Why Do I Own So Many Unread Short Story Collections?

I finished a five-star read yesterday, and I was unsure about what to pick up next. I guess I’ve got a small book hangover. Currently I’ve been slowly reading Mavis Gallant’s collection In Transit (inspired by Buried in Print’s Gallant reading project.) She is a marvelous writer but, as often is the case with short stories, I need to take my time and not rush through. I want to give each story its due time to contemplate.

I was looking at my unread shelf at home and noticed a trend. I have a lot of unread short story collections. Eight of them in fact. That may not be a lot for some of you, but it feels like a lot to me, particularly because I’ve had some of them for years. I don’t want to pick another one up until I finish the Gallant book, because I can’t imagine trying to read two short story collections simultaneously. (Do people do this?)

img_5313Why do these books linger on my shelf? Why do I keep buying more?

Okay, I buy them because I buy books, duh, it’s what I do. I think they linger because I have the impression that a short story collection is a commitment. I feel like they take longer to finish than a novel, and they do. But why does this make me hesitate about reading them? It’s the same thing with nonfiction. I hesitate to choose it because I think it will take me longer. WHAT IS THIS OBSESSION WITH FINISHING A BOOK QUICKLY? I know I’m not alone in this, but why are we (mostly fiction readers) this way? Why am I so consumed with more, more, more?

Part of it is that I am always reading about new books coming out, adding more to my TBR list every week. Part of it is working at a library surrounded by books all day, seeing and holding the new books in person. Part of it is participating in the bookish community, seeing people reading all these amazing books at what seems like a breakneck pace and comparing myself.

It’s a wonderful NON-problem to have many more books I want to read than I have time to actually read. How lucky are we to live in a time and place where our access to books is so unfettered and free?

I am going to try and incorporate these short story collections throughout the year and not worry about how long it takes me to finish them. And if I’m not enjoying them I’m going to release them to a new home where hopefully they will land in the right hands. AND I’m also not going to buy any more collections until I get through at least half of the ones I have already.

How about you? Do you have a stack of short stories or nonfiction or something else that you’re just not getting to because it will take “too long?”

41 thoughts on “Why Do I Own So Many Unread Short Story Collections?

  1. I always thought that’s the way to read short story collections — to jump in and out of them throughout the year. Most reviewers seem to do it that way, but I always read them straight through, especially if I like the stories. The drawback is that they end up running together into one weird story lump in my mind. I also have a couple collections sitting on my shelves waiting…waiting…

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  2. I have lots of stacks. Short story collections appear in many of them, because I’ll read a few and then put them down. Every once in a while, when I get organized, I carry the short stories to my bedside table because it’s a nice thing to have something short (ish) to read sometimes before bed.

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  3. I don’t usually read nor buy short story collections, I haven’t heard much about them and I think this type of literature also does not fit with my reading preferences.

    However, I did buy “Men without Women” by Murakami (I was in an airport, in need of a book, and it was the only “good-enough” book I found) and I managed to read only 2-3 stories … then I got bored. And unfortunately I haven’t picked it up since then. Maybe it’s a good idea to read it in parallel with other books, to just jump in an out, as Zezee said.

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  4. I hear you about “more, more, more”! I hesitate to read short stories because I’m scared that I won’t understand them. Fiction is so much more accessible to me because I know that, most of the time, I’ll be able to understand what’s going on! Short stories seem so LITERARY and scary!!

    And I always get caught up in the numbers game, despite my best intentions. I want a nice stack of books to blog about every week, so I’m always trying to fit in more, more, more even when I realize that I’m disliking the books that I’m picking up. Boo.

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    1. I’m here to tell you that you absolutely CAN read and understand short stories, Katie! 🙂 Don’t be afraid! Knowing the kinds of novels you read, I would recommend some stories by Alice Munro, Lauren Groff, Lorrie Moore, or Margaret Atwood. There are just as many different kinds of short stories out there as there are kinds of novels – some “literary” and intimidating and some not. You totally can do it.

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      1. Thank you for the recommendations! About 15 years ago I read a bunch of Margaret Atwood short stories… but I can’t remember what I thought at the time! I haven’t heard of Lorrie Moore — I’ll look into her. (They are still scary :p)

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  5. I’m not a huge fan of short stories – literary ones, that is; I read loads of genre shorts as you know. But with literary ones I find I try to read them like a novel and it doesn’t work. But if I try to read them one at a time I tend to end up reading a couple and then leaving the book aside and never getting back to it. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re just not for me. You’re right about us all putting pressure on ourselves to constantly read more – sometimes it begins to feel like work! I have to remind myself every so often that it’s supposed to be a relaxing hobby… 😀 📚

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  6. Short stories are one of the fiction genres I don’t often read. I need time to feel connected and short stories always leave me wanting more so I avoid them. I do have nonfiction books all over the place and it’s definitely because it takes me too long to read. I seem to absorb nonfiction at half the rate of fiction so it can take me weeks to read a book. I only read it because I think I ‘should’, which is a crummy reason!

