Why You Should Read Short Stories.  

Aubrey Roemmich, Section Editor

Every day it seems the world is speeding up, especially as college students. There is always more homework, more tests, more games, more classes, more, more, more. It is hard to slow down and decompress when time will not slow down with you. With so few hours in the day, it is difficult to find time to do things you enjoy that are separate from schoolwork. I, myself, love to read. But in my first two years of college, I struggled to find time to sit down to read recreationally. Novels took too much time and dedication. So, I settled for an ever-growing TBR list and bought every pretty book I could afford.   

There are many aspects of reading that I enjoy, but there are a few specific ways reading helps me decompress from the stress of life. Reading forces me to slow down. By sitting down, turning off my phone, and reading a physical copy of a book I am allowing my mind a moment of silence and intentional concentration that is not expected of me by work or school. I also find great satisfaction in finishing a story. Even when I love a story and never want it to end, there is something incredibly gratifying about reading a book cover to cover. Often, I will find myself reading through the night just to find that sense of completion. Finally, books allow me to escape for just a little while.   

But as my life got busier, it became harder and harder to use reading as an escape. It took me so long to finish books that the gratifying sense of completion I used to love no longer materialized. I would start a book and then be drawn away for weeks at a time. When I eventually picked it up to read again, I found I had to relearn the characters, plotlines, and author’s writing style. Which in turn made my reading even slower. So, for a while I stopped reading. I replaced my books with never ending scrolling on my phone which wired me more than it ever helped me relax.   

Then one day, I bought a book thinking it was a novel only to get home to find that the novel I thought I bought was actually a collection of short stories. By this point I had only ever read short stories in classes. They just seemed like the type of thing English teachers make you read, not something people read on their own. But I had a little time, so I read the first story. Then a few days later I had a little more time, so I read the second. Rather quickly I finished all the stories in the book. That’s when an idea struck me. I might not have the time to dedicate myself to a novel, but a short story is a dedication of an hour tops. Why do not I just read short stories?   

Short stories are a vastly unappreciated medium. Usually forgotten after high school, the art of the short story seems to appeal only to very specific individuals that usually share traits with old English professors or  crazy cat ladies. But I’m here to convince you that short stories have three main appeals that can cater to anyone.   

One: they are short. This seems obvious, but a large reason why they can appeal to anyone is because of their length. College students are busy, but so are career professionals, parents, and everyone else in the world. Even short novels tend to be over one hundred pages of content. While one could equate a chapter to a short story, it does not have the same sense of satisfaction that comes with finishing a story. A short story allows you to sit down and read a story start to finish, aiding in the sense of satisfaction and success that makes finishing a story so rewarding.   

While short stories are short, they are not lacking in content. Short stories can be a part of any genre and even their length can vary greatly. Micro and flash fictions (subcategories of a short story) can range from a single word to a few hundred. Traditional short stories range from 1,000 to 10,000 words (or 3 to 20 pages). The scope of short stories can vary greatly as well. I have read short stories that take place over years, and I have also read short stories that take place in a single hour. While they cannot hold as much content as a novel, that does not mean that the purpose, entertainment, or writing style of short stories cannot be as beautiful as a bestselling novel. The length of a short story is its main virtue when it comes to making time for reading.   

Two: short stories allow you to take chances on authors you may be interested in, without committing to a novel-length work by them. As an avid reader, there are lots of authors I am interested in, but I do not know if I am interested in them enough to spend $16.95 on a paperback and read an entire novel. When I discover a new author, I often look for short stories published online. Authorial style tends to be similar across stories. Of course, each story is different, and your own reception of each story will vary, but chances are if you like their short stories, you might also like their novels. Of course, this is not a failsafe, but short stories allow you to sample authors’ works more substantially than the synopsis on the back of their books.  

Not only does this allow you to explore authors, but it can also allow you to explore different genres, writing conventions, cultures, even shorter translated works. Short stories give you the freedom to explore without feeling like there is a large time or mental commitment. Short story collections tend to be priced similarly to novels of the same binding. The Best American Short Stories Anthology adds an edition each year. It is released in paperback and usually retails for around $16.95. This collection is filled with dozens of stories and for the price of a single novel you could spend months exploring different authors and genres that hold claim to the best stories of the year, like taking the tester of the weird new sauce at the grocery store instead of buying a whole bottle of said weird new sauce. Whether you look for free stories online, or buy collections and anthologies, it is much easier to explore genres and authors while reading shorter material.   

Three: there is a beauty in brevity. A lot of skill goes into creating a good short story and it is a skill that should be appreciated more. Short stories are rarely longer than 10,000 words. This means that the author needs to create characters, setting, conflict, and plot convincingly in under 30 pages. This may seem like a lot of space, but for prose authors this constraint is often felt.   

Most authors want to touch their readers, to move them emotionally, or engage them in a dynamic story. Novels have a lot more space to capture the attention of their audience, but short stories do not have that luxury. After reading a good novel, it is easy to go back and decide which parts took too much time or maybe even whole chapters that did not need to exist. But after finishing a good short story, it is hard to find even a word out of place.   

I feel that short stories are a vastly underappreciated art form. Whether it is a collection from one author or any anthology of many, there is so much to love and discover in them. Reading is a great way to decompress and take care of yourself outside of school. It allows the mind to be active without forcing the activity. Reading can take time, but if everyone read more short stories, then that time commitment would seem less daunting and reading would more easily fit into your day. 


Aubrey Roemmich is a Dakota Student Section Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].