In Praise of the Short Stack

One of the many things I love about CLP-Main (oh, let me count the ways …) is how we feature new short story collections in their own special place.

When I first visited CLP-Main with my family, I was sold for many reasons (Crazy Mocha, the grand architecture and spaciousness, the history, the plethora of bestsellers and the friendly staff), but discovering that short stories had a section right there on the First Floor was like my personal nirvana.

I adore short stories. Adore them. Alas, from talking with my bookish friends, I know that sentiment isn’t shared by every reader: they’re very much of a you-either-like-’em-or-you-don’t kind of genre.

Here’s why I love them, along with some of my favorites.

  • Short stories can be read … well, quickly. They’re the perfect length for reading before bedtime, while waiting for someone, during lunch breaks, while sitting at a child’s sports practice, and during your daily commutes.

Given that the Library has quite an abundance of short stories in its collections (and in many formats),  it can be hard to know where to begin. That’s when good short story anthologies like The Best American Short Stories or  The O. Henry Prize Stories can be great. These are published each year with a guest author or two curating the best of the best from literary magazines and the like.

Birds of AmericaMy inspiration for this post is that today happens to be the birthday of author Lorrie Moore, whose short story “People Like Us Are the Only Ones Here” immediately landed her a solid place on my Favorite Writers list. (Yes, like love at first sight, I’m a believer that you can fall in love with a writer after just one story).  When I asked my husband to buy me a copy of Birds of America for Christmas that year, he was rather perplexed; he thought I’d developed a new ornithologically-focused hobby. Now, it’s one of my Going With Me to a Desert Island books, even with that nondescript cover.

For fellow devotees of Ms. Moore, her first short story collection in 15 years, Bark, is due out on February 25. I’ve already placed my name on reserve and cannot wait to sink my teeth into these eight tales. (Ba-dum-bump! I’ll be here for the whole blog post, folks.)

Also sharing a birthday with Lorrie today is bookish bad-boy Jay McInerney, who is always one of my guilty literary pleasures. Escaping into a McInerney story, such as the 26 that he offers up in How It Ended is like spending time with that friend of yours, The One Who Has A Life, while you’re in your PJs by 7 p.m.

Before Lorrie and Jay, there was Flannery, who I met in a college class called “Faulkner, O’Connor, and Morrison.” I hadn’t read anything by Flannery O’Connor until then, and my literary life hasn’t been the same since. I highly recommend The Complete Stories.

In Persuasion NationLast year, George Saunders was the buzz of the best-of lists with Tenth of December. That collection deserves its many kudos and got me interested in reading Mr. Saunders’ previous work. Truth be told, I liked In Persuasion Nation even better. Now that’s a cover!

After reading  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, I became drawn to the idea of interconnected short stories. If you like this format, consider trying Mrs. Somebody Somebody  by Tracy Winn or When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald (the same one many of us remember from the ’80s).

Even when I read the classics (which isn’t too often), the short stories are more my cup of tea. For example, I’m the only person I know who didn’t  love Little Women but give me The Early Stories of Louisa May Alcott, and I’m in heaven.

My favorite short stories are ones that deal in the minutiae of the everyday, life’s universal little moments. They provide that burst of reassurance, that moment of levity, that glimpse of understanding or that much-needed perspective.  A short story by an author you haven’t read before is like a gold nugget from a treasure you’ve just discovered. A story from an author you know is like a conversation with an old friend.

Do you enjoy reading short stories? If so, I’d love to hear your recommendations! 

– Melissa F.


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3 responses to “In Praise of the Short Stack

  1. Thanks for the excellent post. The short story is sort of the under-appreciated younger sibling of the novel. Though, in truth, it’s a genre that can be equally attractive and compelling for those who are willing to give it a chance.

    I really liked all the writers you covered. Just a couple more suggestions for anyone out there who is looking to beef up their short story collections. Some of these recos are real heavyweights (I’m almost sheepish about recommending them) as well as a few younger writers: Alice Munro (of course), Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Hemingway (some of his best writing is in the short stories), Annie Proulx, Ben Fountain, Michael Doerr (The Shell Collector). I’m sure there are lots more, but those are the ones that spring to mind.

    • Absolutely, erupprecht, the short story definitely is the under-appreciated younger sibling of the novel. Great suggestions – and many that are on my ever-growing want to read list. (Although for some reason, I can’t seem to get into Alice Munro. Maybe I need to try a different collection of hers, because I know she is beloved by many.)

  2. Elicia

    I found a used copy of The Short Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg a few years back and absolutely fell in love with short stories again after taking a hiatus from reading them. I second John Cheever; I’m currently slowly working on a collection of his. Margaret Atwood’s Wilderness Tips is pretty good as well.

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