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  7. I, too, seem to hoard short story collections — some physical books on my shelves, but mostly loads on my Kindle and on my Goodreads (virtual) TBR. I’m bad about starting a collection and reading one or two stories but then dropping it. If one really hooks me, though, I will sometimes read 4-5 stories in a row.

    I’m the same with essay collections. For some reason I mark loads of them that I’d like to read, but then I hardly ever pick up a book of essays.

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  8. This is exactly why I hesitated to read Ducks, Newburyport for so long-because i knew it would take a long freaking time (and it did!). I know what you mean about our obsession with reading more and more, but in general, our society has an obsession with ‘more’ , so this is just our bookish manifestation of it. Considering all the other bad habits we could spend on our time on, I wouldn’t feel too guilty about this. I’m trying not too either 🙂

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  9. I am not a big fan of short stories but I do read them now and then when something about the collection grabs me. From your pile I have read Magic for Beginners and can tell you it is really good. Really weird, but I liked it because it was weird and full of the unexpected. I personally seem to accumulate essay collections.

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  10. From the woman who has 10 books on her “Currently Reading” list on Goodreads LOL… I tend to read short stories during my commute, 1 story a day if possible (1 or 2 train rides), while other books are for other times of the day. That way I don’t feel “stuck”. I love short stories, randomly picked online from literary journals, or in collections. I have a short story mail exchange running for years with Danielle, and I’m always trying to discover new ones. I love Alice Munro and Kelly Link. I need to check the Ruth Rendell book I see in your picture!

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  11. I used to read short stories and novellas quite often, but there has been a definite shift in my reading preferences over the last couple of years, and I have more or less stopped reading them. I think the main reason for this is that for the last two years or so, I have become a much slower reader, and am more likely to be drawn to read very long novels. I therefore think I would now feel somewhat short changed by the notion of a short story, or even a collection, as my experience would feel quite fragmented. Isn’t it strange the extent to which our reading preferences evolve?

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  12. I know that I tend to read faster than some folks, but that’s also because I have a part-time, not full-time, job. Jackie will say something about how many reviews I write, and I always remind her that she has a full-time job, a farm, she plays in a band, etc. She does a lot! I used to read short story collections all the time because that’s what you get used to in a creative writing program. Then, I found myself really longing to dip into a deeper story and started reading novels way more often. In fact, I probably only get to 1-2 short story collections per year now. You could try something like read one short story each night before bed, but have a novel that you read more often so that you can keep up with reviewing but get in those short stories, too.

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    1. Thanks, Melanie – someone else mentioned reading a short story before bed too, and I think it’s a great way to keep momentum on a collection. I’m going to finish this Gallant collection before I dive into one of the ones I own, but hopefully soon!

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  13. It’s true that it’s strangely satisfying to make progress in reading, by turning pages, when there are other aspects of life which don’t have such convenient progress markers. You already know that I’ve been frustrated lately by how long it takes me to read non-fiction rather than fiction, but I’m adjusting to the idea that certain volumes will linger while others turn over more quickly and THAT’S OK (I’m shouting at myself here)!

    Sometimes I read two short story collections simultaneously, but because I hardly ever read more than one story in a given day, and because I always choose really different authorial styles when this happens, I’ve never gotten the multiple collections confused, but I agree that it seems really — what, “risky” LOL, somehow?

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  14. I love reading short story collections, but I find many of the stories are too much for me all alone. I enjoy reading them and discussing them with others. I respect that you’re able to sit with a short story once you’ve read it and give that story it’s time to percolate. I would probably benefit from that if I’m reading a collection alone. I just learn so much more when talking through things with others! Poetry is the same way…

    I’ve gotten into a great habit with my library, so I don’t have a ton of books sitting around waiting for me to read them.

    I can relate to our obsession with finishing books quickly. For me, it’s that there is always another book on the list to read. The sooner I read this book, the sooner I can get to the next one. It’s the biggest downside to loving discussing books — I have so many buddy reads and book clubs scheduled I always have more books to read. I know this has an expiration date in the future; I’ll do less of this once I have kids. But for now, it’s an obsession. I love it.

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    1. Interesting that your quandary stems from reading with OTHERS and mine is just from myself, but we both feel the “pressure” to get to the next book! One reason I quit my book group, even though I enjoyed the company of the ladies, was that I just wanted to read what I wanted to read without having to dedicate a week of each month to reading something someone else selected.

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  15. I have this problem with lots of things – long novels and non-fiction mostly, even though I know I will like them if I read them. Sometimes with short stories, I forget how much I like them and put them off for that reason – and then when I read one I suddenly want to read more! Ah, the problems we readers have… 😉

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