You know, the little tiny versions of candy bars that you find at Halloween? Just enough for a taste, not enough to put you into a sugar coma? In theory, anyway, although if you buy a bag of the milky way caramel they will turn out to be not individually wrapped, and he’ll tell you that of course they all have to be eaten, or they’ll go bad. About now you’re wondering what this has to do with reading.
Two unrelated things happened this week (I’ll get back to the candy in a minute. Not literally, I’m writing at oh dark-thirty in the morning and coffee, not chocolate, is on my lips). First, I was busy. I’m at the point of the semester where I feel like a rocket sled on rails, they just lit the engine, and it’s going to be a hella three week blast right into finals. Second, I mislaid my copy of The Chaplain’s War, which I had been carrying around with me everywhere to read (and this is why I prefer ebook to paper, these days!). So…
Fun-size stories, for the times you haven’t got all day, or even an hour, to read in. I have mixed feelings about short stories. One, they are short. When I read about 1200 wpm, you can imagine this is not ideal if I want something to help me escape for a few hours. On the other hand, for the last couple of evenings, reading before I could fall asleep, it worked rather well. The reason I like short stories is that they are like candy, or appetizers. They tantalize and arouse the imagination rather than satiate it. Sure, a good novel will leave you wanting more, and I can’t tell you how nice it is in the age of ebook to finish a book in a series and immediately grab the next one to read. But short stories like Jenna Vincent’s Impossible Odds are like priming the pump. There’s a story arc there, and it takes place within the pages of the book, but there is so much more that leaves your mind racing with questions. Add to that her vivid descriptions in few words, and it’s a lovely little tale that almost makes me want to buy her other book, except that one’s on a topic that I fear will give me nightmares. The description of the breaking of the umbilical cord in this tale gave me shivers.
On the other hand, P. Andrew Miller’s tale of a Renfield in his collection In Love, In Water, and Other Stories was deliciously creepy, but not keep-me-awake scary. His stories won’t be for everyone, and the quality of the tales in this collection can be uneven, but the seething masses of ticks and mosquitoes in the Renfield tale, and the sheer incandescent beauty of the Proteus story (which I heard him read while on a panel at Miami University, and bought the book on the strength of it) make it well worth the purchase price. I don’t think you’ll find many collections that are all the best stories ever, and it’s always interesting to see the growth of a writer in their short tales.
And finally, as the icing on the cake (cake, candy? What’s next, cookies?) I read a pair of masterful short tales by an author well worth studying for craft. Not only of the writing, but the mysteries. Judge Dee at Work is a collection of eight mystery tales about a Chinese magistrate and they came highly recommended by a friend. I bought the book in paper, and it’s been in the bedside stack for ages, but I finally pulled it out (carefully, no point in starting a booklanche) last night. How much can you fit into a short mystery? A lot, and Sarah was right, I could do worse than to study how Gulik manages with the tightly-wound tales. And any story that can pivot on red-tape and military custom (paper makes an army go!) without being deathly dry and boring, well, you really should read these if you are a mystery fan.
And now I must go work on a composition for Spanish. Here, and I’d thought English grammar was a pain!