A New Attitude

quelle surprise!  While reading my first collection for the short story challenge, it appears I may be developing an affinity for this form after all. 

I’ve never warmed to this genre before, although heaven knows I’ve tried, with volumes of stories by celebrated writers such as John Cheever, Joyce Carol Oates, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’connor.  Yet I was never comfortable with these books, and a sense of uneasiness pervaded our relationship, rising from a reticence to give my heart to the characters, a reluctance to lose myself in the story, knowing as I did that it would end all too quickly. 

You see, I’m drawn to the long term tale, the weighty novels peopled with characters that live through decades, stories that span generations.  Big books that I can read for days at a time.

And therein lay the root of my difficulty with the short story-I was trying to shape it into something it was not, and coming to the relationship as I would to one with a novel.  It seems one must connect with the short story on entirely different terms.

Short stories, you see, cannot be read in fits and starts as a novel can.  None of this reading a page or two whilst eating cereal at breakfast, or finishing up a chapter at bedtime.  Nor can you carry them around in hopes of getting a bit of reading done on line at the department of motor vehicles.

A short story must be read in one complete sitting, devoured completely all at one time.  After reading the last word, you mustn’t be greedy and go right on to the next-no, no…put the book aside and give the story some time to digest in your mind.  As Mavis Gallant intstructed, “stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another as if they were meant to follow along. Read one.  Shut the book.  Read something else.  Come back later.  Stories can wait.”

That’s the way I’ve been reading Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Each afternoon, after coming home from work, I make myself a hot cup of Tazo Refresh tea, put on my comfy clothes, and pile into my favorite chair.  Feet up, the tea’s fragrant minty aroma wakening my senses, I read one story.  No, I savor one story, sometimes even reading bits aloud to my two little dogs who enjoy nestling at my side-  Although Molly in particular does look at me very strangely when I read aloud.  (smiles)

But in this way I’ve come to relish these stories, to appreciate them individually as the small, magical bits of storytelling they truly are.

I’m pleasantly surprised.

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5 thoughts on “A New Attitude

  1. You give me hope, because I have similar problems with short stories. However, the only volume I have ever read with pleasure, and in exactly the way you describe, was the Lahiri, so perhaps it says something about the brilliance of her writing. If your enthusiasm lasts through another collection tell me and then I will have another go.

  2. I think I’ll have to add this book to my TBR pile. I’m like you and love long novels that I can get engrossed in over a period of time. These short stories sound good though.

  3. I’m glad to hear that you’re warming to the form (there’s a joke there from my childhood, but I’m gonna let it wander on by). It wasn’t until I had a real need for short stories that I began to enjoy them. I found myself without free time when I was a graduate student, but I still desperately wanted to read, so I finally picked up a few short story collections, and that’s how I fell in love.

    Enjoy your reading! I’m looking forward to more of your thoughts.

  4. I appreciate your instructions on how to read a short story collection! I’ve had difficulty with short stories myself; they just don’t grab my attention well. The last time I tried one I found it helped to stop at the end of each one and wait until the next day to begin another; sleep on it and let it settle in my mind.

  5. I really liked this post! I used to have a lot of trouble with short stories until I joined in at A Curious Singularity. Then, reading a story for the group and blogging about it seemed like a perfectly natural, sensible, rewarding experience. I do hope you get to the end of the book in the same frame of mind! The stories sound very intriguing.

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