If I had my way, there would be a lot of days that I would wake up, get dressed (I realize that it’s a bit weird that I can’t actually be comfortable unless I change out of pajamas into real clothes in the morning) and spend a few hours doing nothing but reading a great long book before I start having an actual day. Obviously, this is entirely unique and you have probably never felt this way yourself, nor have you heard or read of anyone else wanting to do the same thing. Kidding aside, only in a perfect world is this life of absolute leisure a possibility. I still like to read a little mornings, but it’s a bit frustrating getting through less than 30 pages in a sitting every time I open a novel.
And thus, I present to you the wonder of the short story.
Of course, short stories are an art unto themselves. It’s not necessarily any easier to write a really good short story than it is to write an even mediocre full-length book. There’s far less time to develop characters, background and plot, yet the effect should, in the end, be similar. Or not. Sometimes, a short story is wonderful because of all it leaves out, while still managing to maintain the feeling of a complete narrative. I have a vast collection of short story anthologies that are perfect for those times when there’s only maybe 20 minutes to sit down and really read. I can read a whole story in that time, without feeling rushed or wasting precious time flipping back through the pages of a novel to get an idea of where I left off.
The first book of short stories I bought was a few years ago, during a particularly wonderful day spent in the café at the Border’s near my home town. As I’m wont to do, I amassed a huge pile of books—for these purposes, it’s always cookbooks, philosophy, social science-y books, literary criticism, and various types of prose that’s easy to flip through without much concentration. This time, however, I also picked up a massive book of short stories, essays and short non-fiction, solely for it’s title: The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953. Come on, how could you not?
In any case, thus began my love for brief passages of narration—whether it be fiction, essay or otherwise, I love anthologies. The Best American Series (both Short Stories and Non-Required Reading) hold steady and I recently read a collection of re-worked fairytales called My Mother She Killed me, My Father He Ate Me (I tell you, I’m a sucker for titles). I’m a fan also of collected stories by a single author—Julian Barnes’ The Lemon Table, for example, is a book I picked up on a whim, never having read anything by the man before. He’s now one of my favorite authors.
I’ll never give up on the novel—perish the thought!—but when I’m in need of a book to throw in my bag for solace or entertainment during a subway ride or stint in a waiting room, it’ll be a collection of short prose for sure.