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In Search of Short Stories

by Dieu - 2 Comment(s)

I admit that despite being an avid reader, I never liked reading short stories. The short story genre always seemed to me like it was the finger-food of fiction instead of the full meal of a novel. From my conversations with friends and from reading blogs, online articles and forums on the subject, it became clear that I was in the majority of readers who never read short fiction. It wasn’t until I read The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman that I realized how good short stories can be.

Book cover of the Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists is a perfect introduction to the short story form for readers who are hesitant to enter that unfamiliar territory. Bridging the two worlds of novel and short stories, The Imperfectionists chronicles the trials and tribulations of a fictional struggling newspaper based in Rome.

Although technically a novel, each chapter reads as its own distinct story following a different character as they each navigate their way through relationships, ambitions, failures and disillusionment in the post-digital age of journalism. While distinct enough to stand on their own, the stories cross over into each other, revealing a web of connections between the players as the reader progresses through the book.

As I was reading each chapter, I found myself becoming engrossed in the personal lives of the sympathetic, neurotic and complicated reporters, journalists, and editors. Insightful, witty and offering an inside look at the world of journalism (the author himself is a journalist), The Imperfectionists will leave readers wanting more from this first-time author.


If you’re looking for classic short fiction, I highly recommend anything by Anton Chekhov. Universally regarded as one of the greatest of all short story writers, Chekhov’s writing has a way of drawing you in and lingering with you long after the story has ended. I find that when I read Chekhov, I not only care for his characters, but I also find myself immersed in a particular time and place of Russian history, geography and customs.

If you are to read anything by Chekhov, his short story trilogy comprised of, A Man in a Shell, Gooseberries, and About Love are not to be missed. About Love has to be one of my favourite pieces of fiction for its poignant look at the regret and yearning of lost love. A moving passage from the story:

"I understood that when you love, and when you think about this love, you must proceed from something higher, of more importance than happiness or unhappiness, sin or virtue in the commonplace sense; or you mustn't think about it at all."

An excellent compact illustrated edition of the trilogy called, About Love: 3 Short Stories by Chekhov is available at the Calgary Public Library.

Book cover of About Love: 3 Stories by Chekhov

book cover of Too Much Happiness

Lastly, the most recent work of short fiction I've read comes from our very own soil. Alice Munro, who has been cited as Canada’s own Chekhov, writes what I would call psychological fiction. Like Chekhov, her stories focus on the inner lives of the characters, where moments of revelation, emotion and changes of perspective make up the core of her fiction. As well, what I love most about Munro’s stories are the complex female characters she writes about.

In her book, Too Much Happiness, a story called "Dimensions" had me conflicted about the main character, Doree, a teenage mother who is grappling with a personal tragedy inflicted on her by her abusive husband. I found the character infuriating for the choices she made, but always empathetic. A multitude of writers have gushed over Alice Munro's effortless writing, a quality that I too admire in her work.

Short stories can be deceptively simple because of their short length, but from my experience, even the shortest work can be the most satisfying. Another plus is they can be easily finished in a short period, such as during a coffee break, and their format makes them perfect to be read on an E-reader or tablet.

What's more, most short stories fall into the category of literary fiction, which may be why some people see them as too high-brow to enjoy, but reading short fiction by authors such as Chekhov and Munro do offer their benefits. A recent article in the New York Times talks about how reading literary fiction can help with social skills and emotional intelligence.

The Calgary Public Library can help you explore the world of short fiction with the Poetry & Short Story Reference Center, a new resource available in the E-Library.