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! 😀

How Do I Find Books to Read?

As a book-lover, I am constantly on the hunt for books to read. But with all the books in print today, how do I find ones that appeal to me and are worthy of my time and attention?

First, I read books that some of my favorite authors have either recommended, cited in their own work, or said have inspired their own work. Chances are higher I will enjoy this unknown (to me) author’s work because of my favorite author’s vouching for them.

Second, I Google topics I’m interested in learning more about or simply enjoy and I have Google recommend books to me. I then check their ratings and reviews on Goodreads to see what other readers have to say about them.

Third, I check my hometown library’s web site to see which books the employees are recommending. I figure they come across a lot of books and many are book aficionados and so if they’re recommending one as stand-out, it’s probably worth giving it a try.

Fourth, sometimes I will be reading a news article on a topic that interests me, and the writer will cite a book as a resource used in their research. I then see if my local library carries that book.

Fifth, I tend to avoid highly-prolific, famous authors, while seeking out Nobel-prize winning authors. In the first case, I feel all of their work ends up pretty similar to each other because they get complacent and also because their agents push them to get new work published. I also feel like once an author has a big enough name they become “too big to fail” and their works will continue to be published simply because of their household name even if the content isn’t high quality. I seldom read these authors unless the book description really captivates me. Nobel-prize winners, on the other hand, have earned their status, their works have important global themes with inspiring and new ways of thinking, and have gone a long way to changing the world for the better.

What are your favorite ways of picking new books to read? Perhaps you relate to many of the above or perhaps you are a member of a book club or use an app or scout out great books in other ways. Let me know!

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.

In Defense of Poetry

Poetry is a rather controversial form of written art. People tend to either love or hate it. Many who hate it believe it to be stuffy, boring, pretentious, saccharine, or confusing. Too short or too long. Too wordy or not wordy enough. Many feel this literary genre should have been left in a bygone era. Granted, poetry has been around since ancient times to show emotion, convey beliefs, and relate events. However, it also has an important place in today’s world, perhaps moreso now than ever. Personally, I love both reading and writing poetry and will attempt a defense of this classic literary form in this post.

Poetry can be free flowing or adhere to certain rules. This allows structure and rhythm to be offered where needed or wanted, such as in William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”. However, free verse doesn’t require rhyming, a specific meter, or a certain number of syllables per line, which allows for more freedom and creativity. An example is Anamika’s “Vandal”.

Poetry can have an overt point or be mysterious as to object or meaning. It can be literal or symbolic. Abstract or obvious. Compare E.E. Cummings’ “So Comes Love” with John Donne’s “The Good-Morrow”.

It can be light and playful or dark and somber. Compare “Skipping Stones” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater with Khalil Gibran’s “On Pain”.

It can make you question your choices or stances or attempt to convince you of something. Compare Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” with Charles Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart”.

Poetry allows a message to be conveyed beautifully and creatively, similar to music. It is rhythmic and soothing and flowing. While it has the ability to teach a lesson or stir the conscience, it does so gently and graciously. Poems, such as Beowulf, can tell a story or can make a political statement. Take, for example, Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” or “On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial” by Linda Pastan.

Although poetry, as mentioned, is usually shorter than prose, it can also be as long as many prose stories. The Iliad and the Odyssey are two famous examples of long, epic/narrative poetry.

Poetry allows for a large impact in a condensed form, unlike prose. Prose can take a long time to make a point or to have an impact. Poetry packs a big punch in a small package (and there’s my mixed metaphor for the day). Lang Leav’s “A Way Out” beautifully demonstrates this.

Poetry is therapeutic. It asks self-reflection of both the reader and the writer. It touches the soul in a way other art forms cannot. It allows the emotional release and overwroughtness that people often feel uncomfortable even reading, let alone writing about or showing. Examples are Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” and Charles Bukowski’s “Raw With Love”.

Poetry requires great care to be taken with word usage. A poet’s choice of words can change the flow, meaning, or style of a poem. In poetry, how something is said is every bit as important as what is said and who is saying it.

Poetry can also be read aloud in what is termed “slam poetry” or “spoken word poetry”, where the poet recites their poem in front of an audience. Tone of voice and inflection bring the poem to life and make it seem more accessible and relatable. Two of my favorite spoken word poems are Edwin Bodney’s “When a Boy Tells You He Loves You” and Lily Myers’ “Shrinking Women”, both of which can be found on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel.

To close, for anyone still on the fence as to the worthwhileness of poetry, allow me to offer some recommendations for your perusal. Some of my favorite poets are Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, E.E. Cummings, and Edgar Allan Poe. If you’re still unsure, try attending a slam poetry contest or writing some of your own.

