It had everything I liked - poetic prose, just enough magic realism to thrill me, beautiful language. It just didn't move me like I wanted it to. (I think this might be because I'm still under the spell of Safe as Houses and for a while nothing will be able to live up.)

The stories were, for the most part, quite lovely, however. The grandmothers crowded on the boat in "Safe Passage." The parents longing for their child to both
Jun 20, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a collection of short stories which makes it hard to assign a star rating. Some stories were 4 stars, some were 2, and one I would give a 5. So, three stars seemed the most fair. Warning - these stories are very odd. Few of them were completely grounded in reality, and some were so strange, I felt like I was constantly saying, "What?!" For example, in one story, a man who is a little obsessed with and overwhelmed by his wife's pregnancy wakes up to find he has grown a set of small drawe ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Not sure what to think of this one. I didn't hate any of the stories, and I certainly liked some of them, but I have to say a lot of them completely went over my head. It's not a good sign when the biggest impression you have of a short story after finishing it is what was the point of that???. That being said, my absolute favourite story was "Chest of Drawers." It's about this man with a literal chest of drawers and it really surprised me with how clever and thought-provoking it was. That was t ...more
Holly Dunn
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of the best short story collections I’ve read in a long time, this has just the right amount of whimsy and seriousness. It is a brilliant collection of short stories with the themes of birth, life and death. Ausubel combines powerful emotional storytelling with strange magical realism. One of the highlights for me was a story about a man who wakes up one morning to find a set of draws in his chest. His pregnant wife gets jealous because he is paying more attention to this development than to ...more
Rachel Aloise
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
At the flick of a page these stories can morph from the weird and wondrous to truths, raw and unflinching. I was moved to near tears more than once. Ausubel's prose is beautifully balanced as drops of magical realism are distilled into emotionally gripping tales. I readily suspended disbelief at the growth of love-arms in the evocative 'Tributaries' or other anatomical oddities in the devastating 'Poppyseed'. Only a couple of stories failed to affect me in the same way- hence the four stars- but ...more
You CAN judge a book by its cover. Perhaps that's not fair to Ausubel, whose book stands on merits far beyond its colorful, fantastic cover. But that's what first attracted me to this book, and happily, the contents within proved to be every bit as fantastic and engaging.

I was enchanted by the opening tale of a ship carrying a cargo of puzzled grandmothers. Where were they? How had they gotten there? Where were they going? The dream haze of the story slowly clears as one of the grandmothers reco
Melanie (Perpetually Reading)
There is a quiet beauty in Ausubel's writing where even the simplest events or descriptions take on an almost austere tone. She puts to words complex human emotions all of us have felt or will feel, but can never really explain. It's very rare for every story in a short story collection to be strong and powerful throughout, but every single story in this collection made my heart clench. Each of her stories are beautiful, nostalgic, and mysterious. I will definitely be keeping a close watch on he ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it
DNF at page 57. It is clear that Ausubel's writing is beautiful, a true talent. But I just cannot suffer through another story. Art doesn't have to be so depressing.
Subhasree Basu
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lovely, poignant stories about the essentials of living.
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I adore what I have read so far of American author Ramona Ausubel's work, and was so excited to read her short story collection, A Guide to Being Born. I have been continually impressed and startled with her writing, and my experience with these tales, which I read whilst in France over Easter, was no different.

Another author whom I admire, Aimee Bender, writes 'These stories reminded me of branches full of cherry blossoms: fresh, delicate, beautiful, expressive, otherworldly.' The Boston Globe
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, stories
Ten dang years ago when I was in grad school for writing, "magical realism" was the Buzz Phrase of all workshops. As a stuck-up arrogant MFA student, I was vehemently against it (though in my defense it was never actually used well in any draft I saw). Then I went to Clarion and became deeply enamored and equally confused as to how I could maintain all my lofty "literary" standards (interior drama! language for its own sake!) when trying to write the unreal.

Ausubel's stories do both. These are
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read_in_2014
What a book, WHAT A BOOK.

As soon as I read the first story in this anthology, I knew I'd love it. It was rich in symbols and interesting ideas.

And can I just say that I want to be Miss C?

This book gets really out there sometimes like the pregnancy story that has a giraffe peek out of the girl's womb. I hated that story, by the way. But it makes you really think about what's going on, what it all means in the story and in your life -- at least I did.

