Addicted to Short Stories

by Rachel Baker on January 4, 2011

Over the last few months, I have rediscovered the short story (thank you Kindle).  One of the classes I took in college was primarily based on the short story and well, frankly, it was a grueling class.  We didn’t read just one short story a day, we had to read four in two days, then write a paper. I’m certainly not opposed to reading so much in so short a time, or writing about what I’ve read.  Recently though, I’ve realized the format of the class left little appreciation for the short story.  When I completed the class, I just didn’t have any desire to ever read a short story…ever. Short stories were for academic purposes and nothing more.  Silly me.

One of the things I promised myself when I got the Kindle was that I would take full advantage of the available free books.  Little did I know this promise would be so fulfilling.  I have read few novels, bought even fewer (four books out of three-hundred), and have had something to new to read every single day.

Just as a point of reference, here are the novels I’ve read on my kindle – because I’d shied away from Jane Austin (Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice), I read two of her novels.  I read The Paradise War by Stephen R. Lawhead, Merlin’s Harp by Anne Eliot Crompton, and Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange. And I just finished ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Everything else has been short fiction.  And I’ve LOVED it!

From O. Henry to Jack London, from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Henry Rider Haggard, and from L. Frank Baum to Stephen King, I’ve become addicted to short stories.  They can be read in a couple of hours, or they can last two days. It matters not what the story is about – I’m addicted.

One of the things I like about Stephen King novels is a reader can be COMPLETELY immersed in the story – no matter how bizarre.  Even though ‘Salem’s Lot (just finished reading last night) isn’t close to the top on my King favorites, I could almost smell the nasty rotting air in the Marston House when Mark and Susan were climbing through the window. And more importantly, when I went upstairs to look out the window to see what some racket was outside, it was completely dark and I had a moment of vague fear walking into a totally dark upstairs area.

In the same way, I was incredibly thirsty when Allan Quartermain traversed the desert in King Solomon’s Mines; and I felt the wife’s urgent desire to get her husband something in The Gift of the Magi.  Likewise, I couldn’t help but feel the awe and wonder of the Pan Americans when they landed on England’s coasts and found nothing but wild animals in The Lost Continent.  And I wanted to nothing more than to spend the rest of time down with the mermaids in Sea Fairies.

Short Stories are everything one could want and more. I feel the exact same way when I finish one of them as I do finishing a novel.  A sense of fulfillment, a sense of delight, a sense of completion, and happily a sense of addiction.  I’m like a heroin addict looking for the next fix. I have downloaded all the Haggard, Burroughs, Lang, Maupassant and Blackwood I can get my hands on. I’ve downloaded a few of the Stephen King short story collections – and guess what? I think I may actually like them better for a completely different reason than I like his novels.

Short stories are a different kind of writing and a different kind of reading.  In the writing sense, there doesn’t have to be a formula.  In the reading sense, all your questions are answered in a short amount of time, so there’s no dwelling on what isn’t going to be answered until the end.  I think the greatest part of a short story for me though is the writer has plopped the reader right in the middle of the journey.  There’s little buildup to the journey, and there’s little narrative afterward that muddles up the experience of the journey.  I love the journey and sometimes, the buildup and the endgame are just not satisfying to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love the way a character may or may not change from the beginning of a novel to the end, and I love the way supporting characters may affect the decisions made while the main character is dealing with the crisis; but sometimes…sometimes, there’s just nothing as important as the journey through the beginning of the crisis to the end of the climax of a story.

If you haven’t read short stories since school, I’d like to recommend you stick your toe in and see if the water is still cold.  A word of caution, the water may appear cold, but if you jump right into the deep end, it will most likely warm up before you surface again.

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