TSS: How I learned to stop worrying and love the short story anthology
Before I forget, I’m going to do my pick-of-the-month for January: Songs of Love & Death, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. It’s a short story collection of cross-genre love stories, stories that straddle the line between romance and fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. My full review will go up on Friday, but in short: it was brilliant, with scads of fantastic stories, and no real duds – even my less-favorite stories were still really good. The only two included authors that I’d read before were Neil Gaiman and Diana Gabaldon (yes, there’s an Outlander-adjacent story, and yes, it’s awesome), but I’ve come away from it with oodles of new authors that I want to try.
Between loving Songs of Love & Death so much, and the fact that I’ve acquired an alarming number of new anthologies over the past few weeks (the library booksale keeps putting out Ellen Datlow-edited volumes for $1 apiece! I mean, really!), I’ve been thinking a lot recently about short stories.
In principle, and often in practice, I love short story anthologies. Two of my top books of 2010 were anthologies (Geektastic and Zombies Vs. Unicorns), not to mention Songs of Love and Death up there, so they’re definitely something I enjoy. Short stories let authors play with ideas that are interesting, but not enough to support a full-length novel. I love seeing a lot of different authors’ approaches to a theme, and I love being able to sample a bunch of authors at once and finding new favorites. I also love that short stories force authors to get to the point; to strip away the padding and fluff and get down to the business of telling a good story. They’re short, easily digestible, and perfect for reading in small chunks of time – over lunch or for a quick shot before bed.
My problem with short stories is that they’re such small chunks. When I read, I tend to set aside an hour or two at a time, and my favorite books are the ones that pull me in and don’t let me go until I’m done with them, or at least for the length of an evening.
Short story anthologies are terrible at this.
It’s not that they’re bad at pulling me in, and it’s not exactly that I mind that the stories end right when I’m getting invested. My problem is more that I have to go through that process of getting invested over and over again. If I’m feeling at all distractible, anthologies have natural stopping places every thirty pages or so. The story’s over, there’s no cliffhanger forcing me to keep reading the next chapter, I can set it down and go make some tea and oh hey is that a new e-mail I wonder if there’s anything new on the internet and I really should fold that laundry already and oh why don’t I just watch one episode of Buffy while I do it okay well maybe two, and then I never go back to my book.
Maybe the problem comes when I make anthologies my main book; they’re perfectly suited to being a secondary book to a primary current read. I’ve tried forcing myself on to a one-short-story-per-day diet, which works sometimes, but never for very long, and I wind up “currently reading” the 12th edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror for the past three years now. I might try it again; any suggestions on how to get myself to stick to it this time would be much appreciated. Maybe a weekly accounting here of the short stories I’ve read that week?
What about you, readers? Do you read anthologies? Do you read them straight through, or picking at them over a longer time? Any suggestions for how to get through the anthologies I have, or new anthologies I should try?
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