There is a lot to be learned about life from reading short stories. A good short story can transport the reader far off into the future or back to life in the 1800’s, or anywhere in between … all in about the same amount of time that it takes to finish a cup of coffee.

In just one hour of reading, for example, you can experience the life of an elderly woman in the rural U.S. south in the 1940’s; walk in the boots of an 1890’s prospector trudging alone through knee-deep snow and unimaginable cold in the Alaskan Yukon wilderness; witness the humiliating travails of a Russian document copier during the waning days of the Russian Empire; visit a seemingly normal small town on its annual Lottery Day.

Today, the short story reader can experience the lives and thoughts of characters living in virtually every country on earth. Men can learn more about women and women more about men. There is much pleasure and knowledge to be derived simply from reading good short stories.

Even reading stories of ordinary lives expands our own inner world when those stories have been masterfully written.

Reading short stories can result in the enhancing of both self-awareness and creative thinking.

Two gold mines of short stories are:

The Art of the Short Story, 52 authors from 17 countries, 63 stories, with commentary on writing from each author! 920 pages, 2006,

Best American Short Stories of the Century, 56 stories and authors, from 1915 to 1999, edited by John Updike. 795 pages, 1999.

The Short Story

 

The short story is our most recent literary form. The first novel, The Tale of Genjii, is said to have been written in Japan around 1010 by a noblewoman named Murasaki Shikibu. The first English language novel is variously thought to be Le Morte de Arthur by Thomas Mallory (1485) or Don Quixote (1605).

Poetry is thought to date back to the 18th century BC and the epic Sumerian poem, Gilgamesh.

Although parables, fables and tales have been with us since at least biblical times, the modern short story was developed in America during the early to mid 1800’s.

Edgar Allen Poe, called the father of the short story, wrote that the short story must have these characteristics:

> it must produce a certain, unique effect
> It must have brevity (a reader should be able to read it in one sitting)
> It must have unity
> It must have intensity
> it must begin with the first sentence (i.e., not spend too long on background, setting, intro of characters, etc.)

Other American short story pioneers include Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain.

The Russian author, Anton Chekhov, is widely regarded as the father of the modern short
story. It has been said of Chekhov, “The real, the only hero of Chekhov, is the hopeless man”. If you haven’t read it, we recommend Chekhov’s, Misery.

Kate Chopin, the American author whose short stories were widely published in the late 1800’s, was controversial for her frank depiction of women’s sexuality. Eventually, the professional and social ostracism that resulted from her fiction caused her to stop writing. Recommended: The Story of an Hour.

Today, the short story is more popular than ever. In 2017 almost 50% more short story collections were sold than in the previous year.