Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Long and Short of It

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks:

Which do you prefer? Short stories? Or full-length novels?

I much prefer novels to short stories. I know the old truism about stories being harder to write than novels, and that is probably true, but that doesn't make them easier to read.

It is usually the pace and rhythm of short stories that puts me off. I prefer the longer, steadier pace of a novel.  Too often, short stories either build to a big payoff that feels manipulated, forced, or just unsatisfactory -- like the story arc was truncated.  Or the story arc is too flat and just peters out in a way that is supposed to signify something important but just leaves me bored.

I'm afraid I had this reaction even to several of Earnest Hemingway's stories (see here) and John Cheevers's (see here), although both are revered for their short stories and I am a fan of their novels.

There are exceptions, of course. Roald Dahl is a master of short stories (see here for one review). I have read almost all of them and some are all-time favorites, such as "Taste" about a wine bet gone wrong and "The Great Automatic Grammatizator" about a machine that writes novels.

And I am just starting with Somerset Maugham's short stories, but they are very, very good.

As a rule, I will read short stories by an author who's novels I enjoy. But I won't start with a collection of short stories by an unknown (to me) author.



  1. I pretty much agree, even though I think I prefer Hemingway's stories to his novels. And I think it probably is more difficult to write really good short stories - they're certainly harder to find than good full-length works.

    Here's my long and short of it.

  2. I've been re-reading Self Helf by Lorrie Moore, and it kick-started my dormant interest in short stories. A well-written short story satisfies a different literary/emotional desire than a well-written novel.

  3. I also prefer the pace of the novel. Then, too, there are fewer magazines including short stories these days, not county the really little and literary ones, and so I see fewer of them than I did in the days when, say, Atlantic Monthly had a story or two every issue.


  4. Joy -- Thanks for leaving the link. You always have good BTT answers, so I'll come over to visit.

    Dormouse -- I'll have to check our Laurie Moore's short stories. Maybe they will revive my interest.

    SS -- Good point. I used to read the short stories in Esquire but haven't in years.

  5. Lorrie Moore totally rocks the short story form.

    During the 80s, I was mad for short stories, but I drifted away from them. I'm not sure why.

  6. LOVE the Simplicity shot! Rachel had a skirt like that on Friends prolly in season 3 or 4 and I totally wanted one but never saw one in a store. (Oh, and I hate short stories as a rule but there are always exceptions - one of my all-time favorite books is Poachers by Tom Franklin, a short story collection.)

  7. I prefer novels way more than short stories. Character development is so much harder for authors to achieve in the space of a short story.


  8. Bybee -- I'm going to have to find some Lorie Moore stories and try them.

    Carin -- Thanks! Those old sewing pattern pictures always make me smile. This one reminded me of matching mini (for me) and maxi (for my mom) dresses my mom sewed for us when I was about seven.

    Hannah -- I tend to agree. A great author can create a full character in a short story, but it is hard.

  9. I must admit I prefer novels but if I really like a writer I will read their short stories. I loved Maugham's The Verger, Annie Proulx's Wyoming Stories and I just finished Kate Atkinson's Not the End of the World which I really enjoyed.

  10. I love the Simplicity Pattern! You just took me back to my mother's sewing basket.

  11. Katrina -- Thanks for reminding me about Annie Proulx's stories. I did like those a lot. I read them out loud to my husband in the car (a vacation tradition) and we both loved them. And Atkinson is a new favorite of mine, so I will read her stories.

    Nathalie -- Thanks! My mom brought her old sewing machine and sewing box over to my house last weekend, so those images were on my mind.


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