Cheating on the Novel: A Love Affair with Short Literature

short stories and essays

I was never a reader of short works. I always preferred something chunky or, failing that, a series, the more pages the better. I suppose it’s because I don’t handle loss well; I fall in love with characters too easily and become unwilling to part with them. For those of us with this type of weakness, short fiction can become a series of small heartbreaks. When it comes to essays, there’s an easier explanation: I’ve just never been much of a non-fiction reader and, when I am, it has to be in lengthy narrative form. Memoir is best.

So it’s hard to explain what’s happened to me in the past few months, whether The New Yorker is to blame or Granta, but instead of my usual novel-centred serial monogamy, I have found myself suddenly juggling, dipping into many collections at once: Franzen, Foster Wallace, Ephron, Didion, Orwell, the short stories of Margo Lanagan, Karen Russell and Dorothy Parker. How did this happen? Perhaps it’s the start of warmer weather, the inviting call of 20-50 pages in a sunny garden, of feeling as though I’ve accomplished something, title to final word, in a short span of time. Either way, I find myself desperate for my next encounter; tantalized by a sly look from This is How You Lose Her, a cheeky wink from Granta’s latest edition of Best Of Young British Novelists, whilst on my bedside table my steadfast long fiction waits, all patience, for my return.

short-story-thursdays1The latest symptom in my obsession is a subscription to Short Story Thursdays, a workplace lark that Jacob Tomsky has parlayed into a recognized not-for-profit, emailing members classic public domain short stories once a week. The first I received was by Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie and wasn’t at all what I expected. These literary morsels won’t further the progress toward my yearly book goal on Goodreads, but in their brevity they are rich on the tongue. Delectable even. They are the box of sweets you keep hidden away in the cupboard, never eating more than one in a night, eking your secret out for long months of brief yet lasting pleasure.

Liz Gillett


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