Coming Around to Short Stories

Did you know that May is Short Story Month? I think this is the first year I’m actually excited by the thought of a month dedicated to the format. While I’m not turning over all my reading, I do hope to read a little more than normal and share some of my favorites. Reaching the point of loving short stories was a slow journey over the last two years or so and actually started with finding the right amount of weird at the right time. In fact, if we put some of the books I read on a Weird-o-Meter, they would span from quite normal to super crazy.

Short Story WeirdoMeter

Collections like Tenth of December by George Saunders and Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich, which reach peak absurdity on the Weird-O-Meter, were some of the first to win me over. After trying and failing with several more straightforward short stories, Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress had more than enough oddity to keep me engaged. I thought super weird was the only thing that would work for me, but collections like The Tsar of Love and Techno, In the Country, Almost Famous Women, and Beneath the Bonfire showed me that deeply linked stories and vivid settings also take the cake.

Have you figured out what makes you love a short story collection? Do you think it just takes time to get used to the format?

 

  • I didn’t realize May was short story month! That’s new to me. Why didn’t I realize that Tzar was a short story collection? Had it just left my mind? Senility is kicking in, finally, I guess. I’ve wanted to read Almost Famous Women since last year but still haven’t added it.

  • I love short stories. I like magical realism and stories that are strange, but not so strange that I don’t understand them. Stone Mattress was one of my favorite short story collections that I read last year.

    • I think I fit right in that space, too – once they start to get *too* insane, I have a hard time (at least if the whole collection is that way).

  • I like my short stories to have some ‘weird’ or ‘quirk’ in them. I also like linked stories – they feel closer to a novel. But, really, I think I could like any if the writing is good and they are done right. Because I like Alice Munro’s short stories, and they are usually about ordinary people’s lives. One I loved last year (in case anyone’s looking for suggestions) is Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome by Megan Gail Coles.

    • Alice Munro is a good example of writing just working. I wasn’t sure I’d like her stories, but I really enjoyed the one collection I read.

  • I didn’t realize May was short story month! I agree with you on the linking and vivid settings. And, rather than super weird for me, I think I like it when stories are about mundane daily life on the surface, but have dark undertones or bombs dropped unexpectedly (Why They Run the Way They Do). Given your affinity for weirdness, Some Possible Solutions might work better for you! Some of those stories were so weird I just didn’t get them. But some were delightfully weird and totally made sense.

    • Definitely looking forward to Some Possible Solutions! I don’t mind a mix like that as long as I can make sense of most of the stories.

  • I tend to like short stories with a heart dose of weirdness; Karen Russell was probably my first short short story love. But I also really dug Almost Famous Women and The Tsar of Love and Techno!

    • Weird definitely helped me learn to love them. I can’t believe I haven’t read Karen Russell yet – I have her on my shelves!

      • Girl, you NEED Karen Russell in your life. I think you’d love St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

  • I love short stories. I think there are several reasons behind it, but perhaps the foremost reason (at the moment) is that I can sit down and read the whole thing at once. It fits with my current state of life/attention. I’m pretty all over the board with the kind of stories I like, but I do love a good dose of weird and a deep sense of place (and I’m partial to rural areas). If you haven’t looked into them, you might really enjoy The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Sommerville and The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Incidentally, although they are both good, they also have really fabulous covers.

    • I definitely have Breece D’J Pancake on my list! The Literary Disco episode made me want to read him very soon :)

  • Kailana

    I was doing really well reading a short story in the morning with my coffee, but then my schedule changed and I am struggling again. Hopefully I can get back on track this month!

  • Rachel Rooney

    I am reading Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours right now, and I am having mixed feelings. I think there is a thing as too weird for me, and I am a little disappointed in myself. One of my absolute favorite short stories is “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”. It was one of the first weird stories that I ever read.

  • Girl, you know how I feel and love that a month is dedicated to shorts. Unlike novels, I’m always open to try something new in short story format. If I don’t like the tone or writing, I can put it down and move on and not feel like I gave up on a novel. As far as preference I agree that weird and quirky is fun but also like stories about ordinary people with relatable experiences. You Should Pity Us Instead had such a mix of weird, human heart, and familial relationships that I can’t stop thinking about it.

  • Interesting question. I have historically had a rough time with shorts, but I’m getting better. I’m not sure why, other than I’m reading more of them outside crime fiction and collections by one author rather than an anthology. So I guess maybe a similar style or some continuity even if the stories aren’t linked helps me. I don’t need linked, but a shared theme, or location, or a few overlapping characters is something I enjoy. I’m not sure I’m in for weird, but I’m that way with my full-length reading as well. Do you think Tsar would be good on audio? Tough question, I know.

  • Amanda

    I’m totally hit or miss and I don’t know what it is that works for me all the time. Weird definitely helps. I quit on the Tenth of December – I now feel some guilt! I adored Almost Famous Women! Mothers Tell Your Daughters was excellent but brutal. Karen Russell is on my list to try too.

    • Tenth of December is definitely a weird one! Maybe just a little too weird for ya. I need to get to Mothers Tell Your Daughters.

  • Rebecca Foster

    I couldn’t make it through Karen Russell’s stories. If you like that sort of weird, I’ve heard Kelly Link is similar. I, too, have really enjoyed some linked story collections recently. If you don’t already know them, I think you’d like Wells Tower’s and David James Poissant’s collections. I can also wholeheartedly recommend Elizabeth McCracken and T.C. Boyle for short stories.

  • Okay, so I’ve already tweeted you about reading this post last night; I’m excited for you to begin Some Possible Solutions! I’ve heard so many people say that they don’t enjoy short stories, or that they have trouble with them; I think it really does have a lot to do with the format. I love them!

  • I’m also slowly (but surely) coming around to appreciating short stories. And I absolutely adored The Tsar of Love and Techno. I’m finding that I can’t adequately describe just what makes it so special, and whenever I recommend it to my friends I’m pretty sure I end up sounding all fan-girl and a blubbering fool. But I’m glad you included it (I read it because I was moved by A Constellation of Vital Phenomena).