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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Confessions: Short Stories

I have recently become obsessed. Before last week, I hadn't though about short stories since I finished reading Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart for my English 102 college class back when I was still in high school. As gruesome as the story was, I remember loving it. At the time, I was convinced that the essay I wrote based on that short work of fiction was the best thing I ever crafted. I was heartbroken when I got it back with a B. Looking back now, I'm lucky I got a B; It was the worst essay I ever read. But, I diverge. I simply fell in love with short fiction a long time ago, and I had forgotten about it. Until now.

A couple weeks ago I was browsing Goodreads when I came across a short story anthology. A week ago I decided that my incomplete stories would become a short fiction anthology of their own. Yesterday I spent three hours looking for books to read, and half of them were short story collections. So yeah, I'm obsessed.

There's something compelling about a short story. It draws you in for a small snapshot of a life neither significant nor insignificant; it just is. You rarely feel as deeply for short story protagonists as you might for one in a full-length novel, but that's hardly ever the point. For a brief period of time, you are subject to a world with undefined rules and ideas and it is there that you get to live and breathe and simply be until it's over, where you move on and maybe even forget the story. But no matter what, a certain bit of you is changed by a good short story. Within pages, you are challenged and forced to think and that is were a short story becomes compelling.

And again, here is where I fall short. I have an odd tendency to over romanticize things. I come up with big words to describe and fantastic flourishes to direct. This often leads to another tendency of mine; to be disappointed. My over romanticized vision of what a short story ought to be causes for much disappoint me when the story is simply not. I'm reminded of Jesus telling parables during his ministry, when everyone would gather around waiting for some words of greatness from the teacher that made miracles, and most of the time he would give them a parable. Parables (and fables, for that matter, but never mind that) for me are the very beginnings of great short stories, snapshots of a life that neither mattered nor didn't, but that were told to make a point. Yet when they came to fruition, I can imagine there was a certain sense of disappointment. Not everybody understood Jesus' message, and this was a disappointing thought. Even the disciples, on several occasions, had to ask Jesus for the meaning of his parables.

I'm not really sure where I was going with this. It's a terrible comparison, since my disappointment in short stories comes from a foolish hope, and disappointment in Jesus' parables came from a lack of understanding. Also, some short stories are just crap. Jesus' parables are all genius.
I guess all that's to say, some short stories are great, and I have an over romanticized view of most of them. Still, my original point remains. I'm obsessed with short stories.

Postscript: My List of Short Story Anthologies To Read
Leo Tolstoy's Collected Shorter Fiction Volume 1 [currently reading]

Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang
Leviathan Wept and Other Stories - Daniel Abraham
Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales
Leo Tolstoy's Collected Shorter Fiction Volume 2
Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow: Four Novellas by Daniel Nayeri
The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me - Various
Steampunk - Various


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