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3rd August
2011
written by Steph

In the 2+ years (we’re swiftly approaching 3 years… where has the time flown?!?) that Tony and I have been running this website, I think we’ve covered about one short story collection per year, if that. Try as I might, I just don’t really connect well with short stories. They so often leave me feeling bereft and unsatisfied, like there just isn’t enough there for me to really sink my teeth into. I very much want to be the kind of reader who enjoys the art of the short story, since I feel like people who genuinely like short fiction are in a reading class well above mine. Me, I tend to stick with strict fiction, occasionally meandering into narrative non-fiction… but one day when I am a wise reader, I would like to dive voraciously into volumes of short stories and maybe even poetry.

Alas, that day has not yet come, and so I still stick to pedestrian works of writing that hover somewhere around 350 pages. To me, that’s the amount of time it takes to tell a story and good. Of course, judging by Van Booy’s debut collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love, he’d strongly disagree with me. Some of the stories are only THREE pages long… approximately 1% of a regular length novel! If brevity is the soul of wit, then Van Booy must be a very witty man indeed.

I’ve been wanting to try Van Booy for a looong time now, mostly because the titles of everything he’s written are so gosh darn pretty and evoke this deep melancholy inside me. He just seems like a really romantic writer who is focused on turning words to gold and infusing his prose with soul. And here’s the thing: I really do like Van Booy’s writing. He has a wonderful way of turning a phrase and launching it at you so that it pierces you straight through the heart and paralyzes you with its beauty. There is something truly sublime about his writing; it’s the kind that makes me pause upon reaching these carefully crafted phrases and clasp a hand over my heart because that is where I feel the words reverberate

BUT. I still don’t like short stories. As much as I loved Van Booy’s luscious lexical leaps, I felt like the stories themselves did not give me enough to grasp onto. Yes, each one adheres to the idea of someone loving someone else, how love transforms us, sustains us, sometimes even separates us, in all its different forms, whether that be familial, romantic, or even platonic. But I wanted more than just six or seven pages which each person Van Booy created on the page. I am a greedy reader like that. It’s not that these little vignettes didn’t elucidate his point, I just felt like I was being offer wisps of something great… Like getting a jigsaw puzzle where half the pieces are missing. There’s enough there for you to figure out the picture and see how bits interlock, and yet it just doesn’t feel complete in the end. When I encounter a writer like Van Booy, I want to revel and luxuriate in his craft, and short stories just don’t give me enough material to do that. I don’t like shifting gears every 10 pages or so, casting away the characters I am forming a bond with only to pick up with someone new.

So, for those of you who enjoy short stories, I tip my hat to you and heartily suggest that you try Van Booy out. He really does provide some wonderful insights into the human condition and the connections we form. For me, however, I think I will see if Van Booy’s first novel, Everything Began After is a better fit for me. And I continue to hold out hope that one day I will be a better reader, one who likes that short stories only capture a fleeting moment in time and so often trail off rather than end definitively. I’m keeping my copy of this collection on hand, because I know one day I’ll be ready for it.

Thanks to TLC tours for having me along. To read others thoughts on other offerings in Van Booy’s oeuvre (including this collection), check out some of the other stops on this tour, won’t you?

Tuesday, July 12th: Books Like Breathing (Love Begins in Winter)

Wednesday, July 13th: Rundpinne (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Thursday, July 14th: The House of the Seven Tails (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Monday, July 18th: Luxury Reading (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Tuesday, July 19th: “That’s Swell!” (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Wednesday, July 20th: Book-a-rama (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Thursday, July 21st: Bibliophiliac (The Secret Lives of People in Love)

Firday, July 22nd: Chaotic Compendiums (Love Begins in Winter)

Monday, July 25th: Regular Rumination (Love Begins in Winter)

Tuesday, July 26th: Caribousmom (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Wednesday, July 27th: Books Like Breathing (The Secret Lives of People in Love)

Thursday, July 28th: Unabridged Chick (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Tuesday, August 2nd: A Bookish Way of Life (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Monday, AUgust 8th: In the Next Room (The Secret Lives of People in Love)

Tuesday, August 9th: In the Next Room (Love Begins in Winter)

Wednesday, August 10th: In the Next Room (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Wednesday, August 10th: My Reading Room (Everything Beautiful Began After)

Thursday, August 11th: Books and Movies (The Secret Lives of People in Love)

Friday, August 12th: My Two Blessings (Everything Beautiful Began After)

13 Comments

  1. 08/03/2011

    One set of short stories which was absolutely riveting was
    Somerset Maugham’s Collection of Short stories. I only found volume 2 but I guess the 1, 3 and 4 would be equally gorgeous.

  2. I am right there with you. Some of my favorite writers have also produced these acclaimed short story volumes and I haven’t gotten to them simply because I need a thicker piece of work. I just NEED more. Consumerist? Needy? Maybe, I don’t know but consider yourself in good company, or at least in my company. ;O)

  3. Fans of short stories have been raving about Van Booy for ages, but, like you, I have trouble with short stories and so have avoided him. His new novel is very tempting though and has been getting great reviews. Let’s hope we enjoy it.

  4. 08/03/2011

    Well everyone certainly has been gushing over Everything Beautiful Began After but I too find that it takes a lot for me to appreciate a collection of short stories.

