In my head, all forms of literature have a distinct personality. Poems are anti-social, novellas are excitable, anthologies can't make minor life decisions. Not every form of literature has a strong pull towards one trait or the other, but short stories? Short stories are sexy.
Last week I may have bemoaned the growing popularity of bite-sized blogging, but short stories will forever be held in the highest esteem in my mind. Far from being the product of laziness, well-crafted short stories are the bewitching mistresses of literature, enchanting in their brevity but breathtaking in their scope. A good short story will only take a dozen minutes to read, but it will linger like traces of spice on the tongue.
Anne Enright, editor of The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, asks in her insightful and occasionally humerous introduction, "Is this another aspect of the short story we find unsettling: its promiscuity, its insistence on being partial, glancing, and various?" Indeed, it is the rebel nature of the short story not to tell but to hide that makes them so alluring. Short stories are often extremely thematic and leave no room for error in their storytelling, for each line has been polished and examined under a jeweler's glass until there are no cracks-- unless they are intentional. Far from a drag-out fight to the finish, a short story is a glancing blow that leaves the reader reeling.
Those who have not read many short stories before may be put off at first by their coldness, their unwillingness to reveal truths to the reader. Don't be discouraged, for the nature of the short story is to make you work, and think, and reread. If you don't understand a certain leap in action, reread-- and do so carefully. If you finish the story and it seems like there was absolutely no point to what you have read, put on your metaphor glasses and reread. Nothing in a well-written short story is revealed without reason. No action, character, or setting is unimportant.
If I have made a seemingly poor case for reading as many short stories as you can get your hands on, think again. While novels are the comfortable date who talks about themselves the whole night, short stories wear a seductive smile and make you sweat and strive for approval. But when you get to them, when you can undress the cloaked meaning and solve the enigma, is that not all the more satisfying?
To ease into the short story world, consider reading a short story by someone considered the master of that art form in the Jazz Age: F. Scott Fitzgerald. There are a plethora to choose from, most of them available online, but if you want something you may already be familiar with, give The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a whirl (yes, the inspiration for the Brad Pitt film). And tell me what you think.
If that sits well, your local library is more than likely well-stocked with anthologies of short stories. Also, libraries are magical book-havens where book nerds go to die, so support your local library as often as you can.