Adventures in Reading

Short Story Marathon

When I have the opportunity, I try to browse and update my links list as regularly as possible. However, as I am still without the Internet at home it’s an anticipated rarity to find the additional hour or two that allows me to sink my teeth into my fellow blogger’s writings. What has caught my attention most recently was a review by Book Nut in regards to Jhumpa Lahiri’s last collection of short stories: Interpreter of Maladies. Specifically what toyed with my interest was Book Nut and her commenter’s experiences with short stories.

I for one adore short stories. There’s just something about them… I confess that I often find myself in a small crowd, if not entirely alone, after admitting this. In my experience, many people find short stories unsatisfying, too brief, and/or lacking the wave of familiar novel plot development [1]. ‘Til now my usual comment has been that short stories seem to be for some people and not for others. With this recent post I have found myself with a particular interest in short stories and have finally stumbled onto (what I believe is) a solution for my reading block: a short story marathon.

I’m going to try and read one and only one short story in roughly a day. I will take my time with it. Like a cup of chai tea, I will breathe in the aromatic warmth, sip it slowly to tango with my taste buds, and a la Folgers savor it to the last drop. (And then manifest a way to regurgitate it and read it again.) In addition, I raided my university library for criticisms, discussion, and other related matters on the short story as a form of writing. Kicking off this marathon I have What is the short story? by Eugene Current-García and a delightful (and long) quote from Washington Irving “on style and purpose in the short story”:

I fancy much of what I value myself upon in writing, escapes the observation of the great mass of my readers, who are intent more upon the story than the way in which it is told. For my part, I consider a story merely as a frame on which to stretch my materials. It is the play of thought, and sentiment, and language; the weaving in of characters, lightly, yet expressively delineated; the familiar and faithful exhibition of scenes in common life; and the half-concealed vein of humor that is often playing through the whole, –these are among what I aim at, and upon which I felicitate myself in proportion as I think I succeed. I have preferred adopting the mode of sketches and short tales rather than long works, because I choose to take a line of writing peculiar to myself, rather than fall into the manner or school of any other writer; and there is a constant activity of thought and a nicety of execution required in writings of the kind, more than the world appears to imagine. It is comparatively easy to swell a story to any size when you have once the scheme and the characters in your mind; the mere interest of the story, too, carries the reader on through pages and pages of careless writing, and the author may often be dull for half a volume at a time, if he has some striking scene at the end of it; but in these shorter writings, every page must have its merit. The author must be continually piquant; woe to him if he makes an awkward sentence or writes a stupid page; the critics are sure to pounce upon it. Yet if he succeed, the very variety and piquancy of his writings –nay, their very brevity, make them frequently recurred to, and when the more interest of the story is exhausted, he begins to get credit for his touches of pathos or humor; his points of wit or turns of language. I give these as some of the reasons that have induced me to keep on thus far in the way I had opened for myself… (Italics are mine.)

[1] I probably have left a great deal of other comments off this list, but I’m only getting started!

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