Enlightened State

Short Stories for Busy Nights

BooksMorgan VanekComment

As the Holidays close in, there is less and less time to sink into a really good book for hours at a time.  This weekend, I spent all day running around Bloomington, from Michael's to Target, to Kroger and back.  At home, I was consumed by my to-do list: baking, crafting, wrapping, and shopping online take up a lot of time.  

It's hard enough to find time for reading if you don't make it a priority, but at this time of year it's nearly impossible even if you do.  When you find yourself with a few extra minutes this holiday season, consider curling up with a short story when you know you won't have the time to invest in a novel.  If you don't know when you'll be able to pick up your book again, the best policy is to stick with something you know won't leave you hanging.  

In fact, short fiction is one of my favorite art forms.  Even though it's not as heavy as a tome of greater proportions, the limitations of a quick read often bring out the special brilliance in authors we love.  This is exactly the reason that some authors are most famous for their short stories - the abbreviated length forces them to develop the plot, characters, and setting very quickly, all while grabbing the reader's attention and leaving a lasting impression.  

Don't discount short stories for their length. It's possible to do a lot with them.  They're like the television shows of literature - you'll run into some fluff, but there is some really great art out there that is worth experiencing, and it's not a big time investment if it doesn't pan out.  Try one of these short stories that hits the nail on the head and you'll see exactly what I mean.  


The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper, originally published in 1892, is a standard of feminist literature.  Its themes of mental illness and confinement are an important allegory for the effect a chauvinistic society can have on the minds of individual women, and the way these attitudes can limit their potential, both internally and externally.  A little known fact about me is that I performed a portion of this short story as a monologue when I was in ninth grade, so the story is particularly special to me.  The meaning of this tale grows deeper and richer for me each time I read it, and I recommend it to anyone - male or female - who wants to learn more about what it means to be a woman in our society.  

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

Henry David Thoreau said "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them," and there is no better personification of this sentiment than Walter Mitty.  This 1939 short story is also the inspiration for an extremely under-rated 2013 film starring Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig, and it's an excellent example of character development. The story is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking, and hearing Walter's internal dialogue will bring to life the struggle of the modern American suburbanite. Hopefully it will inspire you to live a life that's louder and more beautiful than you ever thought possible. 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I can only think of a few stories that chilled me more than Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, and a few of them were written by Jackson herself.  She is a master of scary stories, and her talent is on full display in this classic narrative. Part of the appeal of The Lottery is that it's even more horrifying the second time you read it, which is rare in horror fiction.  Usually, the magic is gone once you get to the end, but in this case the anticipation of knowing what's coming makes it worse.  This exploration of the attitudes that led to the Holocaust, originally published in 1948, is one of the best stories ever written. Pick it up tonight and give it a read. 


Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

This 1905 story is a Christmas classic, and it's one of the most romantic stories ever told.  It's a tale of true love, and a great example of irony if you never quite got a handle on the concept.  The characters in this short story are both loveable and desperate, and their devotion to each other is truly heartwarming.  If you need a reminder of what Christmas is all about, give The Gift of the Magi a read. I guarantee you'll enjoy your holiday season a little bit more as a result.  


The Diamond As Big As the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Fitzgerald, and this 1922 story of opulence and wealth is as good as they come.  You'll find yourself reacting viscerally as you read this tale of a young man who is drawn into the fold of the richest family in the entire world, a family that lives off the grid and hides from the government to avoid paying taxes on their riches. This fantastic narrative will both entertain and perplex you, and you'll still be turning it over in your mind the next day.  

What are your favorite short stories? How do you make reading a priority during busy times?