I have a love-hate relationship with short stories. In fact, if you had asked me less than half a year ago, I would have probably told you that I don’t like them at all. But since then, I have read a few brilliant ones – the kind that makes you go ‘wow’ at the end. The kind where the idea seems just right for a short story, not the kind that keeps you yearning for more, and definitely not the kind where you are left wondering at the end, “so what was all that about?”
I think one of the reasons I am disillusioned about short stories is that good short stories are hard to find. For every good short story I have found, I would have read probably ten others which I wish I hadn’t.
If you pick up a collection, you will like some of them, but not all. I am yet to find an anthology where I liked all, or even most, of the stories. Even short stories by authors I like or well-established authors are no guarantee that I will like the story. I read new writers, or new novels based on recommendations from friends whose tastes I like. But unlike novels, it is hard to find recommendations for specific short stories. For that matter, I am not even sure people have similar tastes in short stories. Do they?
I have decided that this month, I am going to read only short stories. I will try to recommend the ones I like, and if you have any you particularly enjoyed, do leave a comment or drop me note.
A google search seems to produce more links to help writers of short stories, rather than readers, but here are some links to start us off on this month:
The Wall Street Journal thinks that short stories are finally poised to get their due:
This fall, a handful of collections from writers such as Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ha Jin have put a dent in the dominant view of short stories as an inferior cousin to the Great American Novel. And changing technology and reading habits have provided a boost for short fiction as more readers discover literature through online literary journals and Web sites, or download short fiction onto mobile devices
I love short stories for their simplicity. My tastes tend towards the spare, controlled story that turns on those inadvertent actions that all of us stumble through everyday. They are cooked in the crucible of a writer’s imagination until nothing but the bare essence is left. I think this sparseness reflects just how rich life is, how each passing moment is crammed full of possibilities both good and bad. A really good story leaves me breathless; with a need to stop and contemplate; and will crop up in my memory, unbidden, for decades. Why then if I am so seduced by their power do others not share my enthusiasm?
Paul Theroux has a useful suggestion: write a story like it has never been written before. The only way to do this is to rely on the uniqueness of your own perspective and life experiences. Psychologically speaking, each person lives in a different world. To write an interesting short story requires a temporary suspension of ordinary consciousness to tap into that world for inspiration.
I would really like a site that reviews short stories, not entire collections. But while I am waiting for it, here is one that at least focuses exclusively on short stories: The Short Review
That’s it for now, folks. I am off to dig into Ishiguro’s latest collection, Nocturnes. More on that later.