Catching up on My Reading

Apparently I won a prize for the first quarter of the 9 Books for ’09 challenge, even though I’ve only posted a review of one book. I’ve actually finished three books at this point, and hopefully will get caught up on reviews this week.

My pick for a long book was The Best American Short Stories of the Century, which clocked in at 788 pages if you skip the notes and other stuff at the back of the book (which I did). I have always enjoyed short stories but felt like I should be reading more of them, which is why I bought the book and why I finally decided to read it.

I didn’t really know how ignorant of good short stories I was, though, until I realized I had previously read (at least that I can remember) just one of the nearly 60 stories in the book. And it wasn’t even a really famous one: “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, from 1917. I’m sure I read it in the American Lit class I took in college that emphasized feminist literature.

There are stories in here from all the great masters, including Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Penn Warren, E. B. White, John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow, John Updike and on and on.

I enjoyed many of the stories and felt like I was reading something important to my education as a person who thinks she knows something about literature. It’s sad that there are so few places for short fiction to be published these days and so few good practitioners of the form (if you know of some I’d love to hear them).

Reading short fiction is quite different from reading a novel; you can’t plow through as quickly, you need to stop and absorb before moving on to the next one. For that reason this long book understandably took a long time to read, but I felt when I was done as if I had learned something about America, the way we tell stories and the stories we think are important. That was worth all the reading time it took.

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