Short and sweet like their name, I’ve always felt that short stories are the most overlooked literary form. What’s not to love? After all, you get the satisfaction of finishing a novel without the hard work of having to read a full novel which, as a Literature student who is constantly bombarded with hundreds of pages of mandatory readings per week, I greatly appreciate.
It’s important to note that short stories are meant to be read in one sitting. The incredible thing is, I find that I can do this enjoyably. As a Tik Tok-obsessed, Netflix-crazed member of the quick-and-easy entertainment-seeking population, I can safely say that short stories are Gen Z friendly. Which is not to say that I belong to a less intelligent generation than our close neighbours, the millennials, but rather, that short stories possess enough charm and allure to hook even someone with the shortest possible attention span. Hence their mass appeal, and my desperation to get my peers as excited about short stories as I am.
What’s more, you’ll find that nearly every great novelist has dabbled in the short story; so, chances are, you can discover whole anthologies written by you’re the authors you already love. Personally, there are few things I find more delightful than tracing my favourite novelists’ progress as writers, through their experiments in this underrated yet fantastic genre. If that sounds too daunting to research, a great place to start would be the Everyman’s Library Pocket Classics Series. From Love Stories, Paris Stories, or even Cat Stories, these editors never fail to handpick the crème de la crème of short fiction for your enjoyment. Seriously, look into it!!
For the short story novice, look no further than the brilliant Katherine Mansfield to get an idea of what short stories are all about. Suspenseful, mind-bending, ironic, and sad, Mansfield’s work features an array of multidimensional protagonists that leave you mulling over their respective plights for days. For a quick taste of Mansfield’s genius, check out her story “Bliss”! I recently had to read it for a class of mine, and I’m still not over the sweet suspense and utter dread that that story filled me with. You really can’t go wrong with Mansfield.
As a Russian Literature major, though, I’m afraid I’m partial to the great Anton Chekhov. Known more in the West as a playwright, Chekhov is one of Russia’s literary giants, thanks to his expertise in writing short stories. Melancholic and poignant, Chekhov’s work is unforgettable. His work never fails to leave me with a broken heart that can only be healed with even more Chekhov! I recommend starting with “The House with the Mezzanine.” Although I read this story years ago, it still haunts me to this day. Words that come to mind are light, airy, flowing, and ethereal. You will feel one with the protagonist as he gets to know the inhabitants of the mysterious house with the mezzanine. Just as love slowly gets the better of him, so will Chekhov win your heart over with his straightforward, heartfelt prose.
If you’ve been out of the habit of reading for a while now, and are looking for something light and carefree, I implore you, give Canadian-born Stuart McLean a go! He is one of my favourite writers of all time; I listen to Stuart McLean’s stories on Spotify every morning as I commute to campus. Hilariously warm and fuzzy, McLean is the perfect guy to get you into the holiday mood—whatever holiday that may be! In the spirit of midterm season, give “Steph’s Statistic Exam” a listen. Poor Stephanie’s struggle to pass an exam—in the hopes of impressing potential grad schools—is both deeply relatable and intensely comforting. It’s always lovely to be reminded that you are not the only who has ever fought tooth and nail just to get a passing grade. Plus, McLean’s deep, resonant voice is sure to stir you out of your caffeine- and stress-induced midterm stupor.
For now, I believe I’ve said enough. If you’re a U of T student interested in learning more about short stories, I cannot recommend the courses “SLA252: Russian Short Stories” and “ENG213: The Short Story” enough. SLA252, which I took in my first year, really solidified not only my passion of short stories, but also my appreciation for Russian Literature. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to the very writers that are so influential to Russian culture today like Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. As for ENG213, I am currently enrolled in that course and am loving it! It does a great job of including POC, female, and queer writers. Instead of aiming to simply get the readings over with—let’s face it, who hasn’t been there—I find myself eagerly awaiting Sunday mornings so that I can truly enjoy them, alongside a cup of piping hot coffee. If you decide to take either of these courses, I promise, you won’t regret it!
There is so much more I could write on this subject, but alas! I’m at my self-imposed word count and you’re at your wit’s end. So I’ll leave you all with a cheesy Neil Gaiman quote: “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams.”
As a Tik Tok-obsessed, Netflix-crazed member of the quick-and-easy entertainment-seeking population, I can safely say that short stories are Gen Z friendly. Which is not to say that I belong to a less intelligent generation than our close neighbours, the millennials, but rather, that short stories possess enough charm and allure to hook even someone with the shortest possible attention span.