Short story reading: a few notes on selection

Screenshot of thumbnail view of spreadsheets
(originally I was keeping the notes in spreadsheets, but things Got Out Of Hand)

Choosing stories

I was recently asked how I choose the short stories I’ve been reading for the short story reading posts. It’s not particularly scientific. But I’m trying very hard not to primarily review each story or reduce comments to whether or not I personally like it. Rather, I’m interested in what a story does, and how.

That’s why I’ve been working through a few recommended / year’s best lists (e.g. Locus and Quick Sips Reviews, among others).

I tell myself the stories have been

  • (a) published by a venue, and
  • (b) additionally selected by someone else,

so there’s no need to add my additional valuation to that. (Counterintuitively, this has also made it a lot easier to just enjoy the stories.)

Beyond that:

  • I’ve chosen to read through some anthologies and collections because I’m interested in the author or editor or theme;
  • sometimes a story just catches my eye, or a recommendation floats past;
  • I’ve been reading Fireside Fiction and The Sunday Morning Transport stories as they arrive in my inbox; and
  • when awards shortlists are announced, I’ve been adding any stories I haven’t read yet to the list.

Noticing patterns

So far, this reading project tends to be most revealing about:

  • an author’s techniques and boundaries and the size of the blocks they build with
  • a magazine’s vibes (these can be extremely distinct — often far more than editorial or authorial flavours)
  • the consensus definition of a theme (in a given group — see e.g. the comments on the Supernatural Noir stories in the February post)
  • the particular interests and tastes of people who collate lists of recommended stories

I need to read more anthologies, as the patterns of editors’ motivations are still a little obscure. There are lots of overlays there — the market or venue’s style, what is submitted, the collective motivation or interpretation or concerns of a particular group of authors in a particular era. I suspect analysing what’s happening at the anthology-construction level, across a number of books by the same editor, would give more of a sense of this.

Notes about individual stories

So far the short story notes are in these posts, but there will be more (tagged short story reading posts):

5 thoughts on “Short story reading: a few notes on selection

  1. Pingback: May 2022 short story reading post | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: May 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

  3. Pingback: Story shapes — three-mood stories | Kathleen Jennings

  4. Pingback: June 2022 short story reading thread | Kathleen Jennings

  5. Pingback: July 2022 Short Story Reading Post | Kathleen Jennings

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