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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Taciturn Tales - The Art of the Short Story

Did you know that an average novel has 80,000 words in it? That's a lot of words. Don't get me wrong, I'm a librarian, I like to read, but sometimes I need a break. That's when I turn to short stories. Short stories have traditionally been defined as stories that can be read in one sitting. Nowadays the definition of a short story is a bit more formal. Short stories are usually no shorter than 1,000 words and no longer than 20,000. If you're really in a hurry, there's a subgenre of short stories called, I kid you not, short short stories. Such micro stories are also sometimes referred to as flash fiction.

Of course short stories are more than just stories that are...short. They have their own style, rhythm, and pace. Sometimes, for instance, short stories will start in the middle of the action, rather than building up to it with an explanation of the setting, characters, etc. The conclusions of short stories can be more abrupt than what one finds in a novel.

Book cover for Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan PoeEarly predecessors of modern short stories include works as diverse as One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) and traditional fairy tales such as those collected and published by Charles Perrault. The modern short story really came into its own during the 19th century. Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as the Brothers Grimm, wrote or compiled short stories during the first half of the 1800s. The second half of the 19th century saw short story collections from authors such as Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, and many more.

The short story form has flourished since then. There are so many well regarded contemporary short story authors, I won't even attempt to name them. I'll let the experts guide you.  A good starting place is The Best American Short Stories series, an annual publication that collects the best short stories in American literature from well known and emerging authors. The latest edition, 2016 is edited by Pulitzer Prize winning Dominican American author Junot Diaz. There's also the O'Henry Prize Stories. This annual publication compiles the best 20 short stories selected from thousands published in literary magazines.

Book cover for The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea
Short stories can be found in other ways too. For example, there are collections of stories by individual authors. Dear Life, The Water Museum, and Sea Lovers are examples of such collections, by Alice Munro, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Valerie Martin respectively.  You can find such collections by searching the name of an author and adding the phrase short stories. I tried this with Stephen King, for instance, and found both his latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and his earlier short story works.

There are also themed short story collections. I did a search of science fiction and short stories, for instance, and found a large number of print and ebook collections, including Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation and Women Destroy Science Fiction!, a collection of short stories from Lightspeed magazine, all written by women. You can use this technique to find other themed short story collections, such as mystery or horror collections. We also have short story collections in other languages, such as SpanishChinese, and Vietnamese.

Of course short stories aren't just for adults. MCPL offers short story collections for children and for teens. Kids may enjoy reading fairy tales from the villains' perspective in Troll's Eye View: a Book of Villainous Tales. Remember those short short stories? Busy teens might find time for a tale or two in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories.

I suppose it would be wrong for a post about short stories to be too long, so I'll wrap up here. If you've been inspired to find a short tale or two, we can help you find some you'll love. Talk to one of our friendly folks at the information desk of any MCPL branch or try our What Do I Check Out Next? service, which provides online, personalized reading suggestions.

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