Thursday, June 03, 2010

Short Stories

My friend Ted posted a question on his blog bookey-wookey if people preferred short fiction or novels. It's an interesting question.

I have a wierd relationship to them. I love Chekhov's short stories, but I do not choose to read stories as a genre. In the New Yorker I almost never do, unless it's Sherman Alexie or some writer I love who I just can't skip (he's another short form person I admire and find very readable). For the most part, though, I'm impatient with them. I'm kind of impatient with fiction lately anyway - maybe it's a function of aging - but some writers can still catch my eye. I haven't given up totally. Like everything, I'm sure it's cyclical. And, like everything, if it's an amazing short story, I love it. Joyce's Dubliners, Sherman Alexie's collections, Rachel Ingalls' novellas, Grace Paley - great writers. And I love essays, too, so it's not the shortness. Maybe it's just a hard form.

Then, I discovered the Selected Shorts podcast, and discovered I love short stories being read to me. That was revelatory. There's something wonderful about being told the whole story in voice, whereas books on tape leave me completely cold.

In fact, Joanna Gleason reading St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is thrilling. That story I still remember - visceral, beautiful. I thought it would be a gimmick, and then it's unexpectedly about assimilation, adolescence, and pain. Stunning.

Another one that recently blew me away is on the New Yorker fiction podcast, where authors pick other authors' stories to read. Hilton Als read Jean Stafford's Children are Bored on Sunday, about an alcoholic woman's first foray after a breakdown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I actually wrote about these a little in my podcast entry when I started them. The stories are beautiful, so I guess that's my answer - I really love short fiction when it's being read to me.

Of course, I'm currently in RadioLab hole, and can't stop listening to the last 5 years of podcasts. I just listened to amazing stories about spindle cells, anthropomorhization, and animal brains on my way to work this morning. So all my friends are hearing about space, science, and brains. Which is a good story, too....


Elizabeth said...

It's so interesting -- I am a voracious reader of fiction -- both novels and short stories, but I just can't listen to them being read! I have such a difficult time keeping track and varied voices bother me. I must be a "visual" person and not "auditory." On the other hand, I've always prided myself on an ability to read aloud -- and I love doing that with my kids --

Criticlasm said...

That's so funny. I only like short stories being read, not novels, and preferably if it's first person narration - perhaps it's because they just seem like long monologues?