The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Do you read a lot of short fiction?

Posted on: January 22, 2007

I find that I can only read short stories if they are published in a book with a sturdy spine. I’ve noticed when tag surfing on WordPress that there are a noticeable number of bloggers  who post short stories, or parts of longer works; on Metaxucafe I sometimes notice “flash fiction” entries. Technically a lover of words such as I should be skimming lines, giving each author I chance but I do the opposite. Nothing moves my eyes along faster than a post tagged “fiction” with no hyperlinks to another person’s work. It’s a reflex now.

The only exceptions to this, so far is *w at Loud Solitude and Dan Green. The first because her words had more devious means of initially gaining my attention and then my mouth widened a bit because, ummmm, how is this writing allowed to be so good on a surface not on paper bound by a spine? The second because, in my spare time, I draw hearts and flowers around a free-hand charcoal sketch of **Green’s brain.

It’s a weird prejudice. I tend to ignore stories on any kind of glossy magazine surface or crackly newspaper print, too. Short of buying a short story collection, which rarely happens, I won’t read any.

Except in the Paris Review. Because it’s on proper paper bounded by a sturdy spine! The Fall issue had this fantastic short story by Mohsin Hamad. It was the opening piece and I sat by the huge glass window behind the magazine rack, then moved to the worn purple sofa, focused on every new development. That, and the photo essay, were what tipped me into the Paris Review boat. (It definitely wasn’t the Stephen King interview.)

The fiction, so far, in this issue is not as riveting but it’s not boring either. T.C. Boyle contributed a story about an alcoholic father in denial with an estranged wife away in Paris, his Chinese-American art store owner paramour and two young daughters, the older at 12 (almost 13). The father bored me to tears, probably because I’m really weary of the middle-aged, middle-class white male adulterer who is not the-best-father-in-the-world-but-he-tries character and Boyle doesn’t do much to change my mind here. He is effective at changing the voices when he switches to the older daughter, Angelle, the slip into the characters seamless, making each distinctive. (Some authors use very artificial means of differentiating age in characters: in lesser hands Angelle would be spouting all the latest slangs and name-dropping 50 cents). I don’t find her particularly interesting either but the conflict at the centre of the story is enough to make one want to read to the end.

I used to think that T.C. Boyle was a sci fi author, even after decent coverage by the NYTBR and his shelving in book stores indicated otherwise. And even after reading that story, somehow, I still feel that Boyle should be writing a story that has space ships. I’ve never actually googled his name or read anything about him–maybe he has some dark sci fi writings in his past…

*Perhaps not strictly fiction but it’s so imaginatively written that it has to count. We can’t describe that as regular ol’ blog writing because where does that leave the rest of us?

**I’m kidding. I made an origami brain and framed it. 


14 Responses to "Do you read a lot of short fiction?"

I like to buy a lot of old short story collections. They’re great for reading out loud with the family. And I did just buy David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion which I’ll never read aloud. Especially not with the family. Although I think my two year old son might find what he could understand of Wallace funny. But, you know, I too ignore fiction in glossy magazines. I think it’s written for glossy people.

You’re not alone in your aversion to stories online. I have a hard time reading those things too, and its no criticism to several very good writers. I prefer to read blog entries online, not fiction. I’d rather read the fiction I can hold in my hand.

As for short stories (in book form), I love them.

IanThe only short story collection writer that I read with any kind of thoroughness is Andre Dubus who I fell upon by accident. I did quite a few of them in school but I’m really into *novels* and can’t work up the same enthusiasm for much else.

I picked up one by a Canadian author at a used book sale on-campus. Umm…Eden Robinson! Supposed to be a stunner according to the blurbs.

Never read anything by Wallace. If two year olds like it though…

Carl V. yes, I can only make the investment if it’s some long NYT report or something.

I love short stories, even if I tend to find novels more fulfilling…but if you’re looking for a good solid anthology I can recommend 3 x 33, edited by Mark Winegardner. The idea is that 3 stories are presented by 33 authors. I read it for a short fiction class and find myself going back to it because the fiction was so good. Most of the authors are contemporary American with a sprinkling of other backgrounds for good measure. 🙂

When I read stories I prefer to read them in books too. Reading literature online just doesn’t work for me — I can’t concentrate very well.

verbivore thanks for the recommendation! I remember that you like Dubus so I take that as a good sign.

Dorothy W. same here. More practically it’s a strain on the eyes.


I do enjoy the short story format, though it lacks the “bonding experience” associated with novels. If I’m between books, or short on time so can not immerse myself fully, I reach for a collection of “shorts”. Alice Munro is among my favourites. Another volume which I’m enjoying is “The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant”. I’m averse to reading literature online. It lacks that “full bodied” experience and tactile pleasure I derive from a book!

I’ve been out sick and haven’t had time or energy to surf my fave sites the last couple of days; still sick, actually, but decided to pop in here to check out some incisive critical writing… and found my glob’s name! Thanks so much for the props! 🙂 I haven’t read any spectacular collections lately, but can tell you what had once awed me years ago and had made me want to be a writer: Flannery O’Connor, Stephen Dixon, Margaret Atwood, and these days (of course) Borges and Poe. I wish I could rave about an entire collection today, but I find I like just one or two stories from any single collection out there right now. I don’t know why that is—I keep thinking it’s my fault as a reader.

Anyway, I’m off now to snuggle/rest in bed with my just-purchased copy of The Paris Review. Woo! (And thanks again. :-))

Oh, and devious… heh.


Something ate my comment. I wanted to see Dan Green’s charcoal brain with hearts and flowers–though the origami one would do–floating above your musings on his stories.

And to say that your picture with dotted gloves and stripey hat is jolly, joyful, even a bit adorable!

Quit eating my comment! I am not spam!

Marly a thousand pardons! I only checked my spam today after noticed your happy responses floundering among the spammers trying to sell me pills and watches. If it makes you feel any better the blog ate one of my own comments.

I will er…come up with photographic evidence of the brain origami…when the gods deem it time. And thanks for the compliments on my blogger profile pic. I was feeling very happy and silly that day, what with all the fluffy, plentiful snow, weak, pleasant wind and frozen lakes.

Literatilust I’ve always heard so many great things about Alice Munro. If I ever try her stories one day, and I don’t see why I won’t, I’ll be approaching with horribly high expectations.

Mavis Gallant? Name sounds very familiar but nothing specific is popping into the mind. Thanks for the recommendations!

w you’re very welcome! You know I’ll be first in line once you’re published. Very sorry to learn that you’re sick though and hope it passes soon. The Paris Review should help!

I’ve been meaning to try Stephen Dixon for a long time now. He seems to be one of those “writer’s writer” that don’t get enough notice in print.

I know you weren’t trying to slight the efforts of those of us who do try to publish short stories in blog pages, and I certainly appreciate that everybody, myself included, has reading preferences beyond his/her control. But, ouch. What are we unlucky short fiction writers to do, if the Paris Review persists in refusing to print us on beautiful paper? Ah, well. I’d probably keep posting them even if I had no readers at all. *Did I understand you to say I might be able to trick you into clicking to my blog if I include tags to “another person’s work”? Sounds worth a try!

The actual body of your post would have to include the link. Tags aren’t legit enough. :p

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