Fat Books & Thin Women

It’s Short Story Month. I like short stories.

I’ve been trying for a few days to get the inspiration to write a “real” post for this blog – you know, a review of one of the two books I’ve finished in recent memory – but life is conspiring to keep that from happening. If you are unfortunate enough to have read my other blog, you’ll already know that I recently accepted a Fulbright grant to do a research project in Albania after I finish my Peace Corps service, that I’ve been putting together the Peace Corps Macedonia magazine, that I’ve had some spelling bees to run, and that my mouse problem has gotten worse and turned into a rat problem.

But, it’s Short Story Month, and if there’s something I love – well, it’s short stories. Although it’s the novel that gets all our attention I think short stories are often harder to pull off. When writers are working with just a thousand, two thousand, six thousand words, they don’t have much room for error, and sentences or passages or character or plot devices that we would excuse in a novel can kill a story. Although people often say they like short stories because they can be read in one sitting, allowing for a quick entry into and exit from characters’ lives, I’ve never thought of them as “easier” to read than novels; and while I can jump from novel to novel without much pause, after finishing a good story I usually abandon reading for a couple hours. (Given my current situation, to kill a rat, or more likely to do something directly linked to my desire to avoid rats.) It never seems short of miraculous to me that someone can build entire lives out of three thousand words.

That said, I sometimes feel I’m in alone in this adoration of the short story. My favorite posts on this blog, about short stories, consistently draw fewer hits than my posts about books I am pretty sure no one has read, like The Castle of Otranto. As the editor of any literary magazine could tell you, countless people want to write short stories, but very few want to read them. We often seem to treat short stories with more caution than we do novels, which seems odd given our ever-shortening attention spans and willingness to drop twenty bucks on a book by an author we’ve never heard of, simply because the cover is “awesome.”

When I get all weepy about the state of the short story, though, the internets comes to rescue me. There are so many fantastic stories out there that I keep telling myself I will get around to doing posts on but probably never will; so in honor of short stories, the month of May, and my inability to write a book review, here are links to some of the best stories I’ve read recently. I promise, promise, promise that these stories are worth your time. And when you’re finished these stories, you should check out the other offerings from the magazines below. I still cannot decide if I am unnerved or pleased by the quantity of good short fiction floating around the internet, but that’s no reason to stop reading it.

  1. “My Brother’s Name is Jacob” by Brenna York, in Twelve Stories
  2. “Leila” by Christine Utz, in Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure
  3. “The Real War” by Gay Degani, in Clapboard House
  4. “Fucking Bulletproof” by U.V. Ray (huh), in Zouch Magazine (novel excerpt)
  5. “Corrections” by Patrick Swaney, in Anomalous

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Dude. I love love love short stories. That’s been one of the great things about starting up Dr. Hurley’s! So many short stories! What’s your all-time favorite? Mine might be one of Willa Cather’s – or Bernard Malamud?

Comment by Darby O'Shea

i’m not sure how to pick a favorite. maybe hemingway’s “indian camp” or kelly link’s “the faery handbag”? really, too many to choose from.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Congrats on the Fulbright!

I can’t wait to read through these stories. I’ve had so much fun (and such a hard time) picking one to link to on Twitter each day – one of these is bound to pop up sooner or later.

Comment by ohemgillie

thanks! i get overwhelmed sometimes by HOW MANY short stories are online. so i’ve so far taken this “short story month” as inspiration to finally tackle hemingway’s complete stories.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I’ve read The Castle of Otranto!! But only because I went to university in Horace Walpole’s house (literally), and they made us… I did actually enjoy it, though.
That aside, I love your Short Story Sundays, and the fact that you spotlight them – I really love reading short stories, and used to write a lot of them as well, until I got depressed about the total impossibility (at the time) of getting them published, but I’m getting back into them slowly now :-)

Comment by Bex

haha, i actually liked it a lot too. i tried reading another early gothic novel after it, “the monk”, and it was…not the same.

i understand your feelings about short stories. i wrote a lot in high school, got a few publications, then pretty much stopped for seven years, until a few months ago. sometimes it’s hard to reconcile these two sides to writing, the actual writing and then the endless rejection and searching for magazines that are printing your kind of stuff. and once you get over that hump, there’s the realization that writing short stories will never equal a career.

i better stop thinking about this.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Thanks for reading my story “Leila,” and for recommending it. I’ll have to check out the others you suggested.