I happen to be a self-published poet. For anybody interested, you can find my book of poetry, available in paperback and on Kindle, here: https://www.amazon.com/Loves-Contradictions-Poetry-Shirley-Anne/dp/1517780349

Why I Love Reading But Don’t Own Books

Some people might think it’s odd that I love reading but don’t own any books. Some might ask, “Why don’t you at least own your favorites?” Eight years ago, I donated all my books to the library and started using the library exclusively for my reading material. I had amassed so many books that they took up tons of room to store, and moving with them was a real chore. The great majority of my books I didn’t read twice, and some of them I had never read at all (the ones I got as gifts that didn’t interest me). I figured it made more sense to donate them to the library so everybody could get use of them and so I could be freed of dozens of possessions I really didn’t need or get any value out of owning. Nowadays, if I can’t find something at the library, I will request it through an interlibrary loan. If I’m unable to get it that way, I will buy it at a discount, read it, and then donate it to the library. A few weeks ago, my mother and I went to a used book store and bought several books. We have no intentions of keeping them. We will either donate them to the library or sell them back to the used book store. I feel like the library is a great, often untapped resource for community members that many people forget about once their school days are over. Are there any other lovers of books out there who feel the same way about owning books?

Best Books on Mental Health I’ve Read So Far

Considering my loves of reading and the topic of mental health, it was inevitable that I would find several great books on mental health. The books on this topic that I appreciate the most are those which are well-researched, help me feel calm, in control of my emotions, normal for feeling the emotions I feel, and that force me to see my problems from a different perspective. The books on this list have many or all of these traits and are listed in no specific order:

1. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

2. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

3. Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle

4. Walking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine

5. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van see Kolk

6. Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind by Daniel Siegel

7. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness by Daniel G. Amen

8. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

9. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

11. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

12. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

13. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25-Year Landmark Study by Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee

14. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Please let me know if you have read any of these or if there are others you’d recommend!

I Miss the Library

Has anybody else been feeling the poignancy of the temporary loss of libraries in their life? The ones in my area have been closed for almost a month now, without notice. It was with heavy heart that I placed my last set of borrowed books in the return slot outside, not knowing when it would re-open.

Walking into a library (or writing about one, I’m now finding) never fails to lift my spirits. My mom instilled in me a love for reading since before I even learned how to read, and my great uncle took my younger sister and I to the library, as children, on a weekly basis to check out books, read the paper, read articles on microfiche, and attend (free) classical music concerts.

Many people only picture books when they think about a library. Libraries are about so much more than just books, although those do happen to be some of my favorite things in this world (at least, the kind you can hold in your hands with real pages to turn that have that “classic book smell”).

But the library is more than a convenience, luxury, or entertainment venue. It’s an essential asset to many members of the community, especially those belonging to vulnerable populations. The library allows access to a safe, warm, quiet environment with a bathroom. It offers internet access so that those without computers or internet access at home, as well as those without a home, can create a resume, apply for jobs, print paper documents, and learn about what’s going on in the world.

Libraries also offer DVD’s, CD’s, board games, and, depending on the library, other items such as work tools and musical instruments for rent. They offer free, fun, educational activities for kids and teens. They offer workshops and classes for adults, such as tax prep, gardening skills, mental health, etc. They offer resources to victims of domestic violence. And yet they are constantly on the front lines facing threats of defunding.

I’m sure I will make it until my library opens back up. I know I have other alternatives available to me, such as ebooks and ordering used books online for delivery. And I am lucky enough to have a warm, safe home, internet access, and even a job, to say nothing of my comparatively great health in a time when so many others are getting sick.

Keep your chins up, fellow library fans! Our precious institutions of old will not be inaccessible to us forever. In conclusion, I will leave some of my favorite library-related quotes for you to enjoy.

Books I Read and Loved in 2018 and 2019 *Updated December 2019*

Fiction:

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (my favorite author!)

1984 by George Orwell

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Lyndsay Faye

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Non-fiction:

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness by Daniel G. Amen

The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIV

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why by Amanda Ripley

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence by Rachel Sherman

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker

The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life by Anu Partanen

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Colin Beavan

Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein

Essentialism by Greg Mckeown

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B Crawford

Let’s Talk Hobbies

Some people have many, some a couple, some none. Some are expensive, require a lot of skill, and/or take up a lot of time. Some are free, require no special skills/talent, and/or can be done anytime/anywhere. Some people prioritize making time for them, while others only do them as an afterthought when they’re bored.

What are your hobbies? What do you consider the definition of “hobby” to be? According to dictionary.com, it’s “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation”. Using that definition, my hobbies are reading, writing poetry, watching movies, gluttony, taking sit-down showers (more about this in another post!), taking drives, and — my newest! — blogging. I hope to add exercising to that soon, although I guess there are definite non-pleasurable aspects to that activity when you’re first starting out in the pitiable shape I’m in. In listing them, I notice many of my hobbies are passive, solitary, and/or unhealthful.

Do you find you have the time/motivation to put into your hobbies after taking care of your daily responsibilities? Do you consider them important enough to prioritize as part of self-care so that you don’t get burnt out and so your entire identity doesn’t become worker/parent/spouse/etc? I’d love to hear what place (if any) hobbies have in your life.