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I love short stories, but I know I don’t read them enough — or at least as much as I’d like to. I always find it easier to read novels. Novels usually have a common thread running through them, something that makes it easy to put them down and come back to them later. Short story collections, like poetry, contain breaks that, at times, end up stealing the flow of how I am used to consuming books.
A few years ago, I started implementing a few tips and tricks that helped me read poetry more consistently, but short stories continued to elude me; unlike a novel, a short story collection has many beginnings and endings, and it can be tricky to remember one story once you’ve moved on to the next one, with new characters and plot. This sometimes also has a hand in the way I get involved with the characters: I don’t know as much about each character as I would in a novel, so my empathy and interest wane.
Take The Dangers Of Smoking In Bed, for instance. The book flirted with me each time I went to work at the indie bookshop where I am employed. I love horror, and I had heard so many good things about this collection, that I spent my time looking at the cover, stroking the spine, and even reading bits and pieces here and there. The writing seemed just my style, and I immediately fell in love with the paperback cover (and yes, it is okay to judge — and buy — a book by its cover).
Because I knew how tricky it had been for me to actually finish any short story collection, I kept leaving the book behind each time. It became one of those books I romanced when I was putting other books on the shelves, but ended up never bringing home. Maybe one day, I thought. Then, I heard the author was coming to a book festival close by, and I figured it would be cool to go and see her after having read her famous collection of stories. So after months of vague and empty promises of someday I’ll take you home with me, I finally bought it. As expected, it ended up on my TBR shelf for several months, untouched.
In the second half of last year, I joined a book club whose aim was to read thicker books. As I was packing my bags for a trip, I realised my current read — which was around 600 pages long — was not the friendliest book to carry around in my backpack. So I scavenged my TBR for something thinner and lighter, and this felt like the perfect excuse to finally pick up The Dangers Of Smoking In Bed.
In the following weeks, each time I went places where I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to read — like during my lunch break or a small commute — I started reaching out for the short story collection, rather than carrying the big book I was still reading. And it worked: in a few weeks I finished it.
Nowadays, short story collections are my books on the go: when I know I will only have a small frame of unoccupied time, when I don’t want to carry too much weight with me, or when my current read is a bit tough or requires too much focus.
There are a few things I’ve learned since I gave short stories another try, and that you may want to try as well.
Read Them On The Go & Don’t Make Them Your Main Read
It is easy to give up on short stories when there is a whole novel requiring your attention. So read your novels or your works of nonfiction in your free time, at home, and keep short stories in your bag, or in your car, for when a small frame of free time shows up.
These will be your side-reads, the ones you pick up because it’s what you brought along with you. No rush.
Since you’re picking up short stories in small amounts of time, you may not be able to stop at the end of a chapter and then start as a new story begins. So take notes. That way, even if it takes days or weeks for you to go back to the book, you’ll have small snippets of what you’ve read already.
This will make your reading more effective, and you will better remember each story as you come to the end of the book.
Book Riot has great tips on how to best annotate your books, if you’d like some guidance there. It doesn’t need to be complicated, either. Just a word or two about what you found the most interesting at the end of each tale.
Personally, I really enjoy bullet points because they’re quick to take and straight to the point. Sometimes I will place a tab on a quote I know will trigger my memory of the story as a whole and, when I have time for it again, I’ll read that and know what I left behind.
Audiobooks, Audiobooks, Audiobooks
I never tire of recommending audiobooks for the most varied reasons, and this is yet another situation in which they can work wonders.
When you’re busy on a commute, or doing chores, it is easier to choose a story and stick to it.
I’ve listened to several short story collections on audio before I was able to figure out tricks to tackle them in print, and I could go as far as saying that’s how my love of them began.
Here is a post with a few great ones, if you’re not sure what to pick first.
Set A Reading Goal
Reading goals can be very helpful, especially if you’re not too strict about them. I always set my reading goals to a number I know I will be able to achieve because it makes me feel good when I reach them, but it won’t be something to stay awake at night for.
Look into your TBR and try to be honest with yourself: how many short story collections would you ideally like to read each month, or each quarter, each year? Set that goal and, without worries, do your best to follow some of these tips and reach it.
This year I have three short story collections I’d like to finish — the upcoming Nineteen Claws And A Blackbird by Agustina Bazterrica, Night Of The Living Rez by Morgan Talty, and The Butterfly Bruises by Palmer Smith. If I end up reading more, amazing. If not, it’s more than what I’m used to. Having this goal will help me remember these are on my TBR and should be given some priority. StoryGraph is a great help in creating and taking note of challenges, and is the tool I use for that.
If you struggle with reading short story collections, or if you’d like to read more of them, these are my tips to you: keep one short story collection at hand for trips when you want a lighter book, or for short spaces of free time you have: for lunch, at the doctor’s office, in line at the post office, etc. A lot of short story collections are light books, easy to carry with you at all times, and can help you get through those boring waiting lines. Set goals, and have fun.
At the end of the year, I promise, you will find yourself with a bunch of short story collections added to your personal library of read books.
Looking for more short story collections to add to your TBR? We have a whole archive dedicated to them, check it out!