On Reading Short Stories

I decided to read some of the many unread short story collections I have here. There are a lot of them. So I picked one each of pulp mystery, straight SF, classic mystery, and fantasy stories and decided I’d rotate through them, one or two stories from each and then move on to the next one and so on. Reading at my normal pace, this resulted in four or five stories a day, depending on length.

What I’ve quickly discovered is that I’m not especially good at limiting my reading to only short stories.

Maybe it’s that I’m switching genres, since the contents of the collections are very different indeed. Imagine reading a classic Father Brown story followed by a fantasy sword-and-sorcery, then a pulp mystery, then a hard SF story. Sometimes the jump is a little too abrupt and I have to take a break before beginning again. That means reading down time. Sure I can read a magazine, go for a walk, etc. but if I’m reading, then I want to be reading not walking about watching the snow fall or the cars sliding by the house on the icy roads, as entertaining as that may be.

My solution? Read a novel and, after a chapter or two take a break and read a short story. Then go back to the novel. My plan to plow through lots of short story collections is going to have to be modified. Less stories, but a novel gets read too.

How about you? Do you read many short stories at a time, one now and then, one a day (as I know Jeff will say) or do you go straight through a story collection?

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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16 Responses to On Reading Short Stories

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Sounds like a good plan. What I generally do now is read the story (or stories) first, then go on to the novel or whatever. This way if I don’t have much reading time I know I at least get the story read every day. I do find it somewhat confusing or jarring to jump from collection to collection so if I’m reading a book of stories (rather than a story from EQMM or AHMM) I will read it all before starting the next book. But then, I’ve pretty much read every story collection I own and have had to go out and get more.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I have about 50 collections on the Kindle now.

  2. Carl V. says:

    When I read short stories I generally read several at a time and don’t often switch back and forth between books/mags or whatever. Whatever genre, or genre-mix, I am reading is usually what I am in the mood for and I’m not sure I could handle that big of a jarring experience going from say SF to mystery to literary fiction.

    I have way too many short story collections to get to and need to do what you are doing now, which is keep at least one book by my bedside and at the very least read one short story a day. I have been doing good so far with my goal of trying to keep up with each issue of Lightspeed, Clarkesworld and Asimov’s during the year. If I can keep up with that and get through some of these collections I’ll be thrilled.

  3. I rarely work on more than A single collection at a time. I may read a few, then read a novel, so that stretches things out a long time. Single author collections usually never get more than two stories back to back. It’s much easier reading several or more in a row from a multi-author set.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for the comments! It sounds like my idea of jumping from one collection / anthology to another was ill-considered. I think I’ll pick one and try to stick with it. It’s just that some of the collections – three of the four I picked – are very thick and I was afraid I’d get worn out on any one of them. Maybe if I even limited it to two it would be better.

  5. John says:

    I’ve been dipping into my numerous short story collections as well. I find that I can NEVER finish a short story collection reading it cover to cover. I usually put it down at some point, read about five novels, and then return to it. Somehow I always lose interest in the short format no matter how impressive the writing or engaging the plots. This tends to be the case for anthologies with multiple authors and different writing styles and collections by a single author. Like you, Rick, I prefer to sample from the short story buffet. But I’m easily filled on stories too quickly. With a novel, more often than not, I get a banquet with much to taste and savor.

  6. Richard says:

    Great comment, John. Thanks very much for that viewpoint.

  7. Frank Denton says:

    Boy, you’ve hit me right where it hurts. I’ve been struggling with the same problem and this gives me some good ideas. I have a ton of ss collections around and I enjoy short stories a lot. But how to get through these often immense collections. Thanks

  8. Todd Mason says:

    I’ve never understood preferring novels to short stories…I like them both about equally, and might even give the edge to the shorter form, inasmuch as there’s less opportunity for padding and lollygagging. I will hop about as you were doing at times, or will read straight through some collections and magazine issues, but rarely have the time to do so of late (the last several years). A small triumph to read an anthology as good and as short as Lansdale’s BEST OF THE WEST, a few months back, for FFB, in a week…

  9. cgramlich says:

    I almost always have a short story collection started. Like you, I may only read a story when I take a break from some other reading. I do like to dip around to various genres.

  10. Years ago, inspired by Jeff Meyerson’s example, I started reading a short story each day. I usually read whatever novel or non-fiction book I’m working on during the day. Then, in the evening, I read a short story. It usually takes a couple of weeks to read a complete short story collection, but it’s amazing how many books get read each year using this method.

  11. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Exactly, George! It’s amazing how they add up. I get Rick (and others – hi, Frank!) when they speak of the frustration because some of these anthologies are huge. But as George said, if you read one or two stories a day they can add up pretty quickly.

  12. Patti Abbott says:

    Doing the 365 last year, I skipped around every day. Which worked for a year but I wouldn’t want to skip around that much forever. I also tried to alternate single author collections with multi-author ones. I don’t have any collections with me here (although I do have e ones on the kindle). I love to write short stories but you can’t sink into them the way you can a novel. If you have a novel you are enjoying, its a more emotional experiences. Short stories seem to be more cerebral for me. Or maybe it’s just the ones I read.

  13. Richard says:

    Frank, it seems we all have this to wrestle with at times.

    Jeff, George – I get that, but have not been able to do the one a day, though I’ve had the best intentions more than once.

    Patti, I’d not thought about the emotional vs. cerebral aspect before. Hmm…

  14. I spent last year getting through my collections in a similar to fashion to what you are doing, and how Patti did it . Went through a bunch that way, with more to go yet this year. I enjoyed it, and plan to work in some nonfiction essays from various anthologies of that nature this year as well. The downside of it is that I actually lost some appreciation for crime fiction in doing so. Most of those collections were crime anthologies, and it all got to be too much the same thing over and over for me, and that bled into some single author collections as well. I found a much greater appreciation for literary fiction, particularly as it relates to short stories, in doing so, though.

  15. Chris, I’ve found variety in short stories keeps things from getting stale. I mix SF and fantasy stories with mystery collections. Once in a while, I’ll read a single author collection (like Jack Vance’s Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance, Volume Two published in 2012).

  16. Cap'n Bob says:

    One I start a book–novel or s/s collection–I plow through til the end.

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