When I read a collection of short stories, I rarely read them one after another as I would chapters in a novel.
After all, these are individual stories to be savored and admired.
I either read just one a day, deliberately limiting my reading time or I read a short novel by another author in between my readings.
I want to take a break from the short stories so their narratives don’t run into each other but not so long of a break that I’ve lost the connection with the collection itself. Something I can read in a few days.
Recently I read Alice Monroe’s story “Fiction” in her collection Too Much Happiness. I thought about how it related to the first story I had read in the collection. The themes of young love, of loss, of rebuilding one’s life. I thought about how the moods of the pieces were different. Then I thought about how the story related to the title piece itself, Too much happiness.
In between the two short stories I read Han Kang‘s The Vegetarian, a fascinating, disturbing, intriguing novel. A short novel that allowed me to return to Monroe in a few days but still transported me into a completely different world.
My ‘in between’ reading may be influencing how I read the short stories, of course. But Roland Barthes said our reading is always influenced by what we’ve previously read so I will just have to make peace with that.
I don’t tend to read many short stories. Not sure why I’ve never gotten into them. Guess I just prefer the comfort of returning to a novel I’ve become familiar with over the course of several days. And now you’ve intrigued me with ‘The Vegetarian.’ I’ll have to go check it out.
A collection of good short stories is a gem indeed. The Vegetarian is good but odd; you’ll see what I mean if you read it (let me know if you do).
I looked it up on Amazon. There were only two reviews, but maybe there’s more somewhere else. But yes, one reviewer said it was very odd. 🙂
Odd but worth reading. Well written (although I read it in translation as it was originally written in Korean).
What? You didn’t read the Korean version? 😉
Still working on my Korean 😉
Intriguing, as ever! Like Carrie, I don’t read masses of short stories, but when I do, I’m pretty conventional, I’m afraid and read from start to finish. I guess I see the collection a bit like a music album and treat the whole as intended by the author – with an album, the artist has usually put the tracks together in a certain order to achieve a certain listening experience. A million years ago, I was once asked in one of my first ever job interviews whether I read a newspaper, and if so to which section I first turn. This completely baffled me because, in this case also, I start with the headline and finish with the crossword – I mean, why wouldn’t you?! 🙂
What an interesting interview question! Start to finish, why not, haha!
I am intrigued by the in between reading…. I love short stories, which are short rare little gems…!
I will let you know how I chose the “in between reading”
I would love to know what you read ‘in between’. Probably a gardening book, I imagine…
I tend read them one at a time maybe one in morning and evening depending on length of the story
Yes, that works too, I agree. Having the space of a full day to digest a whole story is good. Thanks for commenting!
I like short stories but being one of those people that is worried by an unfinished book I find I have to read a whole book before I can start another, it’s probably OCD or something but I do try and put up a mental barrier between stories. I do like being influenced by books, it makes everybody’s perception of things unique which is always good for further insight.
Some kind of mental barrier helps one appreciate each individual story, I agree. That’s a good phrase. It can be a whole day or another short novel, whatever works for each reader, but as long as each story doesn’t completely run into the next, right?
True dat! I think that when one reads we have to adapt to the words and we really have been a bit ninja about how we get the best out of it. It’s almost scientific.
I quite like reading short fiction. My last collection was a regency-romance one, but I read one named “Jane Austen made me do it” which was brilliant (not EVERY story, but quite a few). I liked that the common theme was Jane Austen and her stories, not just the stories, not just one sentence – the variety was great.
The Jane Austen themed collection sounds intriguing. I will pick it up, thanks for mentioning it!
I like how you have analyzed “the in between reading”, Letizia. I haven’t given much thought to it, but like others, if I pick up a short story collection, I tend to read it all the way through. Or I tire of it and not finish at all. This leads me to think that I need to read them piecemeal. You have some interesting titles there that I need to check out. I did read some of Unaccustomed Earth and will go back to it.
Lahari’s short stories are always so good. Yes, I think there’s a certain rhythm to reading a short story collection. At least for me.
Short stories are difficult reading in that they should sit and simmer before moving on to the next one. They also remind me of school since we study them. Maybe reading them
is too much like homework!
