Reading Short Stories: Pros and Cons

It seems short stories are a polarizing genre of literature. Readers and writers typically have strong opinions about them. I’ve read a lot of short stories in my day and, after considering the topic, I have come up with what I think are some of their pros and cons.

One pro is the fact you can finish them quickly, often in one session. Some people don’t have the time to follow a novel. Perhaps they’re very busy and don’t want to become emotionally wrapped-up in a story’s characters over an extended period of time. Perhaps they don’t have the time to read regularly and don’t want to risk forgetting what has happened halfway through a novel.

Another pro is that new story lines and new characters keep things fresh. Instead of reading about the same plot and the same characters for the amount of time it takes to read a novel, you get more diversity reading a series of short stories.

Another pro is that reading short fiction by a new author introduces you to their style and tone. This allows you to figure out whether you’d be interested in reading something longer by them.

The last pro I came up with is that short stories often give surprise endings. And sometimes that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for — a thrill, not a long drawn-out character study.

One con, especially if you’re reading a collection of short stories by different authors, is that it’s often a crap shoot. Some you’ll love, others you’ll dislike.

Another con is there’s really not time to build the kind of suspense you’d see in a novel. Some aren’t fleshed out well and deal with topics and situations better suited to a novel.

What do you think about short stories? Do you enjoy them? Did I do a good job outlining the pros and cons, or do you have something to add?

Books I Read and Loved in 2020

I did a lot of reading in 2020. Here are my favorite books, in no specific order.

Fiction:

The Institute by Stephen King

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Night Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Secrets and Other Stories of Suspense by Carolyn Hart

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country by C.J. Box

Nonfiction:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World’s Rarest Type by Lauren Sapala

Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person by Hugh Prather

Talking to the Dead: Religion, Music, and Lived Memory Among Gullah/Geechee Women by LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion By Jia Tolentino

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean

The Art & Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis

Please let me know if you’ve read any amazing books this past year, including any on this list. I’m excited about the ones still to come! Happy New Year’s, Everyone, and Happy New Year of Reading! 😀

Reading Fiction

Anyone else having a hard time nowadays reading fiction? I used to love it and read nothing else. The past few years, I have gotten much more into reading non-fiction. I think for me it’s everything going on in this world and the fact that there’s so much to learn. It feels like wasting time to read fiction when there is so much more I need to learn to live a fulfilling, responsible, and informed life. Fiction simply doesn’t offer the same level of satisfaction it used to. I believe a lot of it has to do with depression. I have a hard time, in general, feeling pleasure anymore. Most things I used to enjoy now feel like a chore. Just wanted to check in to see if anyone else is experiencing the same thing.

Writing for Mental Health

Writing is a powerful coping strategy for those with mental health issues. Beethoven, Plath, Hemingway, Woolf, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Kafka, and Dickens are only a handful of famous writers who struggled with poor mental health. Writing has often been an important therapeutic outlet for me. I believe that my poor mental health, instead of being a hindrance to my writing, has instead been its muse. For while my mental health has benefitted from my writing, my writing has also benefitted from my mental health. Writers often write because of their mental illness, not in spite of it. People with mental illness often feel more than others and have unique perspectives on the world. I have found multiple forms of writing can be therapeutic.

Expressive writing, or stream-of-consciousness writing, allows you to write what you feel in the moment. Story lines and linearity aren’t required. Instead, the point is to get down on paper what you’re feeling and thinking. It doesn’t have to make sense or include explanatory details. It doesn’t have to follow grammar rules. It is the literary form of vomiting up everything inside you to be loosed, revealed, and examined. Writing can help you figure out how you feel. Emotions can be confusing and sometimes even contradictory at times. Writing them down can make them more concrete and manageable. It also helps you externalize your thoughts and separate them from yourself. They are not part of you. They come and go. They are visitors, some welcome, some not. And you have the power to determine who will be allowed to stay.

Writing (or rewriting) your narrative is an incredibly powerful form of writing that allows you to dictate and define your life story. It allows you to make yourself the hero of your story, to show how you have overcome struggles and problems. It centers you as a survivor, not a victim. It allows you to reframe negative life events. It encourages you to externalize your problems instead of seeing them as an inherent part of yourself. It helps you realize the strengths you possess that got you through tough times. Some people decide to write a memoir that covers a specific event or period of time in their life, what they learned during that time, and how it shaped them.

Writing fiction can take you away from your reality, even if briefly, while you create a story from scratch. Making up a story allows you to use your creativity and imagination and frees you from your own mind. It allows you to dissociate (in a healthful manner) for a period of time and to become someone else, perhaps with completely different life circumstances, inhabiting a different time and place. The sky is the limit as you compose your story. You have complete control over your characters and what happens to them. Writing fiction can be freeing and exhilarating.

Writing notes to yourself can be used to help remember things that are bothering you. It’s a way of freeing you from mental angst in the present without worrying that you will forget to handle the issue at a later date. Many people actually have a dedicated worrying time set aside every day so that the rest of the day can be free of distressing thoughts and useless worry. I have found that often the issue seems much more trivial when I revisit it.

Blogging your thoughts and feelings can also be therapeutic. Getting positive feedback can help you feel less alone and more normal. Being able to share these thoughts and feelings with strangers can be easier than divulging them to friends and family. It can be easier to get unbiased input from the general public than from people who know you.

Writing has been an invaluable tool in my arsenal of self-care and the management of mental health issues. I would encourage anyone struggling with poor mental health to give it a try.