A couple of years ago, I encountered a paper assignment from a class taught by my literary hero, Kurt Vonnegut. In reading the assignment, I realized that as an undergrad I would have dropped the class. It would have terrified me. Even just thinking about it made my chest tight. Out came my Adventure Girl cape. I was going to tackle that assignment.
Fortunately, the book involved was a collection of short stories that was available from Paperbackswap, and it came right away.
Masters of the Modern Short Story then sat on my bookshelf for a long time. I reread the assignment and told myself that to start out with, I only had to read the book and think about the assignment. I got half way through, dutifully recording the grades I would give each story in a notebook as the assignment required, when I realized that I’m not really in this class and don’t have to force myself to read them. They are all really famous authors – mainly really famous authors whose novels I didn’t enjoy either. Despite all my rationalizing, I am still left feeling I’ve let my idol’s memory down.
It was through trying to do this exercise that I came to terms with what I had suspected for years was a Tammy-truism: I don’t like short stories. As much as I love to read, what I dislike about the whole process is getting into a story. What I encountered with this book, and so many other short stories, was that by the time I finally got involved in a story, it was over, and I would have to start again on the next one.
Lately, however, I have been forced to retool that truism. I dislike slow-starting short stories. Just like there are some novels that hook me on the first page, I’m learning that there are short stories out there that can do that as well. In fact, I’ve read two collections of short stories in the last month and enjoyed them both tremendously.
The best collection was Selfies from the End of the World, which was the result of a KickStarter campaign that I backed.
I read it during my snowy vacation. “Read” is not the right word; “devoured” is better. These stories all had me at “hello,” and the collection was well curated so the stories felt like they’d been designed to go in that particular order. “End of the World” was not defined in the brief that went out in the submission request, and the author’s interpretations are incredibly varied and creative.
Would you have loved or hated the Vonnegut assignment? Or Do you prefer short stories or novels?