Sit and simmer is a good phrase. I think that’s why I like them so much, they are short but require simmering. That’s why they are so hard to write well perhaps.
I like to read short stories when I know I’ve got a day full of appointments. 1 short is about typical waiting room time, at the rate I read and arrive early/on time. I make my way through in a day or two that way. Even better when it’s one of those appointments where you wait to be seen, then wait for a test, then wait for the results of the test. Keeps me from pulling out my hair.
And what a wonderful reward for a boring day of appointments and tests!! I’ve been in those situations as well. And sometimes they call you for your appointment and you have a few pages left and you think “come back in 5 minutes!!” haha!
I get allergy shots and have to wait ½ hour after to make sure I don’t react. I’ve been known to get so involved in a book the nurses have to tap me on the shoulder and move me along so they can go to lunch!
Your way of reading short stories takes the prize! I find that it takes me longer to read short story collections than it would a novel of the same size. Probably because I am too intimidated by the amount of stories jam-packed into one book. So one-a-day or a book in-between is the perfect solution!
I only read a couple of stories from Munro, but I really enjoyed “Carried Away”. Have you read it? If not, I think you would enjoy it; it is almost like a novella in itself…
I haven’t read Carried Away – or at least don’t remember that title, I will have to double check- so thank you for suggesting it. One a day works so well for me so I don’t feel overwhelmed.
I rarely read short stories, but at the moment I am reading an anthology. I read a couple of pieces each night, and none at all during the day. I don’t know that I could read another book in between each short story, or anthology piece. But ,yes, we do seem to need different reading strategies for different types of writing.
There’s a different pacing, right? And we haven’t even discussed reading an anthology of poetry!
Yes, that needs a post to itself.
I’m the same as you, I like to ‘cleanse my palate’ between stories, be they short or long. So I never devour a whole series of novels in one for for example. I’ll need a long palate cleanse between each instalment. Likewise for a short story collection. I’ll read one, then leave the collection for a bit and come back to it.
Short stories and poems for me are like squares of chocolate in a chocolate bar. You have one, you really savour it, but you don’t have the entire thing in one go because it just won’t be as nice that way.
I’m have less self control when it comes to chocolate but I agree that it’s best to savor each piece!
I love reading short stories, Letizia. I think it’s because I don’t have a huge attention span 😉 I can switch between reading short stories and novels quite easily (I write like that as well so that may be why) 😀
There’s a great flexibility there (to your reading but also to your writing).
I returned to short stories only a few years ago (thank you, Lorrie Moore and my librarian friend). Now I keep collections by my bedside for, as you say, in-between reading. I wonder if people go off short stories because they associate them with high school.
A few people have mentioned having had to read short stories in school. I don’t recall having had to read many so perhaps that’s why I don’t have any negative associations.
I like that you keep some by your bedside- a fine habit indeed.
I’m not much of a short story reader myself. The only one I can think of recently was Dianne Gray’s “Manslaughter and Other Tears”, which was fabulous. I should explore more.
Now that I’m a proud library card holder, I’m trying to juggle the amazing book hold delivery options. So cool how far libraries have come that I can just grab my books online and pick them up two blocks away at our teeny library. Happy little bookworm here! 🙂
Being a library member really roots one into the neighborhood, doesn’t it?
I’m a great fan of short stories & dip into them as much as I can but like you not necessarily a whole collection uninterrupted… Barthes theory of influence is interesting – does the novel affect short stories but also I guess do the short stories affect the novel… definitely food for thought. Great post 😊
Yes, and I think it depends on the short story or novel itself- and on the time elapsed. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for the Twitter share!
Alice Munro is certainly a great story teller… I haven’t read too much by her, but only a few brief stories that went out online when she was bestowed with the Nobel Prize… Good choices and very nice feature, dear Letizia. Happy week ahead & best wishes. Aquileana ⭐
I’m still discovering her works as well. I didn’t love one of the collections I read by her (I can’t remember the name right now) but I really enjoyed this one. Wishing you a wonderful week as well (and thank you for the tweet share!).
Why People Don’t Read Short Stories was the subject of one of my very first blog posts many moons ago, and in it I speak about why I do love them and how I read them.
