I can’t remember the last time I read a short story that wasn’t part of a larger collection. And I admit to avoiding them these last few years.
I love short stories but in terms of reading I don’t know what to do with them, whether in terms of record or reading.
Record: a few years ago I read a novella that was to all intents and purposes a short story and whilst it was nice to have another number in my statistics, I felt uncomfortable with it – it was not really a book. I doubt anyone would begrudge me a single digit for the ‘book’ but I felt I was cheating myself.
Reading: a while back I read the Everyman’s Jane Austen collection – Sanditon, various other shorter works, and didn’t review it for a couple of reasons. It was my first collection in a while, my first collection since I’d started reviewing, and the thought of trying to condense it all to a thousand or so words was overwhelming. But reviewing each story separately seemed silly as there wouldn’t have been enough to say to make it worth it.
Yesterday I was researching Kate Chopin. I want to return to The Awakening, delve into the themes in more detail, and so I was researching the book, the author’s life, influences… I ended up reading Désirée’s Baby. I then started down one of those research rabbit holes, wanting to learn about the French Creoles Chopin writes about, and ending up a couple of hours later reading about Native American Territories.
I’ve decided to record short stories read in a different place to my general reading, with the idea that it will be exclusively stories that weren’t collected and in the public domain. Classic work is what I’d like most to focus on and recording will allow me to remember for later. This takes me to a sort of sub-decision: recording the publication details of the story. In part because I’m aware Désirée’s Baby was published in a collection a year after it was printed in Vogue (14th January 1893 – I was pleasantly surprised to find the exact date) and thus is actually out of the bounds of what I’m aiming for, I want to keep a record of all those magazines and pamphlets that stories were published in. My thought is it’ll be interesting to note trends, to see where writers shared space, and to learn more about early literary publications. (I’ve often thought of looking at Dickens’ Household Words away from the context of the fiction itself, and as Vogue is now synonymous with fashion, Chopin’s inclusion is intriguing – what’s the history there?)
As to how to review them, I’m considering the ‘mini-review’ collective format some bloggers use. I’ll likely read stories in author phases, so to speak, and round up that way. As for Chopin, because many (all?) of her stories were collected, that will see a bog-standard review. In these cases I’ll likely defer to the original compilation rather than any from our present day.
I’m going to do the same with any poetry I find myself wanting to discuss. I don’t know nearly enough to consider a poem per post. There are some Tudor poets out there, often included in fiction, that I’d like to study. Shakespeare’s excluded for now because I wouldn’t know where to start, but as I said last week I’m enjoying reading about Aemilia Lanyer. I’ve found her poetry online – an easy read which, although it would be considered too simple nowadays, is quite enjoyable.
I think the ‘too long; didn’t read’ version of this post is that I’m giving myself more literary freedom. I think (hope!) I’m at the point now in my journey where I’m reading in such a way and with enough background context that I can discuss shorter works for more than a couple of sentences.
How do you go about reading (and reviewing, if relevant) short pieces of literature?
March 24, 2017, 3:15 pm
Omg, I so struggle with this myself! I went thru a spate of reading literary mags loaded with short stories and poems, and I didn’t know whether to count ’em as books or not, either!
I love the way you describe how you explore short works — I’ve been doing that a bit with Lovecraft’s works. I’m really excited about the novels inspired by Lovecraft, so I’ve been slowly reading his short stories and biographical info about him and his writing (and horrible prejudices, yikes!).
March 24, 2017, 3:45 pm
This is a wonderful post.
I think context for publication is important. When I think about how many novels were serialized first in monthly magazines, what did that do to the reader in terms of having to wait? Did audience response affect the writing? I wonder if serializing affected the writer and the reader? (I realize you are talking about short stories here…)
I like doing background work with my reading also and have thought to do it in a more formal way. As I am more historically minded I am not sure if that kind of posting makes sense in a review blog or if I need to start another one or make these changes to the blog I already have. I am thinking this through right now, so your post here is very timely for me.
I will be very interested to see what you come up with!
March 24, 2017, 4:59 pm
If I have a novel or novella by the same author, I’ll often read them back to back and review them together as one post. When listing a short story on my reading list, I note it as such. Considering I read so many lengthy books, I figure it all evens out in the long run.
My copy of The Awakening has short stories included in the volume. I need to look back and see if I remember reading any of them at that time.
March 29, 2017, 3:19 pm
I used to participate in/have a feature in which I focused on a single (or couple) short stories at a time. My problem is I tend to read short story collections if I read short stories, and not individually. So, the question of how to review them–individually or as a group–has always been an issue for me. I think I would have the same problem as you in terms of counting an individual short story toward my books read count. It seems like cheating to do so.
I do sometimes review a novella in one post. If I read a set of them by the same author (like recently), I will likely do one post for the entire series instead of individually.
If I don’t have much to say about any book or novella, I will sometimes do a multiple book review post to include all of them. The mini review groupings.
My reviews of children’s picture books are often short ones. I never have a lot to say about them. Haha. So, I tend to group them together, unless I just feel a short post is in order.
When it comes to poetry, I don’t review it unless I’m reviewing an entire collection.