At the weekend, I read a great short story collection: Help the Witch by Tom Cox, which was a brilliant blend of funny, eccentric, folklore-ish tales and tiny snippets used to tell a bigger story. It got me thinking. I don’t read many short story collections, but when I do, I really enjoy them. So here we have the ten things I love about reading short stories.
1. They are short, but satisfying!
Bear with me here, because I’ve got several reasons why being short can be a great thing. This first is that, if the story you’re reading is well done, then you’re getting the gratification you’d normally get from a novel in a much shorter space of time. You can feel a sense of satisfaction from just a few pages, a maybe ten minute chunk of reading. Lately I’ve been enjoying reading even the tiniest of short story, such as the flash fiction or very short stories (vss) on twitter. All of my favourite songs tell stories too, in the shortest and most satisfying way.
2. What if the short story you’re reading is not good? At least it’s short!
I told you there was going to be more than one good thing about short stories being short. Sometimes, you start reading a short story and, for whatever reason, you don’t like it. Now the fact that it is short can be an even bigger advantage. You’ll still have read a story. You may not have enjoyed it, but it took less than half an hour to read. In thirty minutes, if I’m not into a novel yet, or am struggling with one, I may only read a few pages, and have nothing to show for it. With a short story, it’s over by then and I’m on to the next.
3. You can read them in one sitting.
The beauty of a short story is you can read one in a very small amount of time, which means that you can squeeze one in to the shortest of reading breaks.
4. They leave me hungry for more reading.
When I’m reading short stories, each one sort of whets my appetite for more reading, especially if they are good and well written. They can also give you a taste of an authors work, which tells you quickly whether you like their writing style or not, and can lead to the finding of new favourite authors.
5. You can read multiple genres in one small book.
Even when reading the short stories I’ve read most of in the past, which are Agatha Christie of course, I’ve always loved how the style, the characters, the themes and even the genre can change from story to story. Naturally, Christie’s short stories are predominantly mystery based, but pick up a copy of her collection The Hound of Death and you’ll be treated to macabre spooky stories, mysteries, even a little dash of romance. One of the things I absolutely loved about Tom Cox’s Help the Witch was how different each story was from the one before.
6. You can dip in and out.
A short story collection could keep you going for a while. I tend to read them in one greedy binge, but I’m sure a lot of people have a book of short stories on the go for a while, perhaps alongside other things, and the great thing about that is you can read a story, wait a week and read the next, without losing your place or forgetting what was happening plot-wise. I plan to resume Madame Zero by Sarah Hall, which I started last year, while I’ve got the taste for short stories.
7. Getting many stories for the price of one book.
If you buy a novel and it’s disappointing, well that’s £8.99 or thereabouts, not to mention days of your life, down the drain, (unless you’re reading on a device, but let’s not go there!), but buy a book of short stories and you’ve got many chances to like the book, many different worlds to visits, many different characters to get to know for a few pages. I love that opportunity. The very next one could be your new favourite, and that’s exciting.
8. A short story can slot nicely into your day in between activities.
Related to number 3 above, you don’t have to set aside much time out of your day to read a short story. If you’re a very busy person then reading collections of short stories could be a good way to boost your reading.
9. The good ones can have a huge impact.
Now we’re getting to the really important stuff. I love the way that such a small amount of pages can have such a big impact on me. Whole short stories, or large parts of them, can remain in my head, unforgettable. Some novels I’ve enjoyed, even some that I know I’ve loved, I might look back on a few years down the line and remember very little about them. A really well written short story can stay with you so much longer. My favourite in the collection I read at the weekend, ‘Just Good Friends’ was one that really made me think. It was woven together so carefully and so perfectly, bringing the strands of story so skilfully together. I know it’s going to keep popping into my head. There is a famous Shirley Jackson short story, ‘The Lottery’, which I read a few years ago after hearing it was one of the greats. I still think about it frequently. It is powerful. Reading the best short stories can be an intense experience. Which brings me to my final point…
10. I have so much respect for writers of this format.
Imagine being able to craft interesting characters, a fulfilling plot full of detail, not to mention imagery and descriptive language that transports your reader to the world you’ve created. Now imagine you can do that, not over the length of a whole novel, or a novella, but in a few short pages. I cannot stress enough how much a short story can impress me if it is done well. Sometimes I am utterly in awe of writers who can do this. To make me care about a character, a small event, a mystery even, in a fraction of the pages used by a novel is no mean feat. When you read a really good short story, the kind that makes you feel in a short space of time what you might normally feel over the course of 300+ pages, that is a very special thing indeed.
I don’t know why I don’t read more short stories. I really am a very big fan. I’m off to scour my bookshelves for more of them to read.
- Currently reading: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.
- Currently listening to: Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths.