Who knew? May is short story month. Even the most casual reader likely has noticed the appearance of short story collections on various bestseller lists and individual stories offered up as e-book exclusives. Alice Munro, a specialist in the genre, won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature for the body of her work. Publishers are bringing out new compilations from classic short story writers, for example, Let Me Tell You, a new collection of short stories, essays and other writings by Shirley Jackson, was published last year on the 50th anniversary of her death.
If you aren’t already reading or listening to short stories, you really should give them a try. A small collection, by a single author or many, easily fits into whatever tote, briefcase or bag you may carry. And while War and Peace is ill-suited for reading on your phone, short stories are the perfect small bite when you just want to read NOW or while waiting at the MVA, or the doctor’s office, or the train station, or…. you get the idea. Some are even available as audiobooks.
Many find reading short stories different from reading a novel. The author must set the stage, flesh out the characters and reveal the plot in a few short pages. The ending must be clear, even if intended as a cliffhanger. Some authors have characters reappear throughout a collection, or link the stories through locale or theme. While it is a different experience, it is a fine way to get a feel for an unfamiliar author.
Podcasts are a fine way to listen to a variety of authors and readers. One of the best known is Selected Shorts from PRI. Each week, some of the finest actors in American theater read two or more stories during the hour-long podcast. The stories may be by the same author or connected thematically. For those unfamiliar with podcasts, click above to test it out. You may hear an old favorite or discover a new author to add to your reading list.
Neil Gaiman, a writing juggernaut for all ages and genres, has a variety of his stories available in audio and electronic versions at no charge at OpenCulture.com. Another favorite source of unexpected short stories is One Story, a nonprofit organization that publishes and promotes the short story and authors who write them. Subscriptions are available in print (pocket-sized) or for the Kindle or iOS device. A perfect small bite delivered every few weeks, in your preferred format.
Independent bookstores are great resources for all things book. Powell’s in Portland, OR, has put together a list of short story titles from some of the greatest authors, from James Joyce to Jhumpa Lahiri to Etgar Keret and David Foster Wallace. There is something for almost every taste.
Having taken the opportunity to highlight the genre, watch for reviews of several short story collections in the next few months.