I immediately created a list of reasons why I love short stories.
In Defense of Short Stories
- Short stories are just that: short. I don’t feel guilty about investing my time or asking someone to set aside the portion of time it takes to finish one. If you don’t like it, it’s no big loss.
- You get to know the author, not just the characters. In a novel, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the author’s voice from the characters’ points of view. Within a short story collection, common themes, writing styles, perspectives, and other threads between the stories reveal more of the author.
- Short stories usually capture a single scene or character, creating a saturated poignancy that doesn’t always occur in novels. Novels have the luxury of building up to a climax in hundreds of pages, while short stories need to make you care in a fraction of the space. When done well, the result can be striking.
My affinity for short stories originated in school; we all read “The Lottery,” and “The Gift of the Magi” in middle and high school. I enjoyed these stories, subsequently purchased a collection of selected O. Henry stories, and from that point on would recommend “The Last Leaf” to anyone who asked (or didn’t ask) for a quick read.
In college, my Recent Writings class included a variety of short stories, all touching on themes of loss or longing. In this class, I was immersed in the melancholy of Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter” and the wistful yearnings of “Lunch with My Daughter,” by John Biguenet.
Millhauser’s “Clair de Lune” and “The Knife Thrower.” Keret’s “Fatso” and “Glittery Eyes” and “More Life.” Bloom’s “A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.” Puchner’s “Children of God.” Each beautiful in its own way.
The distinct voice of Eric Puchner’s narrator in “Essay #3: Leda and the Swan” prompted me to read the rest of the Music Through the Floor collection, which remains one of my all-time favorites. (It also helped that my professor let me keep a copy. Thanks, Ray.)
I’ve gone on to complete Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies as well. Just like middle school Erika would, I recommend this and Music Through the Floor to anyone who will listen. Emma Donoghue’s Touchy Subjects and Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress are other favorites.
So, why do I want everyone I know to experience these stories — because let’s be honest, I must want everyone to read them; otherwise, why would I construct a post that’s essentially just a bunch of authors and titles that I enjoy?
Simply refer to my list above. Digestible, revealing of the author, and often poignant, short stories are the perfect way to ease into reading, try a new author, and engage with a story.
So, if you have the time and desire, read on! This list of collections, which includes all the stories in this post, is a great place to start:
- Music Through the Floor, Eric Puchner
- Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
- Touchy Subjects, Emma Donoghue
- A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You: Stories, Amy Bloom
- The Knife Thrower and Other Stories, Steven Millhauser
- The Torturer’s Apprentice: Stories, John Biguenet
- The Nimrod Flipout: Stories, Etgar Keret
- Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood
- The Best Short Stories of O. Henry, O. Henry