Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some short stories.

Moonrat's post reminded me that I had wanted to write about this too: Vivian's post on Save the Short Story.

So the thing is, most people don't really read short stories. Which is kind of funny if you think about the world we live in today: short attention spans, busy running from one place to the next. You'd think we'd read more short stories, because we'd have more time for it than trying to slog through a novel. But quite honestly, the people who read short stories are the people who maybe are more literary to begin with.

Personally, I do read short stories and try to get through collections. But this is because I'm me, and I'm trying to be a writer, and I think it's important to see what other people are doing.

I think though, the problem with the short story is that the payoff is ultimately so much smaller. I feel like for most people, they read novels to sort of escape into an alternate reality, and the short story doesn't do that. You read the twenty pages and then its over. It's ultimately forgettable. And because every twenty pages you have to reimmerse yourself with new characters and situations, there's no compelling reason to get through an entire collection. I should know - I have at least four collections of short stories I've half started. I mean, ultimately, I think readers like to feel like they're in some world, getting to really know characters and following them on journeys. That's why series are so popular - sometimes some people just don't want to leave the characters behind. That's why, even with the death of Voldemort, we all kind of want to know what happened to everyone. To the general population, there's an attachment to people and places in popular novels because you feel like you've gotten to know them personally.

Short stories are a different animal. They offer something entirely different, sometimes parables of sorts, instant gratification. It has to be a one-shot, an intense burst of humanity and emotion (or, if you're doing genre fiction, of pivotal action and a brilliant compact plot). They require more thinking to get the most out of, I personally believe. The best short stories affect you quickly, simply. But I don't think there are enough elements in them that make them worth reading for most readers.

These are my favorite short stories as of late:
"Children of the Sea" by Edwidge Danticat (from Krik? Krak!)
"Asleep" by Banana Yoshimoto (from Asleep)
"On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" by Haruki Murakami (from Elephant Vanishes)
"Emergency" by Denis Johnson (from Jesus' Son)
"Fiesta, 1980" by Junot Diaz (from Drown)
"Roy Spivey" by Miranda July (it's not in her collection, but was published in the Summer Fiction Issue of the New Yorker this year)

Although, quite frankly, the collections themselves are all very good, and I could pick out other stories from them that I also love very much (the first 4 or 5 of Danticat's collection, for example, all are very affecting).

Additional suggestions:

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I have yet to go through the whole thing, but like what I've read very much.
Lizard, by Banana Yoshimoto. But I'm just a big Yoshimoto fan.
The Stories of Eva Luna, by Isabelle Allende. Haven't gotten through the whole thing yet either, but what I've read, I've liked.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. Well, because it's Sedaris, and it's funny.

For the more genre based, I've ALWAYS loved Jeffrey Archer's short story collections. They're fun, easy, usually involve a twist ending that I appreciate. There's one story involving two brothers (the name escapes me now), one the overlooked older, responsible one, one the younger, coddled, "artist". It follows their relationship throughout their adult lives in its short pages, and... I can't give it away! I own a good number of his short story collections because they're easy to read and gratifying the way popping a gummy bear is.

I feel like I'm missing a few here that I really liked... um... sorry.

Anyway, yes. Yay! Short stories!

3 drops:

moonrat said...

i think i should try to buy more. in the bookstore sense, not the manuscript to publish sense. must still stay strong there.

vivian said...

With the exception of Lives of Girls and Women, which was marketed as a novel, every one of Alice Munro's books is a short-story collection, and I believe that she is a Nobel Prize-worthy author whose neglect is probably attributable to the fact that she does only write shorts, and that she's Canadian. Her stories appear in The New Yorker, and in Best American Short Stories, almost routinely.

As you can see, I've learned to use html tags. :)

Guy said...

I just stumbled upon your post on the short story and wanted to add my two pence on the subject. I support and absolutely love short stories and short story writing. Hands down, Edward P. Jones, Lorrie Moore (!) and Flannery O'Connor are arguably among the best short story writers I've ever read. Short stories, to me, is like poetry in a sense that it is contained, compressed, and organic than, per se, the novel. I think the key issue with short stories and its readership deal with the fact what you lucidly pointed out, Angelle: the lack of staying with characters and such within a story. As an events coordinator and bookseller at a Brooklyn bookstore, it's a shame to see the lack of purchases with short story collections. I don't get it!

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