Sometimes I have a day of reading short stories and I gather them all off my shelves and read from each collection, I compare it to a box of chocolates and to travel, in fact I think short stories were something of a pre-cursor for me to reading translations, for many of my collections span the globe!
Thanks for reminding me Letizia, I must have another short story reading session soon!
It’s funny how so many are comparing short stories to eat chocolates; I love that! I will head over to read your post on short stories now. I love that it was the subject of your very first post. And your habit of reading one from each collection!
I do the same thing with short stories and novels and it’s really the best way to read. 🙂 A short story can be a nice break, then I’ll go back to the novel and it feels like I’m paying more attention or appreciating it more because of that break. The weird thing is I don’t like reading two novels at once but I love switching back and forth between short stories and a novel. I haven’t read “Fiction” yet and still have to get to that Alice Monroe short story collection – thanks for reminding me!
I know you’re a big fan of short stores too, Sheila. You’re so right, I don’t like reading two novels at the same time but it’s different when one of the books is a collection of stories. And what a good point about reading a novel with more attention after having read a short story. That’s really true.
I like how you meld your choices together. Quite interesting selection.
Sometimes I read story collections in a short period of time, and then find that I can’t recall the particulars of an individual story. It takes the shape of a novel. I haven’t been reading as much lately, since I’ve been concentrating on writing. I miss it.
That’s happened to me as well, reading too many stories at once and then they melt into one.
All the reading you’ve done is informing your writing and then all of your writing will inform your future reading. Continued luck with your writing!
Letizia Im not a short story gal, I like to read a long and entertaining book that takes me away for a good while. But sometimes I don’t want to say goodbye to the characters. Shorts stories feel like a tease to me. I struggle to have time to read anything lately.
I hear what you’re saying about short stories. Sometimes, with good authors, I find that the prototypes of the characters return in future short stories so even though it’s a different storyline, I recognize a familiar character which is often fun.
I used to love reading short stories, but for some reason, I’ve fallen away from them and I gravitate toward novels instead. Munro’s collection looks really interesting, though. I’ll try to remember to pick that up.
I’m still discovering all of Monroe’s works. Some I really like and others less so, but definitely worth exploring.
Often I avoid reading short stories (even though I write them all the time!) because I don’t like getting all involved and comfy with a character, and then too soon – POOF! – she or he is gone. I like settling in with a story for looooonnnng time. That said, I think your strategy of reading a short story in a book, then going on to something else before reading the next short story, is smart. I’ll try that.
It’s funny, someone else said that too, about not having the time to connect with a character. It really highlights how that’s an important part of reading.
I’ve been reading more short stories and novellas. So much easier to find the time and I’m amazed by who writers are able to craft tight stories with few words.
I know, I admire a good short story so much as there is less room and fewer words to convey the story!
A good strategy perhaps to take in a short story or two between novels. Certainly I find it difficult to transition immediately between authors’ writing styles. (Note to self – must get on with building my short story collection.)
Finding a good short story collection is such a joy and rarer than finding good novels, I find.
Did you ever read Dianne Gray’s collection? Very good and worth getting.
Yes, I have. I agree, she’s a good writer.
I don’t often read collections of short stories, even though I write them! They certainly don’t seem to be as popular in the UK as they are in, say, the US – I’m not sure why. I do have a couple of collections to read though – including Too Much Happiness. My favourite short story collection is Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
I’ll have to look into Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, not familiar with that one.
I’ve always got several things on the go!
A book juggler 🙂
Ironically, I brought over my British and American anthology found in the free bin. Doesn’t even have a ISBN it’s so old. Chock full of great stories followed by sections exploring theme, setting, plot, etc., obviously an old textbook–right up my alley!
What a great find! It’s fascinating what can be found in those free bins!
I’m not a big fan of short stories, but when I do read them I do the same as you. Somehow I stopped getting emails on your post. I hope I’ve corrected the problem. I knew something was missing in my summer– it was you, Letizia
That’s happened to me with some blogs too in the past. A WordPress mystery!
Thanks for the tweets and hope you’re having a great summer my friend!
I’m an Alice Munroe fan too! Short stories are great when you just want short reads or I’ll even get an ebook of a short story sometimes that I can devour in one sitting 😉
They really are. It’s an art form in itself. I admire authors who can write them!