Monday 25 June 2007

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny...

Yesterday's post has made me ponder, and we're going to take a little sojourn away from my holiday reading, to discuss... the short story. (When will they invent the internet equivalent of jazz hands? Surely appropriate for such announcements.)

There aren't many literary media more divisive than the short story - strangely, people's opinions of any particular collection seem to be decided almost before they've opened the book. You know where this is leading
- I'm going to ask your opinion. Here's a challenge, which I always fail - try saying you like short stories without using the word "gems", or try saying you don't like them without using the words "nothing to get your teeth into". Tricky, isn't it?

Never let it be said that I open a debate without doing a li
ttle research. Now that I am reunited with all my books (hurray!), I can look through all my shelves, and make a huge pile for a photograph. So this evening I went to see how many short story collections I had - and was rather surprised. I knew that Katherine Mansfield was one of my favourite writers, and certainly my favourite short story writer, but didn't realise I had so many other authors competing for my attention. Yup, I'm one of those who enthuses about 'gems', usually regardless of the nature of the stories - I find something so rewarding, so enticing, about short stories. Having written a thesis on Victorian Short Stories, doncha know, I tried a bit of investigation into the nature of the short story - don't think I used the word 'gem' once, but I can't dispel it from my mind. One of my tutors insists upon calling Ulysses 'the longest short story ever written'. As someone who has read it, I resent the word 'short' being used in the same sentence... But, in general, their brevity and structure mean a short story can hang on a single moment, issue or point - a novel would be quite weak if it tried the same thing - so it's much more sink or swim. When they succeed, like Mansfield's 'The Garden Party', for instance, they really succeed. When they fail... well, at least you haven't spent weeks to be disappointed.

So which do I have? Prepare yourselves for a bit of a list. And a nice picture to accompany. I've put a cross by the ones I've read - an
yone want to recommend any of the remaining? More importantly - to short story or not to short story? Let me know.

1) Stories of the Strange and Sinister - Frank Baker
2) Thirty Stories - Elizabeth Myers
3) The Silver Birch - Richmal Crompton
x 4) Sugar and Spice - Richmal Crompton
x 5) Tea With Mr. Rochester - Frances Towers
6) The Casino - Margaret Bonham
7) Minnie's Room - Mollie Panter-Downs
8) The Matisse Stories - AS Byatt (read a third of it...)
x 9) The Complete Shorter Fiction - Virginia Woolf
x 10) A Table Near The Band - AA Milne
x 11) Birthday Party - AA Milne
12) Fireworks - Angela Carter
13) The Little Disturbances of Man - Grace Paley
14) Enormous Changes at the Last Minute - Grace Paley
x 15) A Winter Book - Tove Jansson
x 16) A Quiver Full of Arrows - Jeffrey Archer (oh the ignominy)
x 17) Dubliners - James Joyce
18) Tell Me A Riddle - Tillie Olsen
19) Strangers - Antonia White
x 20) Cousin Phyllis and other stories - Elizabeth Gaskell
x 21) The Manchester Marriage and other stories - Elizabeth Gaskell
22) Tales of the Unexpected - Roald Dahl
x 23) Dream Days - Kenneth Grahame
x 24) The Golden Age - Kenneth Grahame
x 25) Portraits - Kate Chopin
26) Selected Tales - DH Lawrence
x 27) The Garden Party - Katherine Mansfield
x 28) Bliss - Katherine Mansfield
x 29) The Dove's Nest - Katherine Mansfield
30) Something Childish - Katherine Mansfield
31) Complete Short Stories vol.1 - W. Somerset Maugham


  1. I have really mixed feelings about short stories. I love them when I read them, but I will almost never buy a collection of them -- only read them when someone gives me a book of them and says "Read this", which doesn't happen all that often. We used to teach them in the first year BA Eng Lit, from a collection called the Penguin Book of Short Stories, I think, and there were some really good ones in there. Oh yes, and I have edited a collection of Victorian women's ones myself, which I do hope you read for your thesis :)

  2. Oh, are you Harriet Devine Jump?! Somehow that never registered - I did indeed use your collection! Actually, I used it back in 2004, when I wrote on Victorian short stories for a weekly essay, and that later expanded into my thesis. Who'd have thought?!

  3. You must read Mollie PD (she's so good I named one of my dogs after her - OK, that makes me sound batty, but still...)

  4. I was given a book of short stories today,by michelle roberts. I admit my heart sank as i offered profuse thanks, but now you have spurred me on, I will start the first one would be marvellous if it was the start of a new love affair.

  5. I was delighted to find your post on short stories as I have been contemplating them lately. I am constantly writing about them (French ones from the Renaissance) for my thesis, but this interest generally doesn't extend to my pleasure reading--until recently. Hope you don't mind my borrowing (or should say stole?!) your idea for a post on my own blog today!

  6. C'est moi! Glad you read them.

  7. I too have been pondering short stories recently - must be something in the water. I was surprised to find a friend reading a short story anthology as you would a normal novel - progressing from one story to the next without so much as a tea break in between. I think it's essential, when reading short stories, to read them individually, but maybe that's just me...

    Incidentally, I've just read the last in Miranda July's collection of short stories, 'No One Belongs Here More Than You'. Very different to all the specimens listed above, and admittedly I found elements of some stories a little contrived, but overall I'd heartily recommend it as a very quirky, enjoyable read. The thing that made it for me was that each story had such a bizarre central premise or scenario. And I guess that ability to conjure a plethora of immediately captivating situations is precisely what is needed in a writer of short stories.

    Ellie Robins, Hesperus Press

  8. I'm fairly open to short stories. I do prefer the novel above all things but Andre Dubus is one of my favourite writers of all time and all he did was short stories.

    What did you think of the Byatt? I'm reading another one of her collections right now The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye and the quality, while uneven, is still pretty good.

  9. Have you got some Flannery O'Connor in there Simon? She's my discovery of the year via Sandra at Bookworld.I'm not rushing them just reading one here and there but that wonderful deep south US women's writing.Next week, finally my thoughts on some short stories by Rosamund Lehmann will appear on the blog.

  10. I have lots of books of short stories, but I never seem to pick them up to read. I nearly always choose a novel when I want to pick up a book. And then there is the question of how to read a book of short stories--straight through (which I am with Ellie--think its better to read each on their own), or just lazily, occasionally? If I do pick up a book of short stories, it is likely because they are interrelated and I didn't realize it was not a novel! I'm glad to see Kate Chopin in your pile, however--I have enjoyed her writing. I also plan on reading Flannery O'Conner soon (of course soon is always relative).


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