It’s a question that’s been bugging me lately, and one I can’t seem to find an answer to.
In a world where evolving technology is blamed for laziness and short attention spans, it follows that short stories should become more popular and that anthologies should be the top priority for publishers. Maybe they are becoming more popular, but not to the extent that you’d expect. This is such a shame. Short stories offer a glimpse into somebody’s great pains or struggles, and the value of imparting this onto a reader in so few words cannot be overstated.
A good anthology revolves around a single theme. It makes this explicit, and then it lets you experience this theme from a variety of angles and perspectives. It challenges things you hold dear, it takes you hostage with stories that won’t relent. It puts you into an unfamiliar world, and then just when you think you’ve made sense of it, it tears you out and thrusts you into a new one. Reading short stories is such a different experience from immersing yourself in a novel, and I think we underestimate the fun we can have with them, and the power that they can hold.
Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things begins with an introduction that outlines the theme at the heart of the anthology:
“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts…Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest muscles able to pump blood for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkably difficult to kill.”
– Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things
What follows is a series of tales that disturbs, disgusts, and discomforts in equal measure. Individually, the stories occupy your thoughts long after you marked your place and put the book down. Collectively, the stories question your former views on the theme. They make you anxious; if you were wrong about this, what else are you wrong about? It goes without saying that I recommend this particular book of short stories, but I’m not Neil Gaiman’s agent, editor, or publisher (much to my chagrin). I don’t want you to read Neil Gaiman, I want you to read short stories.
My favourite short story is Weights and Measures by Jodi Picoult. I won’t say anything about it for fear of spoiling it. Having said that, I’ve seen reviews that absolutely slam some of the short stories I love. Short stories are so subjective, moreso than novels in my opinion, and I think that’s another reason I can’t recommend short stories enough. When it’s written right and it’s the right one for you, well, that’s the magical combination. You might have to dip your toes into a few stories that don’t quite move you, but there are so many out there that will.
Delay that classic or bestseller for a week. Finding yourself in a short story is just as satisfying as losing yourself in a long novel.