Dispatches | April 23, 2014
Short and Sweet
I’ve always read novels because as a child that was what I found in the library. Well, when I first started they were slightly shorter children’s novels but novels nonetheless. Short stories for me were dull things I had to study in English class, chosen not so much for their entertainment value but their convenience of teaching literary techniques to teenagers alongside the even less appreciated classical poetry. Yet I had an epiphany about two years ago: a short story is actually more than just the sum of its metaphors and alliteration; it’s a story as entertaining as any novel.
Okay so this may not be the greatest revelation to most people reading this blog post, or even to me really; I have always loved stories in all their forms and shouldn’t have been put off by the shorter ones. I’m certainly not the only one who found studying some of the greatest works of literature in school to be one of the biggest tortures a 14 year old could endure because if you tell someone what is good and why they should think it’s good a lot of people are going to do the opposite. The only way I came to love most literature was when I thought I had found it for myself and the same happened with short stories. I started reading everything Neil Gaiman has ever written a few years ago — his novels, his graphic novels and eventually made it to his short stories. Reading his Conan-Doyle-esque short story ‘A Study in Emerald’ at the height of my addiction to the BBC’s Sherlock certainly helped me see that great stores can be succinct. It really shouldn’t be a shock that I enjoyed them as much I had his other work. So from there, I tried other authors I had enjoyed, like Diana Wynne Jones, before trying some authors new to me like George Saunders and the rest of the short story elite, and still liked it, I got the same usual joy of reading but without the dead arms from carrying a 400-page book. Since, I have voluntarily taken a creative writing class centered on short stories and now read about 20 a week (fiction and non-fiction) as an intern at The Missouri Review; I guess I’m converted.
I’m coming to value the short story more as my life fills up with more places I have to be and people I have to see. It takes me three times as long to read a book as it used to, and it’s only when I am on vacation that I make any headway through my “To Read” list. The convenience of being able to fully embrace a story from start to end in one commuter trip, no more forgetting what happened the last time you had a moment to read or never quite making it to the end, would make anyone happy, (except maybe bookmark manufacturers!)
I see short stories as a new way to get my literature fix but they’re unlikely to replace my novel addiction entirely. I may be a little late to the party of short stories but it seems the terrors of taught literature do fade in time so I guess there’s hope even for classical poetry in my life.
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