  5. 08/03/2011

    I’ve been seeing Van Booy’s name everywhere but didn’t realise he wrote short stories. I’ll have to try this soon as I’m a fan of short stories, mainly because I can squeeze them into little parcels of spare time in which I can read a complete story (you know what I mean.) And if written well, they deliver a strong punch that can leave your reeling. But then, I’m also a fan of the chunkster…

  6. 08/03/2011

    Its funny to me that every time short stories were brought up in conversation I would immediately declare that I didn’t like them, when at home on my shelves sat several short story books (and I loved all of them). I don’t know why I said I didn’t like them, maybe because short stories are often written off as not being as good as novels (or at least they were in my academic circles, when I was in academia) and I wanted to follow suit. And maybe, because a part of me didn’t like short stories because they are short and I want longer stories that will give me more. Either way, I’m now an open fan of short stories – Vonnegut, Jhumpa Lahiri and Haruki Murakami have written some excellent ones. And after reading your post and Van Booy’s Everything Beautiful Began After, I realize I need to read his short stories. I enjoyed your post Steph, because I can definitely understand where you are coming from with your dislike of short stories. And, who knows, maybe one day you will fall in love with some great short stories like I did and you’ll be hooked, too. Hope you enjoy Van Booy’s, Everything Beautiful Began After – it is excellent!!

  7. 08/03/2011

    I can understand everything you say about short stories, and I guess I would have to conclude that I am a greedy reader too! I usually find it hard to adjust to the format of a short story, but the collection I reviewed from Van Booy a few weeks ago really surprised me because of it’s poignancy and immediateness. I really enjoyed it and felt a strong tug at my heart as I delved further and further. However I still prefer longer pieces of fiction, and I am not sure that is ever going to change. Oh, I still optimistically collect short story collections from all over the place, but as much as I love them, they don’t quite compare. I have really been thinking of reading his novel because I want to see how he does in a longer format. From reading the other reviews, I have a feeling you would really dig that one.

  8. I’m glad you enjoyed the book even if it didn’t convert you to a short story fan. :)

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  9. 08/04/2011

    Ha, I was just going to suggest his novel to you when I read that you still don’t like short stories. Glad to see you already know of it! I have it on my shelf to read.

    I generally like short stories. They serve their purpose; I’m impressed with an author that can successfully set a scene and create characters that you care about in such limited pages. And if they can do it without you getting mad at the end because you want more, then I think it’s very satisfying. But sometimes, you just want to hear more!

  10. 08/04/2011

    I am sooo not a short fiction girl (I can’t do collections of short stories, although I’m getting bolder about it this year) so I totally feel ya. I think his novel was really astounding — gorgeous and poetic and drawn out the way I wanted — really good stuff. If you like his style, I recommend it. I might try this volume out since I’m drawn to his style of writing but I’m prepared to be left wanting.

  11. Not a big short-story fan either, but have found that science-fiction adapts well to them. I wonder why?

  12. 08/08/2011

    @ Mystica: I’ve actually never read anything by Maugham so thank you for the recommendation! I will definitely have to check him out… though I admit I may not start with his short fiction… ;)
     
    @ Pam: It’s funny because normally I am kind of scared of really thick books, and yet as you point out, really short ones just aren’t satisfying! Normally in an entire short story collection, I find one or two stories at best that I really wind up liking… and normally those are the longest ones in the bunch! Even these so-called short story masters haven’t convinced me that less is more!
     
    @ Jackie: I am definitely tempted to try out Van Booy’s novel, since I really was impressed with the writing in this collection. I have a feeling I’m going to like it a lot!
     
    @ rhapsody: I was really hoping that I too could gush about this collection! I think that if I weren’t so averse to short stories, I really would have too… as it was, I did like the writing a lot, but I am thinking that I will like Van Booy’s novel a lot more.
     
    @ sakura: You’re right that short stories often leave the reader reeling! Why is it that short stories always somehow seem sadder than full-length novels? I feel like the problem with short stories and me is that I really like to sit down and read for long chunks of time, and it’s hard for me to keep switching gears every 10 minutes or so. I think that if I were the kind of person who read multiple books at once and only read one short story a day from a collection that they would work a lot better for me.
     
    @ Nadia: You know, even though I didn’t like the collection Unaccustomed Earth very much at all, I do think that the individual short stories in it were very good, so I do see why Lahiri has received so much praise as a short story writer. I guess I just need to keep trying short stories and maybe one day I will find that I do like them as you did! :D

  13. 08/08/2011

    @ zibilee: Like you, I have many short story collections littered about my shelves, so clearly I still hold out hope that one of them will transform me into a short story reader! I think I need to change the way I approach them, and only read one or two per day rather than sitting down and trying to read them like a novel that benefits from just a few prolonged reading sessions. Perhaps the next collection I pick up, I’ll try to draw it out over a few weeks and see if that works better.
     
    @ Heather: Thanks so much for having me on the tour and letting me test out the short fiction waters again! I’m so glad I finally got to experience Van Booy.
     
    @ Kari: The problem for me is that I do so often feel like I want more at the end, or that so many short stories just feel like they end and haven’t really told a whole story at all. Certainly they don’t all do this, but I seem to have picked up so many pieces in the pact that almost feel like they are purposefully withholding things from me so that I will think they are deep and meaningful. Obviously this annoys me!
     
    @ Audra: I remember reading your review of his novel, so I definitely want to try that next. Lucky me, I downloaded a galley of of NetGalley, so I know that I have a really good read ahead of me!
     
    @ Alex: You know, I have found that I deal a bit better with sci-fi/fantasy short fiction as well… perhaps the genre just lends itself better to tiny morsels, or maybe it reminds me of being a little kid and listening to fairy tales at bed time?

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