Short Stories are magic. Like movies, you can experience them in their entirety in a single sitting. As much as I love reading novels, there is something special about giving the attention to one story, without interruption. I'm a fast reader, but it's rare that I read a novel in one go. The brevity of a short story allows me to see the authors entire intent and ingest the scope of the story, while never dropping the pacing. It's magic.
Every year a volume of The Best American Short Stories is released. The stories are culled from literary magazines and they represent a wide variety of themes and styles. I was assigned the 2013 edition for two of my spring writing classes and I used the summer to finish the stories that had not been assigned.
One thing that I did, which was not required or even recommended by my professors, is I read every story aloud. Why? First, it slowed me down. I'm guilty of skimming and as I'm trying to focus on the craft of writing, I really needed to slow down and digest these stories. The other reason, is it gave me a better sense of both the pacing and the tone of the stories. I picked up on the lyrical quality and lilts that some of the authors have in their writing. I challenge you to read a few stories aloud. It really gave me a better perspective, plus my cats like hearing the stories!
My favorite story and the one that generated the most classroom discussion was George Saunder's The Simplica-Girl Diaries. This not-too-distant future story about "keeping up with the Jones" is highly unsettling and goes to very unexpected places.
I admired the intensity and power-play in Bret Anthony Johnson's Encounters with Unexpected Animals. This also has a wonderful twist.
Horned Men by Karl Taro Greenfield had so many layers, that it also made for a polarizing classroom discussion. Every time someone brought up a new point, I felt my opinion of the story shift. I hope that my writing is as complex as Greenfields.
The story that got me in my gut was Joan Wickersham's The Tunnel or The News from Spain. This deeply affecting story of a daughter acting as a caretaker for her aging mother, hit me on a personal level. It's so raw and beautifully rendered.
This is a fine collection of Short Stories. Although I had my favorites, I felt like every story was a worthy addition.