On Short Stories

As I usually do each summer, I go on a “reading rampage” (i.e., read as many books as possible before the school year begins). This summer, I  read 19 books, which might not sound like much, but I read a couple of short-story collections that were pretty hefty (one at nearly 900 pages, another at 500). By my calculations, I read well over 200 short stories this summer. I’d have to say that’s my favorite form, at present, to both read and write. The challenge(s) for the writer, the reward(s) for the reader(s)–all are so wonderful.

I savored Ray Bradbury’s Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrate Tales, Donald Barthelme’s Forty Stories, Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories, Phil Klay’s Redployment, and Larry Woiwode’s The Neumiller Stories. There were also the weekly stories from The New Yorker.

When the school year began four weeks ago, I set a goal of reading one short story a day. So far I’ve read War Dances by Sherman Alexie, and in addition to more New Yorker stories I’ve been finding great pieces in my two favorite literary journals: South Dakota Review and Mid-American Review.

Now that I’m entering my fifth year as a full-time English professor, the rhythms of the semester are less conducive for entering the world of novels, especially if I don’t read one for a few days and then attempt to return to that highly developed world. Short stories, by contrast, allow me to spend ten, fifteen, thirty minutes in a fictional world and then leave it.

A short story is a 5k or maybe a 10k, while a novel is a marathon, and having run a few of the former, and three of the later, the commitment of time (and mental concentration) is drastically different. (To be clear, I do love all of the lengths of both things I’m comparing.)

And as a writer, I’ve drafted three different novels (#1 was one draft, #2 was four drafts, and #3 was one draft), but so many more stories. As a way to tap into the scope available to the novelist, I create stories that feature recurring characters and settings. (See my earlier posts–#1 and #2–about my summer writing project.) That interconnectedness provides a seemingly endless opportunity of future stories.

Who are my favorite short-story writers? Here’s a non-alphabetized and non-ordered list to conclude the post:

  • Richard Ford
  • Raymond Carver
  • Ron Carlson
  • Donald Barthelme
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Ann Beattie
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Rick Bass
  • Tobias Wolff
  • Ernest Heminway
  • Ray Bradbury
  • T. C. Boyle
  • Tim O’Brien

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