Less is More!

Short stories have a rich history and many of the renowned authors of sprawling tomes are also famous for their stories: Nathanial Hawthorne, W. Somerset Maugham, and Vladimir Nabokov, just to name a few. Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is 372 pages, Maugham's Of Human Bondage, is a whopping 611 pages and Nabokov's Lolita contains 335 pages. Compared to these novels, the short stories by these same authors are concise and brilliant little gems in which the authors are able to distill lives and emotions into a few dazzling pages. Understated but with an unwavering attention to detail, character based, and dense with apposite ambiance, a good short story can be ingenious in leaving the readers thinking about the story long after they have finished reading it. In some ways, the short story shares a similarity with another literary form: poetry. Just as poetry compresses language and tells us a lot in fewer words, so does a good short story.

The short story could be the perfect literary form for the 21st century, per Sam Baker, writer and editor, who states: "Suddenly, after years out in the cold, the short story finds itself the perfect fit for our attention spans and our mobile devices."Note 1Baker, S. (2014, May 18). The irresistible rise of the short story. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10831961/The-irresistible-rise-of-the-short-story.html We all experience information overload and our lives can be hectic. Too busy, with a hundred different claims to our attention, we may not always have the time to read a lengthy novel but we can always find the time to read a short story.

Furthermore, short stories cater to every reading taste since they are written in all genres. Like to read about cowboys, gunslingers, and stories of the Wild West? May I recommend On Dangerous Ground: Stories of Western Noir edited by Ed Gorman? If tales of intrigue, deception and espionage are your cup of tea, then grab The Book of Spies: An Anthology of Literary Espionage which contains a superb collection of spy stories edited by Alan Furst. Science fiction and fantasy more to your taste? Then check out The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin or Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales. Like to stay up late reading scary stories? Stephen King's Just After Sunset has the perfect collection of eerie, disquieting and fiendishly clever short stories for you. Of course, who can surpass the master of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe? I dare you to read “A Tell-Tale Heart” or the “Fall of the House of Usher” and not be afraid to sleep with the lights off!

I fell in love with the form of the short story when I first read the stories of W. Somerset Maugham. I was fascinated by the unsettling, melancholic and atmospheric tales set in the South Seas. My appetite whetted, I went on to read the master of suburban angst and marital unhappiness, John Cheever, whose elegant prose and epigrammatic style captures perfectly the pathos of ordinary lives. Renowned short story writer and Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro, is another of my favorites. Her stories elevate the mundane and the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Raymond Carver, Isaac Asimov, Flannery O'Connor, John Updike, Wells Tower, George Saunders...there is no dearth of gifted short story writers for a fan of this literary form. Always striving to provide our patrons with the latest and the best in books, I have selected four of our newest, award-winning short story books for our readers.
Short Story Titles
This Angel on My Chest: Stories by Leslie Pietrzyk is a book of sixteen stories, all dealing with universal issues of loss and grief. Based on the author's own experience of suddenly losing her husband at a young age, the backdrop to all the stories in this book is women who have tragically lost their husbands. These well-crafted, heartbreaking, and compelling stories explore all the different ways that we grieve. Sad, but never self-pitying or sappy, these stories will resonate and stay with you long after you have finished the book.

The Best Place on Earth, a debut collection of short stories by Ayelet Tsabari, explores what it is like to be both Arab and Jewish and searching for a place in this world. Told with a deft touch, the characters in these eleven stories struggle with issues of identity and alienation as they try to balance ancient cultural traditions with modern mores. The stories subtly depict the burdens of history. As the characters adapt to a changing landscape, there is the inevitable clash of the old and the new. Ultimately, what comes across most strongly is the inherent human desire to belong. There are no neatly tied-up endings in any of the stories, which mirror real life, where not all of life's vicissitudes can be resolved satisfactorily.

An Unrestored Woman, a debut collection of twelve short stories by Shobha Rao, also portrays the consequences of the forces of history on a group of people. In 1947, an imaginary line was drawn across the Indian subcontinent creating two separate countries, India and Pakistan. The lingering effects of this action, the event commonly known as Partition, on the populace is the subject of the stories contained in this book. Approximately eight to ten million people were displaced from their homes, resulting in unimaginable violence, loss and chaos. Poignant stories, beautifully descriptive sentences, and detailed character rendering make this book a must-read.

The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams is a collection of forty six stories, some old and some new, which will be sure to please existing fans of her writing as well as give rise to a new generation of followers. The locales differ, the subjects vary, but the writing is always brilliant. Finely tuned, precise observations on the human condition told with compassion and acerbic humor, Williams is a master of the craft of short stories.

According to A. O. Scott, film critic at the New York Times and Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism at Wesleyan University, "The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers."Note 2Scott, A. O. (2009, April 4). Brevity's Pull: In Praise of the American Short Story. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/weekinreview/05scott.html? And, at the Mercer County Library, we have a wonderful collection of short stories awaiting your reading pleasure.


Note 1: Baker, S. (2014, May 18). The irresistible rise of the short story. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10831961/The-irresistible-rise-of-the-short-story.html

Note 2: Scott, A. O. (2009, April 4). Brevity's Pull: In Praise of the American Short Story. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/weekinreview/05scott.html?

-Rina B

Comments

  1. Thanks for the recommendations. An Unrestored Woman seems like an interesting read. Will check out soon!

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    1. I ended up checking it out and reading it...I loved it!

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