For the Love of Short Stories

For a very long time I was pretty staunchly resistant to short story collections, favoring chunkier novels instead. I argued for character development, depth of plot, and the secret-belief that they were cop-outs for authors who didn’t want to commit to doing the time to write something lengthier. I’m here today to talk about how wrong I was, though, as a reformed short-story-disliker. Here’s what I’ve realized:

When You’re Short on Time
I love short story collections when I know I’m staring down the barrel of a busy week that may not allow me larger slots of time to sit down and dive into a novel. Most short stories can be read in less than an hour, which makes tackling them in a sitting or two (or three) completely doable. If I try to plow through a denser novel during a stretch where I’m feeling stretched thin I’ll end up simply not reading, which is not how I want to live my life, thankyouverymuch.

Travels Well
I also find short stories perfect for trips when I have Sawyer with me and I know we’ll pretty busy, for many of the same reasons previously mentioned (novels are perfect when I am traveling alone and have blocks of hotel room down-time, though).  I also love short story volumes when I know I’ll get an hour by the pool or at a coffee shop alone.

Not a Word Wasted
Writing a succinct, fascinating, well-crafted short story is probably in many ways just as hard as writing a novel. With fewer pages you have less time to develop your story, so not a page, sentence, nor word can be wasted. In order to pack the necessary punch, short story writers are responsible for doing so much with so little. I think until I started fiddling around with my own short stories I really didn’t give these authors as much credit for what they’re able to do in such a small allotment.

Responsibility Released
Let’s face it, as a busy reader sometimes I want to release the responsibility of being accountable for remembering detailed back stories, following intricate character connections, or hunting for well-placed symbols. Sometimes my brain wants something that’s well-written but doesn’t require I buy the mental equivalent to an external hard drive to keep everything sorted out.

That being all well and good, how is a reader supposed to find short stories that can stand their ground? My first suggestions would be seeing if any of your favorite authors have collections. TC Boyle, Nathan Englander, Roxane Gay, Viet Thanh Nguyen. Curtis Sittenfeld, Jeffrey Eugenides, Nick Hornby, and Lauren Groff all do, just to get you started. I also like to go through and see who has won any recent literary prizes in this category or if some of the more reputable review sources have been touting any lately. 

I’m currently reading Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno and am enjoying it immensely. What he does is something that I always tend to appreciate with short story collections: cross-story connections. In this specific text a certain painting and its circumstances are carried over to each section, as well as a few of the characters. Each story could stand alone, but there’s also meaning within the whole. This route is probably the best one for those who gravitate towards novels but may want to dip their toes in short stories.

Happy reading!

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