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.
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In the short existence of this blog, I hazarded talking about some of the authors mentioned above:
- “The Children Stay,” by Alice Munro.
- “Intimacy,” by Raymond Carver.
- “The Virgin,” by Kerima Polotan.
- “First Love and Other Sorrows,” by Harold Brodkey.
- “Charades,” by Lorrie Moore.
- Liars in Love, by Richard Yates.
- Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, by Richard Yates.
- No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July.
- Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore.
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?