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Loving But Never Reading Short Stories: Confronting the Issue

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Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

safety of objects a.m. homesRecently I realized that for as much as I say that I like short stories and anthologies, I don’t seem to read them much. I’m not lying when I say I like them but I’m always pressed for remembering the last one I read, which inevitably ends with my brain shouting out A.M. Homes’ The Safety of Objects. I think because it was the first short story collection I loved–and I have bought/read every A.M. Homes book since–but I read TSOB a good amount of time ago. Like enough time that my ten year reunion has already passed and I might be looking at an upcoming twenty year reunion with that book. If you’re thinking it’s weird that I say I like short stories/anthologies but never seem to read them, I felt the same way.

It occurred to me that I would have no answer if I were to be asked If you like reading short stories why don’t you? Why, indeed? I honestly had no answer. I have no issue with avoiding what I don’t like or reading whatever I like regardless of anyone else’s opinion, so this was quickly turning into a strange reading mystery that I had to get to the bottom of. I grabbed a bunch of short story collections from my TBR pile and decided to read until I figured it out.

zombies vs unicorns by holly blackI started with Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier because zombies! and unicorns! Even though Zombies vs. Unicorns wasn’t actual stories of zombies fighting unicorns the premise was funny and entertaining: each story was either a zombie story or a unicorn story and had a quick intro where Black and Larbalestier argued their defense for whether zombies or unicorns were better. It ranged from a few okay to mostly awesome stories, and while I was very entertained while reading I had to keep reminding myself to pick it up and read another story instead of reaching for a novel.


Problem still not solved.

GHOST SUMMER- STORIES by Tananarive DueGrowing more frustrated that I was inhaling novel after novel and taking for-EV-er to finish a short story collection, my determination kicked-up a notch and I doubled up on books: Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due, since I was looking to read more horror and I had heard only great things about it, and In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd by Ana Menéndez, which had been in my book pile for FAR too long.

While I was bookmarked in the middle of Due’s “Ghost Summer” story, I read the first sentence of “Miami Relatives” in Menéndez’s book (“My aunt Julia likes to bite people.”) and the kitchen timer went off. While pulling a tray out of the oven my brain kept reminding me it wanted to know how Due’s story finished AND I was intrigued to know more about this biting aunt. Naturally I risked possibly burning dinner and quickly ran from the kitchen to grab my ereader and Menéndez’s book: I read one while cooking and the other immediately after dinner (not burnt).

And that’s how I realized my problem: after I finished a short story it always felt final. My brain didn’t have that little itch I have while reading a novel where I need to know more, always driving me to keep picking it up until I finish. It was as if each short story was a novel and when I was done I was done. It sounds kind of ridiculous but my brain is strange, apparently.

In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd by Ana MenendezI finished Ghost Stories and In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd (loved/really liked) by either bookmarking while IN a story or after finishing a story always reading at least the first few sentences of the next story. It seemed to work but I wanted to be sure so I jumped at the chance to read an upcoming anthology that two fellow Rioters have pieces in: The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex. In part because each essay was really well written and unique, and in part because I always left my brain with an itch to know more I finally read a collection from beginning to end without having to fight myself to remember to keep reading it.

So here’s to 2016: the year I not only say I like short stories/anthologies but actually read a bunch of them. On reading deck: American Housewife by Helen Ellis (audiobook), Haiti Noir by Edwidge Danticat, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter,  What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi.

And if you have favorites please let me know! Or do you struggle with short story collections?