February 6, 2013

Getting Short

Inspired partly by Books on the Nightstand's Year of the Short Story, I've been reading more short fiction lately. (As it happens, this month's read-along story is "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" by Amy Hempel, which I've loved since high school and would recommend to everyone.)

Reading short stories from various authors and genres is an interesting and useful experience, but I just can't get into short stories the way I do novels. Maybe that's an obvious statement, because there simply isn't as much there to get into. But what I mean is that usually I don't find the short story length satisfying. Either the few pages of the story leave me wishing I could read a longer work focusing on those characters, or there's not enough there to make me care very much.

I know I have read short stories that are rich and well-crafted enough to feel like the perfect length -- "In the Cemetery...", for example, and probably many of the other frequently anthologized stories I read in classes. But it's a rare thing. I remember that after first encountering the Hempel story in the anthology we were using for an English class, I got the collection it appears in, and every other story by the same author left me disappointed.

So I feel as though I'm somewhat lacking an appreciation of short stories as a literary form, which is one reason I've been reading them. And I'm definitely lacking the ability to write short myself. Lately I can't even think up a story idea that would be interesting and short, let alone execute it well.

When I was a teenager, I wrote short stories all the time, though in retrospect many of them were more like opening scenes of novels. I don't know if any of the stories were any good, but at least they must have been based on ideas. I guess now my brain is just too busy generating novel-related ideas to think about unconnected characters in unrelated situations.

Last time I posted about short stories was two years ago. In that post, I resolved to revise and share my most recent short story, from two years before that. I never did get around to that project. I still haven't even looked at the story (which continues to be my most recent). Maybe I'll get to this eventually, but I'm not promising anything this time.

I do promise to let you know about any especially good short fiction I read as the year goes on. And I'd love to get your short story recommendations.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Alan Levinovitz looks at the challenges of making books into movies: "And so, if we accept that books aren't formally superior to movies and adaptations aren't necessarily ruinous, a new question arises: what is it about the process of adapting a book that so often leads to disappointment?"


Ann Kingman said...

Lisa, wonderful post. I used to write short stories as a teen, and my daughter is doing so now. I wonder what it is that makes us get away from the form -- is it too many short stories in English classes that don't quite resonate the way they should? Is it something else?

I've found that I need to completely step back and approach reading short stories differently from novels. That's why my 'short story a day' project is really helping. I feel like I'm learning how to do that, and how to read short stories. I'm paying more attention to sentences, to word choice, to technique. I almost feel like I'm reading like a writer, which is something new to me.

I'd love to read your short story if you decide to post it!


Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks, Ann! Your short story project arrived at a perfect time for me. I was already thinking about wanting to read more short fiction, and this was the inspiration I needed to actually do it. For a few weeks now, I've been reading a short story most mornings, and it's a nice way to start the day.

mamagotcha said...

Uncanny turned me on to Alice Munro and her short story collections. They are really brilliant and thoughtful pieces... if you're not a fan of the genre, she might be able to sway you.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks for the reminder about Alice Munro! I've read and enjoyed a couple of her stories and have been meaning to try more. Do you recommend any particular collection?

mamagotcha said...

And here is where I sheepishly admit that I've only read two of her collections: Too Much Happiness, and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. They were both delicious, and now I need to go find a few more in the library!

Lisa Eckstein said...

I see no reason to be sheepish about that! Thanks for the titles.

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