sunday salon || Reading the Short Story

Short fiction is, quite possibly, my favorite genre. This is plain personal bias, and the fact that I have been studying the art form and its craft for school—I major in Creative Writing, and fiction is the genre-track I’d chosen. Yes, there’s a pleasure in reading the short story, but I also read short stories to learn. Every experience with the short story is at least two-fold: there’s the joy of having a couple of minutes pass with a well-written piece of literature in your hands, and then there’s the excitement of finding something you can emulate, something you can absorb and then deviate from.

Questions arise—What can I do? How can I do that? How does this character burn on the page, when mine seems to just gasp? There’s required reading, for seminars and lectures, handed to us by professors who know these are stories to learn from. And then there are encounters with (seeming mandatorily) flawed stories put up for workshops. Most of these, it seems, geared toward the honing of my so-called critical eye. I need a critical eye, we are told often—learn the craft, read your books, before you set out in an attempt to do some art of your own.

And then there are stories that I’ve encountered almost incidentally. No syllabus telling me I need to read them and reflect upon them, no midterm exam I have to study for. Yes, that critical eye is present—no escaping from that, it seems [and, for heaven’s sake, I don’t mean to sound snotty]. Yes, the writing spark occurs here too, that urge to do something with your hands, to take language and shape it, and hope that it’ll come out at least not-half-bad—but I like to think the spark here is nobler; no one is breathing down your neck and pressuring you to sound like Chekhov or O’Connor or Joyce. You stumble upon Stephen King’s macabre tales about rats shaped like cows and autocannibalism, and something tells you that you need to create stories that illicit such a visceral response in readers—these stories had me scurrying to the nearest well-lit place. How can I do that?

There’s the thrill of discovery too—a pat on the back for the fourteen-year-old who discovered Faulkner in “A Rose for Emily”: what other piece could prompt the realization that one could write about anything beautifully? The stories in Alfred Yuson’s Eight Stories have always been instrumental—I read them quite young, and I found out that Hey, being a writer isn’t an exclusively Western thing; people can be writers here in the Philippines too (the realistic dimensions of that epiphany requires a whole ‘nother space).

So, although I shall be eternally grateful to years of education that required me to read Hemingway, Chekhov, Garcia Marquez, Angela Carter, Lakambini Sitoy, Kerima Polotan, and so on—I would like to say Yay to the workings of the Universe for allowing me to come across those who’d never been taught to me in a classroom setting, or at least letting me get to them first before some malevolent being assigned them for a final exam (hehe). There are stories I read by a.) authors recommended to me by friends [or, to be more accurate, pushed upon my person]; b.) authors I found one wandering afternoon among the university library shelves; c.) authors I would never had read, but whose books looked cool in a BookSale; d.) authors that just chanced upon me by some weird quirk or another: Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore; Alice Munro, Joan Silber, June Spence; Grace Paley, Richard Yates. The rest of Chekhov, the rest of Hemingway. A lot of Wilfrido Nolledo. Kelly Link, Alice Hoffman, Amy Bloom, Harold Brodkey, Richard Ford. Miranda freaking July.

In our senior’s thesis, we had to write an essay that talked about our poetics—why we write the way we do, what we really want to write, how we write, etc. The first part of my essay dealt with a gushing enumeration of the authors that have shaped my perception of the craft, authors whose voices and words are always in the background whenever I write. The authors I’ve mentioned made an appearance, and some of them are fairly new to my bookshelves, and my psyche. And, with graduation looming near (and that’s the optimistic side of me talking, okay?), I suppose all the required reading shall slow to a trickle, or perhaps, will simply end. And there are more books out there, and more authors I am yet to read, more short fiction to relish. Nomnomnom.

+ + + + +

In the short existence of this blog, I hazarded talking about some of the authors mentioned above:

Funny, but for someone who attests to loving short fiction so much, the ratio of short story to novel thoughts is rather low. Let me explain myself? I read my short story collections/anthologies in sips. For example, I’ve been reading the Collected Stories of Carol Shields for two years now. Although it’s satisfying to have finished a book, and to proclaim it, there’s still that joy in letting short stories soak in—and maybe fester, haha—before you go on and let another be the star of the show. Know what I mean?

