Regular visitors to this blog will have gathered that I’m a keen reader of short stories, so it will come as no surprise that the challenge I propose to host in 2008 is a Short Story Reading Challenge. The blogosphere abounds with reading challenges for the new year; I’ve already committed to rather a lot of them myself. But where challenges are concerned my attitude is unequivocally “the more the merrier.” I’ve never regretted signing up for one even when I didn’t finish it, so great is the pleasure of embarking on a reading journey in the company of congenial fellows, and so great the rewards of the encounters with new authors and books thereby provoked. And the beauty of short stories for the time-strapped reader is that they are, well, short. With that in mind, I offer up a variety of forms that the Short Story Reading Challenge could take depending on your level of familiarity with short stories and on the amount of reading time you expect to have at your disposal in the coming year.
Options 1 & 2: If you’re short on time, you can simply commit to reading ten short stories by ten different authors over the course of 2008. If you’re relatively new to reading short stories, any ten will do. If you’ve already got a lot of short stories under your belt, make it ten short stories by ten writers whose work you have not yet read. How about that—a year long challenge that you could conceivably complete in the course of a day! Of course, I would encourage you not to do that but rather to heed the words of Mavis Gallant, short story writer extraordinaire, who advises:
Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.
Completing this version of the challenge could be a simple as participating in the short story discussions at A Curious Singularity throughout the year. Or picking up a short story anthology, whether of classic or contemporary stories, or of stories of a particular genre or on a particular theme, and slowly working your way through at least ten of the stories contained within. Of course, my hope is that once you get started you’ll get hooked and you’ll spiral out into other stories by those writers and more!
Options 3 & 4: If you’ve got a bit more time to devote to this endeavour, you can commit to reading between five and ten short story collections over the course of 2008. Again, if you’re a short story novice, the world is your oyster as far as selection is concerned. But if you’re a seasoned short story reader, you’ll want to choose collections by writers whose short stories you have not yet encountered.
Option 5: This is the custom option under the rubric of which you can tailor your reading list to best meet your personal reading aspirations. You might wish to craft a list that focuses on a particular place, or era, or genre. Or you might wish to include reading about short stories as well as of short stories, for example, such works as Frank O’Connor’s The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story. It’s entirely up to you.
If you’re aiming to read individual short stories and you’re not sure where to begin, check out the list of “ten truly great short stories” that William Boyd appends to this article on the short story. I also recommend the fine list of ten favourites that the Literate Kitten compiled last spring. You can find it here, as well as some recommendations from her readers in the comments section below the post. You’ll also find some great suggestions by dropping by The Book Mine Set for “Short Story Mondays.” And you may also wish to have a look at the stories that have already been discussed at A Curious Singularity, a list of which can be found toward the bottom of the sidebar there. If you’re looking for recommendations of short story collections, I encourage you to check out the short review, an online review site with an exclusive focus on short story collections. There is also an excellent review section (and many other great short story related resources) at story, a UK site dedicated to celebrating the short story form. Finally, for recommendations of both individual stories and collections of stories, you’ll find this article in The Danforth Review to be an indispensable resource. In it, 27 writers provide their lists of what they would include if they were called upon to put together the curriculum for an introductory-level course on the short story. Of course, I’m also hoping that participants and fellow bloggers will provide further recommendations of their own favourites.
I’ve created a blog dedicated to this challenge, which you’ll find here. On it, participants can post reading lists, recommendations, and reviews of specific short stories and short story collections, as well as ruminations on and links related to the short story form more generally. If you’d like to participate in the challenge, let me know in the comments section below or via e-mail. Even if you don’t plan to participate in the challenge, please post the titles of some of your favourite shorts stories or the names of your favourite short story writers below so that participants in the challenge can benefit from your recommendations.
For my own Short Story Reading Challenge, I plan to read ten short story collections by ten writers whose work I’ve not read before. I’m in the midst of compiling my list. But before I post it, I promise to post my own list of favourites from a lifetime of short story reading, so watch this space for that.