As a child, I was a voracious reader. Then university happened and it became harder and harder to read anything not directly off my course syllabuses. Even when I did venture into my reading list, midterms or some other stressful experience would inevitably hit part way through the story and by the time I picked up the book again, I could barely remember how it had started.
Maybe that’s you, or maybe you’ve never read much, but you’ve recently been considering broadening your mind and building some new neural pathways. Or maybe this is the first time you even considered the idea of reading, but you’re willing to give it a shot. Whichever category you fall into, you’re probably running into the same dilemma I did, so let me tell you the secret I’ve discovered.
The secret is short stories, an often forgotten form of literature, which delve deep in bite sized chunks perfect for the busy university student’s schedule. When I’m reading a collection of short stories, I get to meet thousands of characters and the worlds they live in and wonder about a million and a half questions, all in the minimal time I have to spare, and I never forget the beginning of the story before I get to the end. Below is a list of some of my favourite collections of short stories.
Carried Away: A Selection of Stories – Alice Munro
About the book: Carried Away is a collection of short stories, most of which chronicle the lives of women who live in, or come from, small towns in Southwestern Ontario. Many on Munro’s stories are inspired by experiences in her own life and there is a common focus on relationships – particularly romantic relationships, marriage, and divorce – and the ways in which upbringing, money, the times (mostly nineteen sixties and seventies), and, of course, human nature, can affect relationships.
About the author: Alice Munro (1931 – ) is a Canadian author who is known for her short stories. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Governor General’s Literary Award (1968, 1978, 1986) and the Nobel Prize in Literature (2013).
A Bird in the House – Margaret Laurence
About the book: Semi-autobiographical,A Bird in the Houseis a collection of short stories but resembles a novel in that each story works together to chronicle pieces of a single girl’s journey from childhood to adulthood. The stories are narrated by an older version of the protagonist who reflects back on growing up in the Canadian prairies, and they focus on the role that community, class, and particularly family, play in this process.
About the author: Margaret Laurence (1926 – 1987) is a Canadian author from Manitoba. She is best known for her novels, but also wrote a number of short stories, as well as recording and translating a collection of Somalian poetry and prose. She won the Governor General’s LiteraryAward(1966, 1974), and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada (1972).
Street of Riches – Gabrielle Roy
About the book: Like A Bird in the House, Street of Riches is a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories which follow the life of a single girl growing up in the Canadian prairies. These stories are set in a francophone community, and many explore the roles of race, culture, and religion in the interaction between the French and English communities, as well as with the many recent immigrant communities, which all co-existed in the prairies in the early-to-mid nineteen-hundreds.
About the author: Gabrielle Roy (1909 – 1983) was a French Canadian author from Manitoba and is considered one of the most influential Francophone writers in Canadian history. She won numerous awards for her work, including the Governor General’s Award Literary Award(1947, 1957, 1978), and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada (1967).
The Lost Salt Gift of Blood – Alistair MacLeod
About the book: The stories in The Lost Salt Gift of Bloodare set in Atlantic Canada, mainly in the Scottish communities of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The stories focus on people and human nature and often centre around the physical hardships of a life that depends on the mines, the land, or the sea, and how people, relationships, and community exist and evolve within that harsh reality.
About the author: Alistair MacLeod (1936 – 2014) was a Canadian author and professor who grew up in the Maritimes, but later moved to Ontario. He won a number of literary awards for his short stories and his one novel, as well as being named an Officer of the Order of Canada (2008).
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Conner
About the book: A Good Man is Hard to Find is a collection of short stories mainly set in various communities in the American South. The stories, which are considered Southern Gothic, are often dark and disturbing in a fascinating way, and most centre around average people who experience a striking and often violent event which helps to draw out conclusions on the flaws in human nature, religion, and God’s grace.
About the author: Flannery O’Connor (1925 – 1964) was a devoutly Catholic, American author who grew up and lived in the Southern United States and who suffered from lupus during much of her writing career. She won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction (1972) for her collected short stories.