When I finished reading my last novel, I decided that it was high time to sample some more short stories. I know that not all fiction fans go in for the short story form (my wife, for example, reads many a novel but never touches short stories), but I like reading some every now and then. Whilst you perhaps do not get the same depth or breadth as you get in a longer work, the very fact that each one is much less of an investment means that they are a great way of exploring new authors or genres.

The Art of the Tale (81 short stories by various authors)

The Art of the Tale is a huge anthology of short stories collected by Daniel Halpern, and contains eighty-one stories written by authors from all around the world. Here is some of the blurb from the back cover:

The years since World War II have seen an exciting resurgence of the short story. From Albert Camus to William Maxwell, from Amos Oz to R. K. Narayan, from Ann Beattie to Yukkio Mishima – this incomparably rich and diverse collection attests to the vigor and excellence of the modern short story throughout the world.

I actually bought this volume ten years ago, when I took a creative writing module whilst at university. However, I only read about a third of the stories at the time (I know this as the ones I’ve read are dated), and the hefty tome has sat on my bookshelf, largely untouched ever since. Until now, that is.

And this is exactly why good books should be kept, stored and treasured on your bookshelves, not discarded like used toys. I knew that I wanted to read the remaining stories, and was confident that I would indeed do so.

I have had plenty of books that have sat on my bookshelves for some years before I have read them, and I have plenty still. I’m not talking about books that I have no intention of reading (I have no interest in keeping a book I have neither read nor intend to read); I am talking about books that I know I want to read, even if their turn does not come for some time.

In this sense, I guess I view my bookshelves the way some people view their wine cellars. I want to good, well-stocked bookcase so that I can be confident of always finding something to suit my mood any time I want to read a new book.

Anyway, back to the short stories… I have to say that there are some cracking examples in this collection. Many an evening I told myself that I’d read just one, only to find, some considerable time later, that I had devoured three or four. Some of stories that particularly stood out to me are listed below:

  • Little Whale, Varnisher of Reality by Vasily Aksenov (Russia)
  • The Country Husband by John Cheever (United States)
  • Communist by Richard Ford (United States)
  • The Life of the Imagination by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
  • Two Gentle People by Graham Greene (England)
  • Spring in Fialta by Vladimir Nabokov (Russia)
  • Rain by Merce Rodoreda (Spain)
  • In the Garden by Leon Rooke (Canada)
  • Beyond the Pale by William Trevor (Ireland)
  • Hunters in the Snow by Tobias Wolff (United States)

Here is photo showing some of the contents (click on the image to view it at full size):

A section of the table of contentsI also like the quote used on the inside title page:

Unlike the novel, a short story may be, for all purposes, essential. (Jorge Luis Borges)