On Short Stories


Because I need to read more short stories. I really do. There are days when I feel like all I need is a good short story. Just one. You sit down, read it, live in it for a little while and then bam, before you know it, your day is better. Some of the best things I’ve ever read are short stories: Big Blonde by Dorothy Parker, Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff, Foreign Shores by James Salter, I Bought a Little City by Donald Barthelme, and let’s not forget Superfrog Saves Tokyo by Haruki Murakami (a story that need only be mentioned and my heart starts to palpitate and my eyes start to tear, that’s how much I love it, remind me talk about this later). These stories are no less complex or powerful because of the brevity. But these are only a few I can name off the top of my head and even fewer in the rich, long history of short stories. I need to read more short stories, I really do.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “I don’t like short stories”, but I feel like I’ve heard them say it often enough for me to find it puzzling. I don’t like short stories – as if by virtue of being the same short form they are all the same and all inadequate. And I’m not talking about people who say they don’t like reading. They like or even love to read – just not short stories. The length, or lack of it, is viewed as weakness, and some readers are afraid that there isn’t enough space to build a world and fill it with characters or, as I often hear it put, that “the story will end just as we’re getting into it”. Yet even a cursory glance at the history of the short story will tell you that there are worlds of promise waiting for the curious. Plenty of our greatest writers wrote short stories. And the odds that your favorite novelist has at least a collection or two is telling; there are stories that are better explored in the short form. The shortness is not a limit but a kind of discipline. When you read a novel, you might skip a boring chapter or even two. A short story doesn’t have that luxury. A novel might ask the reader for commitment, but in the end it allows you to be more forgiving.

What are some of your favorite short stories? Any short story collections you’d like to recommend? Because I need to read more stories. I really do.

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