Praise for the Short Story

I'll never forget the look and feel of the textbook from the class on short stories I took in high school.  It was small, thick but light (cheap paper, I'm sure), and its cover was green and battered.  No cover art, just these two words:  Short Stories.  I'm sure it was out-of-date by the time I took the class, and yet the stories I read in 1987 have stayed with me all this time:  The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Turkey Red by Edward O'Brien, A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, The Big Two-Hearted River by Ernest Hemingway.

Since then, the list of short stories that stay with me has ever grown:  The Dead by James Joyce, A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates, Weekend by Ann Beattie, How to Win by Rosellen Brown, Gesturing by John Updike, Boys by Rick Moody, and most recently A Tiny Feast by Chris Adrian, and the Olive Kitteredge stories by Elizabeth Strout.

There are many others that I can no longer remember the title of, or the author's name, but whose scenes and characters stuck to me like glue and still knock on the door of my thoughts time after time.

Reader, I am moved to sing the praises of this under-appreciated art form: the short story.  My sense is that it was once considered an apprentice form -- if you showed your proficiency in the short story form, you might soon be ready to write a real work of art, a novel -- but that it has gained status as an art form in itself.  Still, a really good short story collection rarely gets the press and praise of the next Great American Novel, and the next, and the next.  Personally, I have read more utterly forgettable novels than I even care to think about, but have rarely been disappointed by the brief window into one slice of the world contained in a short story.  And even when I have been less-than-wowed by a short story, my investment has been small enough -- a half hour or so -- that I don't resent the author for wasting my time nearly as much as I do when I wrap up the final pages of a so-so novel.

Not to stress you out or anything, but you might be starting to think about your holiday shopping?  As you seek out gifts for the readers in your life, don't forget the short story collection as a possible gift.  There is always the "Best American" series, an anthology of the best american short stories of each year selected from a wide range of literary journals.  There is the granddaddy of that series, The Best American Stories of the Century.  The New Yorker has compiled an anthology of short stories by their "20 Under 40" up-and-coming fiction writers.  Thomas Lynch has a new collection of stories out, Apparition and Late Fictions, and all of Ann Beattie's New Yorker stories have been anthologized in The New Yorker Stories.  I happen to love Alice Munro's short stories; her most recent collection is Too Much Happiness.

If you have a short story (or a few) that have stuck to you like glue, or a favorite collection of stories, I invite you to share them in Comments.


Ms. WK said...

oh, praise be!
From CMHS, "The Most Dangerous Game", "Contents of a Dead Man's Pocket", and "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall"
From my teaching experience: "The Yellow Wallpaper" "Shooting an Elephant", "The Story of an Hour", "Searching for Sun", "A Sound of Thunder" and "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge"

Thanks for the reminder!

drew said...

I love a good short story collection. Thanks for sharing your faves. A few favorites:

- Self Help, by Lorrie Moore (and everything else she has written)

- Death is Not an Option, by Suzanne Rivecca

Molly said...

Ms WK & Drew - thanks for leaving your ideas. Long live the short story!