Even though my major requires reading dozens of books and countless other articles and essays, summer reading can be a challenge. Most would think I’d be happy to finally read whatever my heart desires, but sometimes I end up feeling like not reading at all — like, I need a complete vacation from books altogether.
Summer after summer I’ve gotten into this funk, sometimes only finishing one novel throughout the whole summer. But then, one of my courses, a course completely focused on the construction and writing of short story collections, enlightened my understanding of what summer reading could really look like, even for a tired reader.
Why is the short story collection so fit for summer? The easy answer is that it requires low commitment but high gratitude. You can read 20 pages and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end, instead of feeling like you are only knee-deep into a story.
The short story requires a small span of focus but can still provide a captivating tale or thought-provoking theme. So even though, like me, you’ll want to be finding new hobbies, practicing old ones, seeing friends and even working during the summer, you can still fit in time to enjoy a good story.
But beyond the practical reasons that make the short story fit for summer, there are philosophical considerations that should shoot these firecracker literary pieces right to the top of your reading list.
Any good short story collection has to be united by something. This “something” could be a theme, character, place, object or even an event. In some collections, the connection between the stories will be extremely obvious or even written into the title. But in other collections, the “something” that unites the stories might be subtle or even multiply into a collection of themes and objects that unify the collection.
In any case, this unifying theme in the stories allows you the opportunity to ponder an idea throughout the summer as you read through each story — and I mean really chew on it. You can think of the short story collection from various angles and take on the same concept while still thinking about each of the ways that the idea changes in light of the various stories.
Some stories may be positive toward the theme, while others might be rather negative. Short story collections can be complex, even though these traits might usually be assigned solely to novels.
What’s more, you can consider the structure of a short story collection in every possible way when you’re reading. Why was the collection organized this way? How did it flow? What if the stories had been categorized backward instead of the way they are presented in the finished copy? Would it change the message?
Nothing is taken for granted in the short story collection. Whereas a novel can feel like the author is fitting in as many details as possible just to get you to the end, short stories are carefully crafted to the point that every detail counts and contains meaning for the whole story and the whole collection.
Maybe, most importantly, the short story hinges on the ending, which truly sets it apart. Do you ever find that the endings to novels fall short? Oftentimes novels can be more concerned with the details throughout the story than the actual ending.
The idea is that you’ve enjoyed the whole novel so much up to the end that the end really won’t break the story for you. With the short story, however, the brevity of its length means the ending has to be good, and you can anticipate it and question it in nearly every short story you read.
So, what about those who simply don’t like to read? Yes, even you can enjoy the short story collection! How can I make such a bold claim? I often find it a rare case that someone doesn’t like to read because they simply are not interested in literature or stories or culture.
Instead, it often seems the case that non-readers have trouble imagining a story in their minds as they read and, therefore, struggle to enjoy the process of reading; this point only seems true when you consider the vast options that people have for enjoying stories that are much more visual and easily accessible, such as watching Netflix, Hulu or even through reading on social media.
That being said, the short story is practically written for those who don’t like reading. With the short amount of pages that an author has to get your attention, they have to make everything count. This often makes stories filled with details that are easy to grasp and storylines that are meant to get your attention and keep it through to an interesting ending. So, if you really don’t consider yourself a reader, try on the short story for size.
If I’ve sold you on the short story collection (or even if I haven’t) check out these titles to get started on some summer reading. They are some of my favorite collections that I think many people can pick up and enjoy.
1. Laura Van den Berg’s “The Isle of Youth”
Even if I wasn’t interested in the subject of every story in this collection, I was always captivated by the way that Van den Berg spins her stories. The writing is enchanting and memorable. There are just certain scenes that are too vivid or eccentric to be forgotten.
I won’t ruin any of the many themes you’re bound to discover in this collection, but each of the stories are told from a woman’s point of view and detail the ordinary difficulties that women face, as well as the challenges in Van den Berg’s strange stories that are, nonetheless, exciting and even relatable still.
2. Michael Rips’ “Pasquale’s Nose”
I happened upon this little story collection in a bin at a huge used book sale and, although it is categorized as a “travel memoir,” the stories that compose each chapter are so individual and eccentric that there is no way this can be anything other than a short story collection.
A former lawyer abandons his current lifestyle to pursue a new way of life in Italy where he meets many interesting characters. Some characters range from a porcupine hunter to a blind boot-maker all set in a picturesque village. This book is hilarious while also heartwarming, especially to those who love to travel.
This little book is a unique piece in that each chapter comprises a story, but each story is written by a different author.
Each of the stories revolve around a character, George G. Keane — a photographer who passes away and leaves a box with shells in it to his granddaughter, Margaret, with instructions to put them back from the various continents they came from, while he leaves his camera to his grandson Jason who uses it in his own day-to-day life.
Both characters experience what they would never have before, recounted by authors such as Eoin Colfer (author of “Artemis Fowl”), Gregory Maguire (author of “Wicked”), Nick Hornby (author of “High Fidelity”) and many other acclaimed authors. This book is not only interesting in terms of its content, but also in its construction.
So, go to your local bookstore or online, and enjoy your short story.