TSS: Short Stories

Good morning ya'll. I planned on using this Sunday Salon to post my recent vacay pictures, but since returning on Friday, I've done nothing but errands. (What? You mean gnomes don't magically appear and go grocery shopping for ya? Sheesh.)

So I thought I'd blab about another topic that I've been mulling over. First things first. A bit of up front honesty:

I don't like short stories.

Whew. I said it. Plain and simple. I generally will not pick up a book that says somewhere in the title "collection of short...." I run for the hills, unless it's say someone as dreamy as John Green or David Leviathan. Yes, only then I might reconsider. But on a normal day? Nope. Nada. No Way. Watch me run.

Here's why. They just aren't fulfilling enough for me. I want more. I never fully feel satisfied. I want fully developed characters. And you know what? Even if the writer is so phenom that the characters *are* developed I want MORE of THEM.

In the classroom, I rarely teach from short stories.(1) I use novels each quarter to focus in on the literary elements and grammar. (I do a fairy tale unit as well, but don't really truly consider them short stories.) I also use stations, which is very conducive to the whole novel teaching.

Now in a department meeting one of my colleagues (and one that I respect, for that matter) said that he'd be reluctant to give up teaching short stories. That they have merit.

Obviously I am missing something.

So I ask you folks, in your opinion, what merit does the short story have? And if you're like me and you hardly read shorts, well, reassure me and tell me what you don't prefer them!


  1. I like short stories because, with less space, the writer is challenged to make a point succinctly, and I like seeing how this is done. I remember reading James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in high school and feeling as though, in that handful of words, I had all I needed to understand Walter's entire existence. Or the image of the dying elephant in George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant. In such a short piece, Orwell created such a vivid picture of an animal, a man, and of the relationship between two different cultures. Even though I like short stories, however, I tend to read only one here and there. If I try to commit to a whole book, I end up feeling as you do, wanting more.

  2. I like very few short stories, and only a few of them at a time. I agree with you: there's not enough there there. If I want economy of style I'll read a poem.

  3. I find that I am more polarized on short stories: I love them or I hate them on an individual basis. Rarely do I feel neutral about one.

  4. I always liked reading short stories and discussing them while in college but now, on my own, nah. They aren't satisfying to me either and I don't feel like I get the full effect of the story on my own (wrote about Sparknotes on my Sunday Salon--not many sparknotes for short stories!). I have many short story collections but just can't seem to make time for them.

    So--you're not alone. :) Hope you're having a lovely Sunday.

  5. Happy Sunday Salon!

    I both dislike short stories and love them. I'll explain. I love the really really good short stories. The ones that have a short story to tell and no more. I'm thinking of greats like "A Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl and "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates, etc. The masterpieces.

    I dislike, for the most part, short story collections, because I find them to be extremely uneven. And not everyone can pull off a short story.

    So, I understand your position, but I'll keep reading only those short stories that stand the test of time. I good one I read recently in the Summer Fiction issue of The New Yorker is "Here We Aren't, So Quickly," by Jonathan Safran Foer.

  6. I used to hate short stories as a general rule until I found GOOD short stories and realized that there is merit in them! I still despise short story anthologies for the most part though. Those collections with a bunch of different authors...though I recently read Stories ed. by Gaiman and it was really good.

    If you ever do want to try an excellent collection by one author though, I'd recommend any of Neil Gaiman's short story collections (Smoke and Mirrors is my favorite) Or Come to Me by Amy Bloom is fantastic!!!

  7. It's all about the stories. Many are horrible, unfulfilling, as if it's just a scene from a larger work or as if it's an outline for a novel. But there are some short stories that are amazing and beautiful. Kafka writes amazing shorts. I just read my first Jhumpa Lahiri collection and ti was the first time I'd ever been satisfied with modern short stories. I loved The Machine Stops by EM Forster. There are definitely good ways of doing short stories and bad ways. Personally, I hate collections. I like individual stories.

  8. I am an English teacher as well :) --- and while my personal preference is for a longer novel where the characters can be richly developed, I do teach about two or three short stories at the beginning of the school year to educate students on the elements of fiction. I expect them to annotate the novels we read and to share personal insights with the rest of the class; the short story allows us to do this together in a concise period of time.

    I would love to hear more about your fairy tale unit. I also do a brief unit at the beginning of the year prior to teaching Tuck Everlasting.

  9. Charley - I agree with you wholeheartedly that the author has to be precise. Perhaps I have not read enough *good* short stories. I'll look for the ones you mentioned.

    Jenny - Yay! Another person in my corner.

    Trisha - That makes sense. Perhaps I haven't read enough short stories to come up with a fair verdict?

    Jessica - Great! More suggestions. I'll definitely read the ones that everyone has mentioned. Do you dislike all story collections or just the ones with different authors?

    Chris - I think that's the common theme here. Excellent shorts are hard to find, but when you find them - WOW. :)

    Amanda - Like Jessica, do you hate collections by the same author or by mixed authors or all?

    Molly - Yay! I love running into other English teachers. What grade do you teach? (Oh and I'm so envious of you teaching Tuck!!) My lessons/unit is in my classroom. Once school begins I'll be happy to e-mail you with what I have. :)

  10. I do novels in some classes and short stories in others. I would be iffy about letting short stories go in my intro classes because I feel students deal with the chewable pieces much better than novels. I have a tried and true list of them that I like to use: "A Rose for Emily," "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains," "Good Country People." And honestly, I use these because they're really twisted and conducive to teaching lit terms. I bring the twisted stories to my students because then I can avoid the "Literature is boring and flowery" comments. lol

    In my personal life, I do enjoy reading short story collections, but I space them out A LOT.

  11. For me, it depends on the story being told.

    There are some novels I've read that I tut tut and think, This should have been a short story. Then there are some short stories that make me think, This should have been a full length novel...or at very least a novella.

    It also depends on the flavor of story a reader enjoys, for instance, science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, character studies, horror, drama, etc. There are short stories to sate any palate, but the key is finding a good one.

    One story I make a habit of reading each year is 'Lottery' by Shirley Jackson; it's a shade of disturbing that I can't properly paint. As far as anthologies go, they can be hit or miss, but you may want to look into a book called 'Single Scene Short Stories' edited by Margaret Bishop which features a few excellent shorts.

  12. I don't like reading short stories for pleasure, but think they are valuable in the classroom.


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