Birthday Stories

Birthday

Author: Many, including Haruki Murakami who put together the collection

Finished on: 12 July 2015

Where did I get this book: This was a birthday present from a friend about seven years ago, and not read until now

Short stories are a bit like porridge. I love the idea of them. There is something wholesome and rather worthy about choosing them, and I want to love consuming them. But they are ultimately unsatisfying, and I often struggle to finish.

My favourite short story of all time is probably The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is grim tale of grave robbing (once again, let’s not dwell for too long on why this is so appealing!) This shocking story told in Stevenson’s wonderful style is perfect fireside reading. And because it is shocking, the lack of time to get to know the characters doesn’t matter so much.

But other than this, with the exception of some Katherine Mansfield I read at university (and let’s face it, brevity was a definite factor in my level of appreciation for our set texts), and some Stephen King (who is incapable of being boring) I am struggling to think of any I have really enjoyed. They’re just not my thing. Reading for me is all about the characters. It’s about getting to know these people. The setting, and even the plot, are secondary. And short stories just don’t give you enough time to get to know people. To paraphrase King himself: a character in a novel is a friend, in a short story a mere acquaintance. (He goes on to say a short story can be “like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark”. Which I will concede is a better simile than porridge!)

I do like reading the short story selections in the magazine Mslexia, but even that’s often more about appreciating the technicalities of the writing; how have they put these words together. I rarely find myself completely immersed.

Some of the stories in Birthday Stories are good. But then you just want more of the characters; you want to know what happens next. And some of them are boring. And then that’s just boring.

If you enjoy short stories, these are pretty good. But I don’t.

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2 comments

  1. […] I am not generally a fan of short stories. Much as a like the idea of them, ultimately I find them unsatisfying because I’m all about the getting to know your characters. I like the courtship and the commitment of a long-term relationship with the people in the books I read. But in ghost stories it is the concepts that are gripping. Especially when they are as evocative and well-written as this. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have time to get to know the people, because it’s not really about them. […]

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