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26 comments

  1. I admit, I’m not a big fan of short stories…but I loved the picture you posted along with this post. I wish I could own it, frame it, and hang it! :) Happy Sunday.

    1. Hello, Christina. I really do wish more people read short stories. I’m trying to understand why people don’t like them, haha.

      And if you click the picture, it’ll take you to the source. :)

  2. toynbeeconvector · · Reply

    Oh Sasha. I never understood why Petra gushed so much about short stories before. But lately I’ve been reading them and I understand now what the two of you see (at least I hope so). I read a piece by Carver yesterday from a set of love stories from the New Yorker. It’s called Blackbird Pie. Have you read it? I think you’ll love it. :) oh and what about Kissing in Manhattan by Schickler?

    Thank you for reading and telling all of us what you think. Thanks to your posts I’m getting the literary education I never got, or at least I’m getting leads toward that understanding of how to read and appreciate what people write. And it really pays to read alongside someone. :)

    As usual, just love from me to you.

    1. Short. Stories. Are. Awesome. It makes me sad whenever someone says they don’t like short stories. I mean, why? Hahaha, I guess a dimension to this bewilderment (and fear) is the fact that I write some myself, hehe.

      I’ve read that Carver story. He is lovely, isn’t he? [And I think I know that New Yorker love stories book--did you borrow that from the lib? I did, about a year ago!] Although I forget what the Schickler story is about. :[

      And Nash, thanks for all the lovely words, and all-around love. :) It warms my heart whenever I break out of the solitude of reading, and into this book blog, and find people like you. You hawt hawt thing. ;p

      Happy February! Enjoy your books!

  3. I know what you mean about reading books for a long time. I’ve been reading the Best Creative Nonfiction Volumes One and Two for about two years as well. Anthologies are so different from normal books, I enjoy them in a different way.

    1. Hello, Ash. A part of me panics whenever I think about books that have been on my “Currently Reading” part of the shelves for months (years, too)–but then I think that I wouldn’t like how my brain would feel if I read a 25-story collection straight through.

  4. I don’t like reading short-fiction because I felt that I don’t get to know the characters… plus i love plots with lots of twists and turns, so that takes time to build up…

    Maybe I just hadn’t been reading the “right” short fiction!

    1. Hello, Christa. I’d like to say that there are a lot of short stories that carry their fair share of weight–if well-written, they’re full of depth and meaning. There are character-centric stories, and there are convoluted and complex and time-spanning short stories. Sometimes, a couple of pages–a peek into a charged time of a character’s life–is enough to get to know him/her. There’s Raymond Carver and Lorrie Moore and Richard Yates. Alice Munro and Joan Silber and June Spence. Miranda July. Chekhov, if you like em old-school but timeless. Lots of character, satisfying plot. :) Depth and heart!

      I hope you find short fiction that speaks to you. :] Thank you for your feedback! It has [obviously] puzzled me why people don’t seem to like short fiction.

  5. I think I’m only starting to ‘get’ short fiction. It takes a little getting used to, I think. And somehow I think the way I read short fiction has become a little different from the way I read novels and such. Because I read quick, short stories used to just feel, well, short. Nowadays I figure I just have to slow down my pace when I’m reading short fiction.

    I’m gonna need help finding good short fiction to get me going. *Hint hint*

    1. Hi, Michelle. I admit I have a different mindset when I’m reading short fiction–not only because of the length. The frame and scope are naturally different, so a little adjustment is, well, recommended. :] It’s not that short stories take up less brain processes than novels, but, well, just different. :)

      And hinty-hints? See my reply to Christa, ;p Happy February!

  6. This is exactly why I’m growing to dislike your blog!!! You keep pushing ideas to people and telling us what to like and what not to. I’ve looked at your posts and you ramble and you like the sound of your own voice. You’re reviews are super long, who reads that?! I mean it’s also obvious you’re sucking up to the authors who give you free books. Have some INTEGRITY ok?!!!