It's only 200 pages, but it's so thick with
ashley c
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
I used to collect paperbacks with the allowance my parents gave me when I was younger - way before goodreads - and I'm looking at my shelves right now and making note of everything on them. This is a copy given to me by a friend on my birthday two years back. While I can't remember the stories, I remember the crisp writing style and tone and the stories in perfect bite-size for the reader to munch on. Probably was good.
Barbara McEwen
The first couple stories were great. They had these super uncomfortable, disturbing moments when the author was very successful at tapping into humanity? human-ness? things that make us uncomfortable about ourselves? I don't know, you have to feel it I guess. The later stories didn't have the same zing.
Aj Sterkel
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
These stories are bizarre. That’s the best word to describe them. Even the stories that aren’t magical realism have that strange “people behaving weirdly” thing going on. The author definitely has a talent for making the realistic feel fantastical.

As soon as I finished this collection, I put Ramona Ausubel’s other books on my wish list because A Guide to being Born contains some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time. The author takes small details and makes them hugely meaningful, but not
Mar 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Copy received through Goodreads’ First Reads program.

It must be difficult to be a writer with any sort of a fabulist/surrealist/magical/fantastical bent these days, as reviews of your work are pretty much just countdowns to a lazy reference to Karen Russell. The back of this book saves reviewers that trouble by describing these stories as “[r]eminiscent of Aimee Bender and Karen Russell,” and these stories certainly have a strong fantasy element that should appeal to Russell’s fans. However, fo
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Goodreads recommended this collection of short stories to me because I had liked "Vampires in the Lemon Grove". A Guide to Being Born was similar to Vampires in the fact that it was a collection of short stories and that it employed the use of some magical elements; but otherwise I found the two books to be completely different from one another.

I was not swept up in Ausubel's mini worlds in the same way that I had been enveloped in Russell's. (Perhaps Ausubel's metaphors were more difficult for
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
Apr 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This collection of short stories made me ugly cry twice, then tear up another time. Right out of the gate, Ausubel hits hard with her surreal, but emotionally direct, creations. Some stories are stranger than others. There's a ghost, there's a man who grows a cabinet of drawers in his chest, a ship with only confused grandmas on it, and a world where people grow arms only when they love someone (and there's no limit as to how many that could be). You're thrown immediately into these less than no ...more
Feb 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had a love-hate relationship with these stories. At times I was reading clenched and anxious about the cringe-worthy moment about to leap out from behind the next page. But mostly the beauty, pitch, and tenderness was wondrous. Like the ending of Saver
"Our arms are wrapped around each other's necks. It is warm out and we are growing bright pink flowers.Our spines prick into one another's four-hundred-year-old skin and the water inside us seeps out in little beads. We could survive without rain
rose vibrations
Sep 04, 2014 rated it liked it
This book left me feeling very underwhelmed...hence three stars. Maybe even 2.5 stars... I was initially drawn to the book at Chapters because of the interesting and colourful cover, which I know is never a good reason to buy a book, but the stories sounded like they could also be potentially semi-good too. Anyway, some of them weren't bad. Like the first few. As the stories went on though, they seemed to get progressively poorer and boring, and by the last few stories I think I stopped paying a ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobooks, scribd
I stuggled with this one - would have given a 2.5 if there was an option. I generally like some magical realism in my stories but really struggled with the images in some of these stories. Although I liked a couple of the short stories, the remainder just didn't grab me personally. Not sure if that has to do with the fact that I listened to it on audiobook. Ultimately, I just didn't feel pulled into the stories and it took me a while to get through. I am interesed in reading Ms. Ausubel's book - ...more
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it

I adored this collection!! It was super quirky and weird, which is right up my alley. The stories were so engrossing and I loved the magical realism elements Ramona used. I’m so amazed by her ability to create such well developed characters in only 15 or so pages, and some of the stories even made me laugh out loud. I can’t even remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud… Definitely one of my favourites of the year so far! :D

***My favourites:
- Poppyseed
- Chest of drawers
- Welcome t
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Ramona Ausubel is the author of a new novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty (on sale 6/14/2016) as well as No One is Here Except All of Us, winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and Finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Her collection of stories, A Guide to Being Born, was a New York Times’ Notable Book. He ...more

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