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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Reading Short Story Collections

As I was reading Catherine Chanter's enticing collection of short fiction (which I would again urge you to read!) I realised something about my reading habits.

I currently have bookmarks in four separate short story collections. Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women 1890-1914 and Daughters of Decadence: Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siecle both have page markers around about story one. The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield dispensed with the bookmark for some reason unknown to me, although I think I was about half way through the mammoth 779 pages and The New York Stories of Edith Wharton has a nice solid receipt marking page 230 out of 459. Add to this the fact that I'm reading three separate collections for my PhD and it seems I'm drowning in short story collections.

I think it stems from the fact that I only allocate myself an hour of pleasure reading per day. Eleven until midnight is the only time I really switch off and allow myself to do something fun. Not that PhD research and writing my socks off isn't fun, it's just it's... work. So during my hour I like to bury myself in a story and, unfortunately, short stories don't drag me back for more. If I finish one tonight then where's the incentive for me to return to the collection tomorrow? More to the point, why should I pull myself away from whatever I may be doing at eleven o'clock when I'm not anxious to know if Person A betrays Person B? There's a reason serialised fiction in periodicals was intensely popular in the nineteenth century. (Note PhD encroaching on my blog posts now!)

Do I have a solution? Well, I think short stories are the most delicate and intriguing form known to writers. Writing them is so difficult that I want to marvel at the ingenuity of Catherine Chanter or the expressive detail of Edith Wharton or the quiet contemplation of Katherine Mansfield. I think that somewhere in my schedule I need to allocate 'short story reading time' and enjoy one collection at a time.

Suggestions on where I can fit that into my full schedule happily received on a postcard.

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