I heard an interesting factoid the other day, or perhaps I read it. I probably read it. Sounds like something I would have picked up in Mental Floss magazine. Anyway, the article, or perhaps clever individual, said that adults, on average, have a mere 20 minute attention span. At first I was offended, thought it didn’t give us enough credit, but then I decided it was probably accurate, and maybe even generous. The point is, sometimes I am too high strung or too busy to sit down and read a novel. This is where the short story comes in. Ambrose Bierce called the novel a padded short story, and I tend to agree. My love affair with the short story began long ago, with the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, and continues to be as fervent and passionate as ever. Here are a few of my favorites:
Miranda July is probably the cutest, hippest, most artsy person in existence, and for that I hate her. No, I kid. Although her talents are most enviable, it’s impossible not to fall hard for her. I would start by watching the movie that she wrote, directed, and starred in: Me and You and Everyone We Know . It’s odd, funny, sometimes disturbing and cringe-worthy, but very entertaining. If you like that, her short stories are not much different. Her collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You , is full of tales of loneliness, our very human need to feel connected to others, infused with her knack for the sweet and humorous. I hear the audio version is fantastic, as she narrates it herself.
On to my other girl crush… If you know me, you also know that I have a soft spot for the whimsical and quirky. I cannot gush enough about how much I love Aimee Bender’s straightforward but lyrical writing style. I think I’ve read everything she’s written, and still can’t get enough. She’s created her own brand of magical realism, mixing the bizarre with the familiar. If you can suspend your disbelief for long enough, you’ll encounter a boy born with keys as fingers, magical multiplying potatoes, a tiny man kept captive in a cage, and even a naughty librarian! Start with The Girl in the Flammable Skirt , and then move on to her more sci-fi leaning Willful Creatures , if you like what you’ve read.
There are so many great collections out there that I don’t have time to talk about them all, but I have to at least mention one other: Speaking with the Angel , edited by Nick Hornby, with contributions by Dave Eggers (skip it!), Zadie Smith, Irvine Welsh, Roddy Doyle, and Mr. Darcy himself, Colin Firth. The only requirement was that all stories be written in the first person.
Anyway, if you are feeling particularly ants-in-your-pants-y, and don’t have much time to read, grab a short story collection and put your 20 minute attention span to good use. That episode of Dancing with the Stars can wait.