The Obvious

read all about it—or just a page or two

Posted in books, link by theobvious on December 14, 2010

A while ago, the New Yorker published Q&A’s with the writers who were featured in their “20 under 40” issue (basically the same names everyone else is bandying around, Shteyngart, Krauss, Foer, Russel, Li, etc.). They asked each young writer who their favourite authors over 40 were. To a reading person, this kind of thing is a goldmine: if you like the author, chances are you will like what they read as well. If you’ve never heard of the author before, chances are you’ll still love some of the books that inspired them to become, if not your favourite author, then at least America’s.

There were some really great recommendations on those lists. Some names that were entirely new to me. Of course, more enlightened people might find the lists stale, but to me, they were full of literary discoveries. Wonderful novelists whose Amazon pages would make anyone drool and start compiling wish-lists, and quite a number of lovely short story authors. In fact, it was like a short story feast, a paradise for the short story lover. If you were to purchase all of the collections penned by these authors, you’d be hooked up for life with high-quality, superbly written, engaging reading material. All the worse for me, because I don’t like short stories.

Being a voracious reader—incidentally, what’s up with the word voracious, it is disgusting, reminds me of the Lithuanian word for spider and the Russian word for thief at the same time, and yet it somehow evokes the exact image of that greedy way this kind of reader gobbles down a book—I can’t afford to read short fiction. Even getting out of a thousand-page novel, I feel as though something has been taken from me entirely too soon. What am I supposed to do with something that only lasts ten minutes? It’s just a tease.

Exceptions to this rule are quite rare and usually have to do with stories which are not focused on the plot, but curious or very well-written (like this one by J. S. Foer*), or when they are sort of continuing the same narrative, almost like chapters or entries on a blog, which is often the case with semi-autobiographical stories (like most of the stuff by David Sedaris), or when they are just so funny, clever, and/or touching that it outweighs their being regrettably length challenged: both Foer and Sedaris, or Etgar Keret or, say, Čapek or Jerome Jerome or all those Russians of Zoschenko’s kith—

Actually, I’m realizing now there are a number of authors whom I can appreciate in short form. Still, when choosing a new book to read, I’ll hardly ever pick a collection of short stories. They tend to make me feel cheated. But if you feel otherwise, you might benefit from looking at that list in the New Yorker. See why the short story is not for me? All these words, just to recommend a link.

*I remember the night I first read that, in someone else’s house, on their guest bed built on boxes of books, during some pre-party commotion, out of someone else’s little (yellow?) book. This is one good thing about a short story. You can associate it with a particular moment in your life. Novels I tend to associate more with periods: I read that when the summer was so hot, I was hiding in coffeeshops with A/C; I read that when I was limping from the fall; I started that on the plane to Z., and finished it on the way back; that spent the winter on my desk, it felt like a spring novel; and so on.

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