Last week we discussed audiobooks, so this week we thought we’d bring up another divisive topic—short stories.
I don’t need a common theme as far as subject matter or style goes. It’s okay if they’re all completely random that way. For me, the pacing and feel of the collection is most important. I want the pacing to build and build, and then I want either a finish that packs a punch or a finish that seems like a cool down. Either way, I have to be left with a sense of “it is finished.” The Thing About Great White Sharks is a perfect example.
That sense of being “unfinished” is something that I always hated about short stories, but it seems like I can avoid it when reading collections that are a little more out there. It’s easier to accept that there won’t always be an answer. I’m not someone who really enjoys a “slice of life” style story. In such a small space, I need weird. I need off the wall. Give me all the crazy.
See, the same way I love ambiguous endings in novels, part of what I love about short stories is that oftentimes there is a sense of unfinishedness, lets my imagination run wild.
I’ll jump in here as the little kid who wouldn’t try broccoli because “I know I won’t like it.” Aside from school reading I did not read a short story for pleasure until two years ago. My reasoning? They’re short. I need more time to get invested in what I’m reading and I want/need to stay invested and they end too quickly. The entire rhythm of them felt off to me. Then I grew up and read Lorrie Moore’s Bark, Aimee Bender’s The Color Masters and finally George Saunders’ The Tenth of December. He really hooked me. I’m reformed.
I have a thing against short stories. Whenever I see a new collection my first reaction is to think “nahhhhh.” I’ve been proven wrong more times than I can count but still…there’s something that stops me from declaring my love for the short story. I would rather sink into a longer tale. It takes a lot of effort for me to remember characters if I don’t finish a short story in a single sitting. It’s like Catherine mentioned, I liked/need to be invested and the rhythm of short stories is strange to me.
I see a lot of readers comment on whether or not the stories in a collection have a sense of cohesiveness in some way. Is that something you think about? What does it mean to you or, what makes a collection of short stories strong?
For a long time I really resisted short stories because nothing I read really clicked for me, but after a few recent successes (namely Simon Rich’s Spoiled Brats, George Saunders’ Tenth of December and Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress) I realized it was the style of short stories that was the problem.. Like Catherine said, most of the stories we read in school just didn’t do it—I need something a little more wild.
You’re on to something here, Shannon. I like oddity and magical realism in my short stories. They need to entirely encapsulate a world to work for me.
See, I was that dorky kid in school that loved everything I read except for Shakespeare and The Scarlet Letter. I mean, Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’? Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’? What’s wilder than that?
Even an author I love has an uphill climb when it comes to luring me to read a short story collection. I was excited to hear that Nikolas Butler (Shotgun Lovesongs) had a new book out. Then I found out it was short stories. Sigh. I just heard that Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son) has a new book coming out late this summer. Guess what? It’s short stories! Ugh. I should mention that I have loved some short story collections. But they always take me by surprise and I’m never excited about them in the beginning.
Thinking about school reading, I actually got hooked on Haruki Murakami because of one of his short stories: TV People was in the back of my world lit book in college and I devoured it. Like Shannon, I best enjoy short stories if they’re off the wall and weird, but I do still like to pull out classics at times (Hemingway or Mark Twain) or see what The New Yorker is offering.
Agreed, I can devour a collection of short horror stories with complete weirdness or I can sit down with some classic Twain and love on that too. The best part of short stories for me is the single serving-ness of them. That’s why I find them such great reading slump busters. You don’t have to invest yourself in three-hundred pages to get some delicious reading goodness.
Good point, April, and I agree. They do let you get back into slowly. Not to muddy the waters but do you all have thoughts about collections with different authors? That is a variety of short story that I can’t get into. I need some continuity of style or voice, if that makes sense.
I think I’ve only read essays in that style, not fiction, but I’m pretty sure I’d feel the same.
So, readers, where do you fall on the short story spectrum? Do you love anything you can get your hands on or do you have to be coaxed into reading? Is there a specific style you like or do you need your stories to be connected? Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for reluctant readers?