Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thinking about Short Stories

Generally, I'm not a huge fan of short stories. The main reason for this is that just as I'm getting bonded with the characters, the story ends. And then I have to immerse myself into a whole other world. This process...of sinking into a story and another world is always a little bit of work at first. Especially if the first short story was really good. It's sort of like the euphoria you have after finishing an awesome book....it's hard to start another one.

But I think that short stories can pack a really powerful punch. There are times when I find myself thinking about a short story I read months ago. Something about their shorter nature, perhaps, allows the message to bleed through every word, every turn in plot.

One of the most powerful short stories I've ever read is "The Cold Equations". I actually read this in high school, but wow talk about a story that just likes to hang around in your mind wrapping itself around all your thoughts.

I've read some other short stories recently that have also refused to leave my head, by Nam Le and Ambrose Bierce. And I'm thinking that I should probably force myself to read more short stories as I do actually like the way they make me think.

So tell me...what are your feelings on short stories? What are your favorites? Who should I look for? Who should I avoid?




Amy

32 comments:

J.S. Peyton said...

I wasn't a fan of short stories until about two years ago when I read the anthology of contemporary short stories ed. by Michael Martone. Almost every story in that book was amazing in its own way. I highly recommend it, especially for people who aren't all that into short stories but want to read more.

I'm also pretty partial to the short stories by Joyce Carol Oates. Her collection of short stories "The Museum of Dr. Moses" and "The Female of the Species" really blew me away.

And of course, Neil Gaiman is always a favorite for good fantasy stories. =)

Beth F said...

I'm not a short story lover either, so I'll be looking here for some suggestions.

Undine said...

Two years ago, I took a creative writing course and discovered flash fiction. Essentially, flash fiction is stories told in 1,000 words or less. I tend to prefer them over short stories, so you might want to look at a collection of them.

Also, I second the comment above about Joyce Carol Oates. I had the pleasure of attending a reading of hers, and it was marvelous!

Toni said...

I am with you Amy I don't like to bond and let go so quickly. But I have always wanted to jump in and read short stories. I will check back to this blog for recommendations on where to start.

TexasRed said...

I'm generally a fan of short stories only to the extent that they tie in with other stories about the same characters or a larger story line.

That said, I'm with you remembering some amazing short stories from high school. I remember one describing the fall of civilization after the world went dark, another about surviving in caves after a nuclear holocaust, and another about a child who accidentally got locked in a closet on the only day in his lifetime that it stopped raining on his planet. (Yikes, they sound awfully depressing writing them out that way.)

Nymeth said...

I wasn't always a fan of short stories either. But I forced myself to read more of them, and I actually grew to appreciate them. Nowadays, while I still prefer novels, I do enjoy them a lot.

I second J.S. Peyton's recommendation of Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates (though be warned that her stuff can be quite disturbing). Other favourite short story authors of mine are Truman Capote, John Cheever, J.D. Salinger, Tim Pratt, Ali Smith and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Also, I have to take this chance to plug "The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change" by Kij Johnson. I have a secret plan to make the book blogging world fall in love with her writing :P

Joanne said...

Short stories have always appealed to me, I like that with a great writer the story can be as powerful as a full-length novel.

I don't really have any favorites, but I find that yearly anthologies/collections are always a treat.
Some of the ones I enjoy most would be the yearly Best American Short Stories and Best Canadian Short Fiction sets. Also The Oxford Book of American Shorts edited by Oates - she has the best taste is short fic.
For genre specific I love the giant Best Fantasy of the Year collections edited by Ellen Datlow.

Chris said...

I'm not a huge fan of short stories either, though I like stories by certain authors...like Neil Gaiman..I don't think I've read a short story of his that I haven't liked actually. They're all so unique and make you think "how did he even think of this?"

My other recommendation is to read anthologies in a genre that you really like. For instance, I really like YA books with male characters and just finished reading a book of short stories called "Every Man for Himself" and it's a collection of YA authors writing about "being a guy" So I really loved it despite my general mediocre feelings with short stories.

Fun topic!

Amee said...

I like short stories but don't really make it a point to read them. They're good for when you want to read someone but don't necessarily have the time to devote to a whole book. My favorites are when a short story collection is like a coninuation of each other just with different characters who have some connection to the ones in the previous story.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I asked this exact same question on my post yesterday! I'm not well read in short stories. I've read a few collections this past year and I'm discovering that it's just not a genre that I can really get myself into. I like them fine, I just don't love them.

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

Jhumpa Lahiri, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jhumpa Lahiri.

'Nuff said.

Heather J. said...

I'm not usually a fan of short stories but I recently read Jhumpa Lahiri's INTERPRETER OF MALADIES with my book club and it was fantastic. Her stories really made me "feel".

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I recently read Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff and it was wonderful. The stories were all very different, but I was always able to get to know the characters.

PeachyTO said...

I have never been one to read short stories. I often feel as though I've missed something, or I just don't get it. I generally hate that feeling, and it's certainly terrible for my ego.

That being said, I have felt compelled to read more of them lately, and I'm not sure if that is because of wanting to get over my comprehension slump with them, or if it's just because of some of the wonderful things I've heard about short stories from the blogging community.

