The Challenge of Short Stories

I can never decide if I like short stories. Wait, it’s more like I don’t know if I like collections of short stories. Short stories by themselves are just fine.

I just don’t know how I’m supposed to read collections.

A generic image of my books. Short stories may or may not be present in the photo.

This year I read “Other People We Married” by Emma Straub. Some of the stories were good; some were just ok. None were that memorable. As I type this post, I can’t recall details of any of them.

On the other hand, I remember all of the 4 stories in Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars.” “1922,” the lead-off story, has the strongest hold on my memory.

I picked up Karen Russell’s “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” sometime last year. “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” peaked my interest enough that I went on to read “Swamplandia” and really liked it. My problem with the short story collection was that after a while, the stories felt more like writing exercises than a complete story.

Short story collections seem to be hit or miss for me. I wonder if it’s how I approach them.

Are these collections meant to be savored? Reading only one story every couple of days so it has time to marinate in your mind before you move on to the next one?

Should I read several stories in a row without a break? Just enjoying the author’s style and maybe seeing connections between stories?

I’m not sure.

I read King straight through, although it was a “train” book so it was interrupted by train naps and work and wasn’t read at home. I did the same with Russell and Straub, although they were read at home in chunks.

Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten tired of Russell’s approach if I parsed out the stories. Maybe I’d remember more of Straub’s stories if I’d allowed each one to take up residence in my head without the next tenant banging on the door.

What do you do? And does the approach differ based on whether you’re reading a collection written by one author or a collection of different authors?

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2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Short Stories

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