Saturday, August 20, 2011

Short Story Saturday: Anthologies, Collections or Stand-Alone Stories?

On my quest to read more short stories, I've found myself reading more collections, as well as more intentionally reading the short stories from The New Yorker. This afternoon, as I sat down to begin Emma Straub's collection of stories, Other People We MarriedI was struck by the title verso page and its details. Of the twelve stories in this volume, seven had been published previously before. That news in and of itself isn't terribly surprising, especially for a young writer, but it got me thinking.

As someone whose short story predilections veer towards interconnected or strongly themes collections, I'm starting to pay more attention to how stories come together. When I started Siobhan Fallon's You Know When the Men Are Gone (my review), I intended to read one story most days, as I'm prone to do. Instead I devoured it like a novel, partially because the stories and characters shared a place and space. Collections from multiple writers, such as the Best American Short Stories series, easily lend themselves to reading one at a time. Telling where story collections from a single writer will fall has proven to be more difficult.

On Literary Monogamy
I'm not one prone to book polygamy. I try to avoid it because I can't help but play favorites and favor one book. I do try to have an audiobook going (currently Anne of Green Gables, which is lovely and nostalgic), but otherwise, I just want to be reading one book at a time. As I deliberately read more short stories, however, I sometimes find myself in a conundrum: is this collection a cohesive whole or not? Should it be the only book I'm reading or can I parse out one story each day?

Where Music Meets Literature
I  still believe the shuffle button on cd players is still one of the greatest inventions ever; MP3 players made my love of shuffling explode. I rarely believe albums should be listened to in order (or even in their entirety.) Mr. Nomadreader, on the other hand, will only purchase entire albums and never individual songs. Meanwhile, I regularly Shazam the songs from television drama montages and instantly purchase them. As a novel-lover, I never saw the connection until recently, but short stories are like songs. Anthologies are a literary mixtape, collections are albums, and The New Yorker is my favorite literary radio station. There's a place for stories in all of these areas. When I begin a collection of stories, I find myself recalling my younger self who would eagerly unwrap a new cd to listen. Would it become a favorite with many wonderful songs, or would only a few stand out? It's difficult to know until I'm invested, but I'm enjoying short stories more, regardless of how I read them, and that is a success.

Now tell me. How do you like your short stories: in anthologies, in collections or a la cart?

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  1. I tend to read short stories in clumps, as part of whatever collection they're in, whether a single-author collection or something like the "Best stories" collections. I'm not sure this is the best approach, but my monogamous tendencies make it hard for me to just read one story and then turn to another book.

  2. I always think that I am going to like anthologies, so I snag them up whenever I see them, but in reality, I think I much prefer collections. Even better, I like collections that have themes and characters that are interconnected and that sort of flow from one to the other, like you mentioned. I have great expectations when it comes to short stories, but a lot of the time they never get realized! I love the observations you make about music and literature!

  3. I admit I'm not a huge short story reader, but when I do read them, I prefer them a la carte. Only because one can be fabulous and the others not so much, but when they're all together I feel as though I need to read ALL of them. I am, however, a book polygamist, so luckily don't get bogged down bybthe aforementioned fact.

    Good post, I like this topic (& am trying to read more short stories lately).

  4. I try to read one book at a time but it NEVER works for me. I end up reading 3-4 at a time and sometimes I do play favorites, but most of the time I am pretty fair to all of them.

    I am choosy when it comes to short stories. I never read them onr right after the other. I tend to read a story and then left several days (if not weeks) pass before reading another in the series. I like to think about them for a while.


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