I will definitely have to read through this comments post to get some ideas. Thanks and good luck ; )

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read any short stories in a while. I quit reading them because I didn't enjoy them much - there wasn't enough "meat" to them if you know what I mean. I want to give them another try now that I'm older.

Mindy Withrow said...

I'm a non-fiction writer now trying to learn to write short fiction, so I am very biased here, but I LOVE short stories, and often after reading a string of novels I find myself craving a few shorts. What I love about them is that they just drop you into a world for a brief time, where you meet a few people, explore a few ideas, and then bam you're out of them again and left to contemplate it all on your own. Instead of the vast sweep of a novel, you get an intense close-up, like zooming into one bloom in a landscape of wildflowers.

I agree with all the Jhumpa Lahiri fans -- she's AMAZING! Also Flannery O'Connor, Guy de Maupassant, Ingrid Hill, Marc Niesen, William Trevor.

Great question, Amy!

Literary Feline said...

Short stories have grown on me over the years. I think, too, it's helped that I stopped expecting a short story to be a mini novel. And I learned what kinds of short stories I enjoy more than others. Certain genres I love in novel form, just don't work for me in short story form. There are expections, of course.

Book Club Girl said...

I think it's important to support short stories because so many great novelists start out writing stories. It's difficult for publishers to publish them because they don't typically sell as well (Jhumpa Lahiri is the big exception to this rule) but if they don't publish them, some writers may never get the chance to write the novels we'll love.

Not to say that short stories are stepping stones only. On their own they're an amazing form, but you do need to adjust how you approach them as opposed to how you approach a novel. My favorite collection is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. I still think of this book nearly 20 years after I first read it.

Shameless self promotion part: Harper Perennial is celebrating the short story this summer with publications of 4 new collections by amazing writers. And they have a blog up that posts a short story a week if you want to check it out http://www.fiftytwostories.com/

Lenore said...

I don't read a lot of short stories now, but I went through my phase. I'll be doing a post on this soon, but I just wanted to leave a title of one story I can't get out of my head:

The Hitchhiking Game by Milan Kundera - google it for a summary.

Jena said...

You know, short stories are hit or miss with me. I've only read four collections since I started my blog, apparently (but I thought I'd read more...?). http://musebookreviews.blogspot.com/search/label/short%20stories

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

I'm back. I do think Jhumpa Lahiri is a great place to start because her stories are seamlessly beautiful and very affecting. You might also check out Pam Houston's Cowboys Are My Weakness. There's a lot of variety, and the stories are much shorter than Lahiri's but still packed with good stuff.

Alexa said...

I'm not a huge fan of short stories either but after reading one by Julie Orringer in the New Yorker I bought her collection How to Breathe Underwater and loved it.
I highly recommend it.

Wendy said...

I love reading short stories - I think to pull them off the writer has to be quite talented. My most recent favorite short story writers are Christopher Meeks and Catherine Brady...these writers are so good at character development that the reader feels a connection to their stories immediately.

Murtaza said...

THE PHENOMENON CALLED LIFE THROUGH MY COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES: http://lifeshortstory.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/pushing-the-papers/

Debi said...

Ooooh, go read this one! (I totally stole that link from Nymeth's blog.) This story is sooooo good!

I actually love short stories, but am not well-versed in them at all...I just don't read them nearly as much as I should. I love Daphne du Maurier's short stories!

Sorry to be so ignorant, but who wrote "The Cold Equations"? I'd love to read it, as it made such a big impression on you.

Kristi said...

I don't know why - but I am generally not a fan of short stories - I think that it is probably something I should try again though, as there is so many wonderful authors out there who have written some. I will need to scroll through your comments to pick up some ideas!

Trish said...

I've read a lot of short stories, but more of the required authors rather than contemporary because most of what I've read was assigned in some class or another (took a class once just over short stories). I enjoy them, but I rarely pick them up. Eudora Welty has some great ones. Fitzgerald is one of my favorites, I prefer Hemingway's short fiction to his novels. Poe, of course. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Recently I picked up a collection of Margaret Atwood's short stories and found them surprising. But normally--don't read em. Great question.

Jenny Girl said...

The first short stories that I read and remember are by Guy de Maupassant. I liked some of them and actually have a volume of some of them. I was actually thinking of re-reading them some day soon.
As long as I know before hand, it is a short story, I'm okay. As long as the story is good, I don't care what the length is.

Here is a link about de Maupassant:
http://www.classicallibrary.org/maupassant/index.htm

I also read some novellas by Irene Nemirovsky. You should give them a try...very haunting but accurate descriptions. My heart went out to her characters.

Dave said...

I'm not a big short story fan either, but this year I read both Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth and Lauren Groff's Delicate Edible Birds. Both were fascinating. But in these collections, I find it hard to read one story after another. I'd rather read one and let it settle in. Maybe that's why I tend to shy away from collections?

Serena said...

I read this great short story in a now-defunct magazine called Rocket Umbrella! I love short stories that are poignant and fun.

Amy said...

Wow! Thanks for the recommendations, everyone!

Anonymous said...

Two amazing short story collections to read - Simon Van Booy's 'Secret Lives of People in Love' and James Nolan's 'Perpetual Care.' You'll be thinking about these stories a long time after you've finished them. Truly fantastic writing, writers.

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