Posted by: Mish | June 3, 2010

Long And Short Of It

I’m an avid reader of novels and short stories. I can’t remember when it started, but it’s a given that if I’m in the middle of a novel I’m also in the middle of an anthology. Needing a serious mental break after Nineteen Eighty-Four, I read Catherynne Valente’s “the Days of Flaming Motorcycles”. It was just what the doctor ordered before commencing Moby Dick. Now I have a fantasy anthology bookmarked. On fair occasion, an anthology will be the focus of my attention.

I’ve been in novel vs short discussions before and it seems that one of the popular reasons for not liking short stories is that those read weren’t any good. Poorly written short stories outnumber the good ones. It’s a lot harder to write and develop a good short story and I respect those who can pull it off. Some of my absolute favourite reads are Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata”, “the Locusts” by Steven Barnes and Larry Niven, and Neil Gaiman’s “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire”. More often than not, those by Ursula Le Guin, Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Charles de Lint, and Isaac Bashevis Singer are also really good. I first read Singer’s shorts when I was 13 and am looking forward to reading more in Passions and Other Stories, which is in the queue.

In some ways short stories are my interview process for novels and they can be a good introduction to authors. Although friends constantly told me to read Ender’s Game, “Unaccompanied Sonata” was the deciding factor for me to finally do so. Thanks to Walt Liebscher setting ’em up and knocking ’em down in his two-page “Do Androids Dream of Electric Love?”, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has advanced on my reading list. I was recently bequeathed an anthology that has stories by Kafka, Collete, Updike, and several other authors whose works I’ve been meaning to read. I have a friend whose schedule only allows him time for audio books so when he had 10 minutes I had him read “the Days of Flaming Motorcycles”. He read it online while waiting at the barber. As I expected and schemed, he really liked it and will be reading more by Catherynne Valente. Plus it made for an interesting 30-minute conversation.

Anyway, all this to say that coming across good, well-written short stories that catch one’s interest is like scatter shot. Of the hundred shorts I read in the past year, only about a dozen were a bull’s eye and ranked 5, while several more averaged a ranking of 3.

So why do you like short stories and what are some of your favorites? If you don’t, why not? And as asked by BTT, “Which do you prefer? Short stories? Or full-length novels?”



  1. I could not agree more with your view on short stories — so often, people end up reading badly written ones. Also, readers not familiar with the form might expect something along the lines of a mini-novel, with a clear-cut beginning, middle and end.

    While I love short stories, I have to say I enjoy novels more. A novel can never be too long for me, and so often a short story ends just when I feel I’m getting into it!

  2. Yeah, I enjoy novels more too. Whether short or novel, sometimes they just end to soon.

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