Friday, June 28, 2013


If memory serves correct, somewhere in the archives of this here space, I mentioned that of all the literary genres, the one which has long brought me the least pleasure is the Short Story.  I have never really known why this is so.  I have certainly read short stories I have enjoyed, but when I think about all the many things I have read which have resulted in both pleasure and profit (intellectual profit (I can’t think of anything I have ever read which brought me monetary profit)), I do not think there are any short stories on that list.  Odd, to put it mildly.

Since I don’t like literary failings, and I suspect a dislike of short stories as a class is a literary failing, I have decided to remedy this situation.  (I was tempted to say I would try to remedy this situation but then I remembered the immortal words of Yoda, words I have said to my children on countless occasions, “Do or Do Not. There is no Try.” (A very useful motto if you think about it (it’s also a useful motto if you don’t think about it (which is another thing I have tried to impress upon my children)).))  Since I know not how to compel myself to simply like a literary genre, I decided the best I can do is immerse myself therein.  So, one short story a day until further notice.

Now, as is common with succinctly stated goals, the policy of one short story per day, seemingly simple as it is, led immediately to the question of practical implementation:  which short story?  Spending time thinking about which book to read next is enjoyable; spending time every day deciding which short story to read next would be highly annoying.  And here, the Library of America comes in handy.  One author a week, one story a day, in order which they are printed.  Those handy ribbon book markers will hold the place until the author’s term comes up again.  Now all I have to do is decide which author to read the next week, not which story.

And at this point, the Reader (are there any Readers any more?  This blog has been, as one might have noticed, horribly neglected during my year in Administration), is wondering why these details of my Master Plan to Cure Myself of Having Insufficient Zeal for the Short Story is relevant or interesting.  Truth be Told, it is neither.

And so, to a review.  Last week’s author: Nathaniel Hawthorne.  And, rather than review all seven stories each week, I’ll choose one.  (Incidentally, the idea of having to review a short story each week brings a modicum of terror.  After all, short stories are not all that interesting (see above), so will it really be possible to actually talk (or more properly ramble on) about a short story each week?  Time will tell.  (Actually, that is an odd phrase now that I see it written.  Time has no voice, so how can it tell?  Time’s capacity to communicate is a subject worthy of further rumination.))

The story: “The Seven Vagabonds.”  Our narrator meets several (guessing how many is left as an exercise for the reader) itinerant individuals all on their way to a camp meeting at Stamford.  He talks to each one in turn, mostly finding out what they do to make a living, and then they all set out together to Stamford when they suddenly discover the camp meeting has ended, and so they all go their separate ways.  End of story.

The Lesson:  This is exactly why I am not a fan of short stories.  Our narrator meets someone, and just about the time he thinks the person might be worth traveling with for a bit, the person wanders off.  I start a story, and just about the time I think it might worth worth spending a bit of time in the story’s company, it ends.

But that got me thinking.  I’ve just spent a year in an Administrative job (today is my last day).  During that year, I have met a lot of people I never knew before.  Some of them are the equivalent of a novel—a long term relationship.  Indeed, one of my very best friends is someone I met this year.   There is another set of people whom I will run into now and again and we will exchange pleasantries.  And there are others whom I am likely to rarely, if ever, see again, let alone have a substantive conversation.  Now clearly the first set of people I am very glad to know, and I am very happy to know I will still be talking with them in the future.  It’s the last set that is interesting in this respect—I am also very glad to have worked with them this year; I enjoyed talking with them, we did some great work together, and that is enough for me to think it was all very worthwhile.  The same is true of the many students whom I have just had in a class for a semester and then wandered off into the rest of their lives; I am glad to have known them too.  The long-lasting relationships are obviously important, but the short relationships are also an interesting and enjoyable part of life. 

Now the importance of the short personal relationship is incredibly trivially obvious.  I cannot imagine anyone finding such an observation to be thought-provoking.  So, my puzzle: why do I feel so differently about short stories?  Why don’t I enjoy those literary vagabonds for what they are?

And moreover, I like songs.  Songs are short.  Songs are vagabonds too.  Like this one