    So we don’t like short stories SO WHAT. (You call it short fiction, how PRETENTIOUS is that?) If I can speak in behalf of christa, she just said she doesn’t like short stories and you chew her out for it and patronize her? And you backtracked by thanking her for your feedback? PATRONIZING. I do not understand why you are read. For politeness’s sake I guess!!! You are all about name-dropping. Your blog reeks of arrogance and self-involvement. Your last sunday salon post attacked this girl Camilla. How do you think she feels about that? You apologize but this is all just passive-aggressive shit.

    Have you ever thought that we don’t like “short fiction” because of people like you who are so elitist about it?!

    Stop tryin to sound smart with all your rambling posts and name-dropping.Get off your high horse. You read disguised PORN for god sake.

  7. I like this post. I just started getting into anthologies after not reading them ever and just saying I didn’t like them. Then…I tried it, and was wrong.

    I like what you said about discovery too. Totally true!

    1. Thanks, Monica. :] I think that’s one of the best parts of reading–the discovery, and finding out that it pays off.

  8. Sa ngayon, sentimental ako pagdating sa mga maiikling kuwento kasi nga CW grad din ako. Ako din, inabot ng taon bago ko natapos ang Collected Stories ni Garcia Marquez. (Sunod ko namang inuutay ang kay Faulkner.) Kaya lang, habang tumatagal, unti-unting nagiging nobelistiko ang pagsulat ko.Yung parang pag nagsulat ka ng kuwento e alam mong hindi sapat ang 20 pages. Na nanganganak ng mga idea ang isang idea kaya pahaba nang pahaba ang mga kuwento. Na parang hindi sapat ang isang sandali at ang gusto mo talagang ikuwento ay yung walang hanggan sa anyong walang hanggan din. Wala lang. Digress lang. :P

    1. Gets. Minsan napapansin ko na kung puro nobela nababasa ko, mas gusto ng sinusulat ko na pahabain ko sya, haha. Kaya minsan “nagrereview” ako ng short stories, para bang reminder lang? :p [Nakakatakot kaya mag-nobela.]

  9. Hi Sasha. All I have to say is LOL.

    And that “GTFO” is an adequate response. <3

    1. Hi, Carina. After a couple of hours, the GTFO becomes a succinct, MEH. :]

  10. dear via, you’re grammer is rong.

    1. Dear Petra, I loff you.

    2. We being childish?
      Okay, comparatively…
      Okay, never mind.

      [OMG DID I JUST WRITE A HAIKU?]

  11. I’ve blogged quite lengthily about why I’m not too fond of short stories (http://rainbowrama.vox.com/library/post/how-they-met-and-other-stories-by-david-levithan.html) but I do like the feeling of reading really unforgettable short stories (Denial, denial by Sitoy, or Dahl’s sinister not-for-WillyWonka-fans stories) and being blown away for days, admiring how they were able to etch themselves into my memory with just a few pages of words, you know what I mean? Ugh, that sounded pretentious, but do you? :)

    1. No, not pretentious at all. :] I just take the unfortunately widespread belief that short stories are the inferior cousins of the novel, haha.

      [PS - Switch to WordPress na so I can comment on your blog! Vox never lets me, hahaha.]

      1. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time too haha. So with the help of the gf, I’ve transferred bookish entries to this site:

        http://rainbowunicorn-reads.dreamwidth.org/

        Let the commenting commence! :D

        P.S. Oh, I loved Vox because it was easy to just clicky-click on photos via their partnership with Amazon, unlike other blogsites. That just means this dreamwidth account doesn’t have pictures. Yet. Maybe when I’m not too lazy in the future haha :D

  12. [...] re the reading/studying and writing of short stories over at the imaginatively titled post, Reading the Short Story: Every experience with the short story is at least two-fold: there’s the joy of having a couple [...]

  13. What makes you love Lorrie Moore & Munro? :-)

    1. Ah, the words. The quirkiness. How they can fit whole lives in a handful of words, and it’s just so natural. And, well, as with any writer: When someone writes something, and you feel like they’ve recited in your heart so long, it feels like they wrote the book with exactly you in mind? That. I feel that with Moore and Munro. :)

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