T.O.T.Week: short stories

I had dinner with a friend last night, and, as can be expected of two single thirty-somethings, the conversation naturally deviated to our dating adventures (trust me, if you heard her stories, you’d call them adventures too.) Our eyes were already teary with laughter, when she said, “Frankly, I’m throwing caution to the wind at this point. I don’t even care about HEIGHT REQUIREMENTS.” Now, I want to make it clear that she did not emphasize those final two words, nor did her voice inflect with volume as she stated them. I am 100% projecting, as my own past dictates that I do have a bit of a type. My brother happily heckles me that I only go for the behemoth kind, the kind who can dunk a basketball with little jumping, and it is with a tad bit of shame that I do not have much of a leg to stand on to counter… and I really like to counter. Yet it is a new year, and look – I love mini M&Ms, I think the teeny golf pencils are perhaps the most redeeming element of an otherwise very dull sport (there’s my cheap counter, Cory), and I work with tiny humans!

There’s room to grow, right? Perhaps that’s the wrong turn of phrase, but I recently read a Book Riot article that described short stories as ‘the delectable tapas of the book world.’ Those, both tapas and short stories, I have never had to be convinced to indulge in! I like short stories because I can dive into a new journey, make a new friend, and take on a new emotional punch in the span of half an hour. I like short stories because they trust their readers’ intelligence, as we recognize that the most innocuous details were placed with weight and intention. My favorite anthologies (unsurprisingly) are the ones that carry a theme, whether it be the lessons of contemporary adulthood or the self-curated definition of a ‘hero’ in the eyes of a child. They sit with me long after the story has been completed as I conjure epilogues in my head.

Some of Curtis Sittenfeld’s folks in You Think It, I’ll Say It are fairly unlikable and truly flawed. Yet you look at their course of action and recognize you don’t exactly know how to do life any better. I’d argue that this was Sittenfeld’s point. Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks, written in 2004, still resonates for its take on the multi-generational immigrant experience. The characters are delicately woven together by their discovery of a garden plot outside one Cleveland apartment complex. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick takes agency to a whole new level, as hundreds of young readers engage with the sepia-toned watercolors and create their own scary stories from frightful imagery. Finally, I selected The Talk last year not only as a jumping point to have conversations about race and justice with my students, but to seek answers to some of the questions that can only be explained from the experience of one who does not look like me. Short stories flood us with plot and tension and ideas, and because of their natural constraints, the emotions that are felt as we read them are, for lack of better word, heightened.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (young reader collection)

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (middle grade short story novel)

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love, and Truth edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Hudson (YA story collection)

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (adult short stories)

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