Comment by Christine Utz

hey, my pleasure. i’d love to read more of your stories as they crop up, let me know if you have a site where you keep track of these things.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Congratulations on the Fullbright, condolences on (but not for) the rats!

I read The Castle of Otranto too.

I appreciate your short story feature precisely because I don’t read many short stories, and I feel bad not knowing what’s out there. I transition too slowly in and out of imagined worlds to get the full immersion experience (excepting through the special talents of a few authors) unless a certain number of pages are involved, a certain heft of paper. This makes short stories harder work for less reward when compared to novels, for me–my fault, not the genre’s.

Comment by Trapunto

i understand what you mean about the immersive experience of reading a novel. some short stories can manage that, but it’s rare. i go through phases with short stories; i’ve had years when i’ve read practically nothing but stories. sounds like my reason for starting the short story feature is similar to your reason for reading it – i realized that i wasn’t reading short stories as regularly as i used to, now that i don’t have access to literary magazines or a library, and wanted to change that.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

See? You are so not alone in loving short stories! You already know my devotion to them. So thanks for posting those links! Look forward to reading them.

Do you know joylandmagazine.com? I like reading the stories there.

Comment by Steph

i haven’t visited joyland before, i’ll check it out. thanks for the recommendation!

and yeah, it’s nice to see such a strong response in favor of short stories.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

PS. LOVE Hemingway!

Comment by Steph

Short Story Month! I didn’t know there was such a thing! I’m not sure why I don’t read more short stories, since I very often love them. Though I do prefer collections to single stories, and those can be harder to come by / identify as worth the effort. But maybe Short Story Month will motivate me to remedy this situation. And give me the kick in the butt I’ve been needing to write the short story post I’ve been putting off…

Comment by Jennifer Marcketta

yeah, i remember always feeling kind of let down when i went hunting for a good story collection in the states…for whatever reason i tend to prefer single author collections to anthologies, and if i remember correctly it’s always hard to find those in bookstores. i can’t remember now if they shelve short stories seperately from novels or if they were so hard to find because they were all mixed up together…either way, i think you have to hunt out the story collections more than novels, beause they never seem to get as much attention as do longer works.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

They’re all mixed in (what little there are) and I definitely agree, single-author collections are preferable to anthologies. I never get around to reading anthologies.

Comment by Jennifer Marcketta

I like the single-author collections that are organized in such a way that the stories riff off each other or comment on each other. Doesn’t have to be as formal as a “story cycle”, but I enjoy the cumulative effect and a more sustained authorial voice. Reading anthologies can make me feel a little bit like a ping-pong ball, especially if the stories aren’t framed and grouped. The Best American Short Stories series arranges the year’s stories alphabetically by author’s last name, which is very fair to the authors; but reading more than one of the stories at a time can give me a serious headache.

Comment by Jerri

Congrats on the Fulbright! I enjoyed looking through your blog this evening. I have a love/hate relationship with short stories, and have decided to take a year to read through a bunch of anthologies that were moldering on my bookshelves to see what I can learn from it. Am starting to blog about the experience. Stop on by some time: readersquest.wordpress.com.

As for the mice: best standard mousetrap bait is peanut butter. Is it hard to come by in Macedonia? We lived in Russia for 3 years & only ever found it in the Embassy commissary. Mice tend to run along the edges of walls, inside edges of cabinets, etc., so you may catch more if you keep traps set along the edges of vertical surfaces. Good luck with that!

Best regards, Jerri

Comment by readersquest

thanks for the tips jerry. peanut butter is a little hard to come by, but still easier than in russia – i’m heading to the capital today and will buy some there, also hunt for some rat-sized traps. i managed to kill one mouse using a homemade trap (with peanut butter, of course), but i need to step up my game if i’m going to get them all.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

I’m a lover of short stories. I think that they’re pockets of magic. I love dispersing collections between my longer reads.

thanks for the links!

Comment by Monica

Congrats on the Fulbright! That’s an amazing achievement and honor. I just stumbled on this doing that most embarrassing thing: Googling myself! But you are exactly why I do it. Thank you sooooo much for the shout out for “The Real War!” I am so please and flattered to have it on your list of stories to recommend. That piece has kind of fallen under the radar, so I thought oh well, too grim, and I’m happy to hear someone likes it. Anyway, thank you. What a treat to come across this.

Comment by gay degani

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