How do you read Short Stories?

This month, short story month, has been a new and intriguing experience for me.

I, like many of our readers (we have noticed the lower hits!), have never really been that into short stories. Sure, I like fairy tales and myth, but they aren’t quite the same as a whole anthology of 20-40 page stories written by a bunch of different authors (some known and some not). In fact, before this month I don’t think I’d ever read a short story anthology from cover to cover before, only single stories for classes or from online (I’ve read some Neil Gaiman short stories, for instance) but a whole book? Never.

To date now, I’ve read a small, but a fairly varied selection…

In every one of these books there were stories that riveted me (and not always by the headlining author) and there were stories that were just good or O.K. But there was always at least one story that (to be brutally honest) that was just terrible i.e., not on theme, not fully rounded out (plot, characters, pacing), badly written/illustrated and even, at times, too critical and mocking of the form itself (see: Gregory Maguire’s dialect and story in After for an example). The art of the short story is so tricky, it has to come full circle and have a well developped concept or character or plot (or all) and well, it has the expectations as a novel only in less space – which, to me, sounds terrifying.

These anthologies are just curious creatures. And I still have no idea how to tackle them.

They are these shambling masses of a cobbled together theme. In a way they are wonderful and inspiring because they contain so many contrasting interpretations of ideas (my mind if still wondering what I would write for After or Diverse Energies for example) making them interesting writing prompt and classroom tools. They also introduce authors, meant to be paired with similar authors, to readers (I know that I’ve met a few!). Furthermore, they give new and upcoming authors a chance at publications as well, and at experience with the editing and publishing world and process. Yet, on the reverse, they are terribly hard to get published and to sell – probably because what is within them is of such variable quality.

Then, of course there are the short story anthologies created by a single author which have a kind of cohesion that a collection just cannot (kind of like a picturebook created by an author/illustrator as opposed to an author being paired to an illustrator and never speaking).

There is a cohesion that is just so appealing to these few and far between collections. While I enjoy reading them cover to cover a lot more, I also find that they lack a little spark, because they come from one mind and they tell a very rounded story there is no diversity in intention and creativity – I guess, in a way, they are less inspiring.

What I really wanted to post about today was actually a posting of a question.

How do you guys read short stories?

Do you read from cover to cover? Do you read only the stories you are interested in, or only those by an author you know? Do you skip a story after a certain point?

And, if you do, why do you read short stories? Why not? Do you, or would you, prefer anthologies by one author, or by a collection of authors?

I, traditional book lover that I am, read from cover to cover. I can’t help it. It feels wrong to skip ahead. I will admit to skimming once I realize that don’t care for a story, but I still read it out. I am a little torn on which kind of anthology I enjoy more, I think, for a reading experience I really enjoy the anthologies by one author, but in terms of thought provoking and interest (despite the bad, because sometimes you read a bad story and go… “that could have been SO MUCH BETTER!” and in that way the story was actually, kind of good) I think I’m leaning towards the collections of stories by various authors.

🙂 Cheers guys and thanks for joining us for short story month!

  • My anthology of short stories is anti-theme so I’m just hoping there is a cohesion in my writing style!
    I have a tendency to read cover to cover the first time, rushing through stories I don’t particularly enjoy, and then I subsequently just reread the stories I liked.

    I enjoy both types of books, so I’m not any help there. I actually ‘met’ two of my favorite authors as they were the fillers in short story anthologies.

  • I generally like to get fully immersed in a world, and short stories aren’t long enough! That said, I have loved all of the Star Wars Tales series (Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina; Tales from Jabba’s Palace; etc). I think the difference is that these stories all give backstory to a fixed point in time. Why is the Max Rebo band playing for Jabba? Did you know the Rancor keeper raised the creature from a baby? The twins who are not really twins in the Mos Eisley Cantina–those are not the Tonnika sisters, they’re imposters! So, having a world already that I recognize and love, it was easy to love these short stories as well.

    • Cool!

      I haven’t read these stories, but it does make sense that big established world’s would have short stories and snippets of description and character.

      I’ll look into that!

  • To be honest, I have never been really into short stories unless it was for school. But I do think they are interesting and maybe I should read more. If I did read short stories, I’d probably read cover to cover, too, so that I don’t miss any good stories!!

  • I’ve enjoyed short story magazines and anthologies in the mystery/suspense genre for several decades. I will read the first few sentences of each story. It needs to grab me right away, or I’ll skip on to the next story. Sometimes I will keep reading anyway, but only if the premise of the story is so intriguing to me that I’m willing to slog through some more of it to get to something that holds on to me. What I love about a well-written short story is that it packs a lot of information and emotion into a minimum of words. Not every writer can effectively do that.

    • It is so hard to write a short story! I mean, when I read them I require so much from them: strong writing, a good full arc (I want the beginning to lead to the end) and the development of character or setting or both. That is a tall order from a story of only 20 pages or so.
      Still, when an author really pulls it off it is so enjoyable!
      Thanks for your comment! Too true.

  • I try to read cover to cover but will skip ahead if a particular story and I don’t gel well. I come back and try to read the stories I skip again to judge if it was just my mood. I’ve discovered some amazing writers through short stories and I love the stories that linger on in my mind (its always a mixed bag but its worth it.) I recently took a Japanese literature class so I’m lamenting over how there are some amazing short stories that haven’t been translated & published yet.

  • mrsladynofohio

    I love short stories.

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  • I just recently made the jump into reading short stories and, much to my surprise, I’m loving it! I’m definitely a cover-to-cover reader, though if I’m reading an anthology and spot a favorite author, I might skip ahead a bit.

  • I’ve actually never read an anthology all the way through. I enjoy short stories though, a lot. I like to be able to sit down and finish a story in one sitting as well as having a story last a few hours. But short stories, if written well, tend to be my preference.

    • I think perhaps that’s just the way short stories are.

      A whole anthology might just ruin the intended effect. Reading a whole book of short stories from front to back was kind of tiring and it meant that I inevitably stumbled on a story or two that I just didn’t like amid a couple that were ok and a couple that were stellar.

      The short story anthology is an interesting concept…