My reading: science, fiction and structure.

The trick with reading short stories, I think, is not to rush from one to another without taking a breather between. The best of them should be given time to soak into the thought-stream.

Of course, it’s not always possible to guess in advance whether a new story deserves to be given the kind of attention that implies. When I picked a 2007 anthology of Science Fiction off the dustier of my shelves I had no memory of where it had come from, and I don’t read enough of the genre to recognise even the name of the editor, let alone any of the twelve chosen authors.

My choosing it at that moment was motivated by tidiness. In the last few weeks I’ve built up a sizable heap of discards for the charity shop. Judging by the recent turn-around in my reading to acquiring ratio, there’s a possibility that I might have shelf-room for all of my books, soon. I can’t think when that last happened.

I know, this approach is far from the usual driving spirit for someone in search of entertainment. But, actually, in using this strategy, I’m drawing from a history of good luck, or maybe serendipity. Some of the best films, plays, radio shows and reading experiences I’ve enjoyed, have been due to happenstance, rather than research.

Now you might argue that since The Best of 2007… was on my shelf, I must, at some point, have thought it would be worth reading. Actually, a substantial number of my TBR books have been gifts. I swop a fair few volumes with friends, family and neighbours. Sometimes these are because we know each other’s reading habits and expect them to be entertained, other times because we’ve struggled through them, or even, given up, and would like a second opinion. And then there are the books that have been orphaned. My shelves are, it seems, viewed as a safe place: a book haven.

Please note that word ‘seems’. Despite the evidence of my wall spaces, I can be a ruthless reader. Maybe it’s easier to hand the final disposal of a book over to someone else.

To get back to, Science Fiction: The Best of The Year, 2007, I still don’t know why I had it, but I do have a few thoughts about why it languished on my shelves for several years.

  1. It’s a thickish book, with only twelve stories inside. I thought they’d be long, and was not sure I’d have the stamina for so much science.
  2. I don’t like the cover illustration.
    • It’s predominantly red: not one of my favourite colours.
      • There’s an illustration of a space vehicle, and an astronaut. I always expect ‘hard’ sci-fi when I see a plot that looks like it relies on technology.
        • ‘Hard’ sci-fi is something I’m happy to watch, but too lazy to read. It so often requires the learning of lots of new terms and theories. That might be acceptable in real life, but not for short-fiction.

If only I had opened it earlier. Point number 1, is qualified by the discovery that although there are 372 pages, they’re printed on thicker paper than I expected. The font is a good size, and the lines or print are well spaced.

Point number 2, well I hardly thought about the cover, once I had started the stories, and although there was ‘hard’ science in some, it was not delivered in dense blocks. Rounded characters led me into scenarios that explored themes on a human level. They raised universal questions about how we exist, or interact, and explored the strengths and weaknesses of our natures, without lecturing or grandstanding.

As always, with my reading, I’ve learned something more than I expected. Why should we take a breather, between reading short stories? Because it supplies a space for our minds to pick up all the nuances of a well delivered finish.

54 thoughts on “My reading: science, fiction and structure.

  1. You’re such a thoughtful and reflective reader and I value your comments about books. I’m more of a hasher-basher reader, romping my way through books and sometimes not remembering much about them.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. A contemplative post (for me!) as you encourage all readers to look into genres which they usually tend to avoid. Science fiction is one of those for me but now I’m thinking it would be more helpful if I stop judging books by their cover and delve into those magical opening sentences. I hope the day finds you well, Deborah.

    Liked by 5 people

    • It’s so easy to keep following familiar genres, isn’t it? I’m glad you found my thoughts useful, I need to take my own advice a little more often.
      I’m well, thank you, Deborah. I hope you are too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a general rule I’m entirely in agreement for leaving temporal spaces (see, even my comment is SF-tinged) between short stories. That works best in collections with different authors who each have their own style, pace, tone, and so on. It also works well with one author’s pieces which were originally published elsewhere, for which they tailored their tales according to the publishing requirements — we might go from first person to third, comedy to tragedy, magazine-light to genre-heavy.

    But some collections are all of a piece. Ursula Le Guin’s Orsinian Tales are windows on lives in an imaginary Mittel-European country over several centuries — you keep expecting a connection, however faint, or wonder if Orsinian is itself the main character. Similarly with Malcolm Bradbury’s stories in Summer Morning, Summer Night, all set in Green Town but written and published separately over several years — there’s a cohesiveness even if each tale is standalone.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I agree, Chris, there are always exceptions. I’ve not read Orsinian Tales, yet. Another title to add to my wish-list. Thanks for the suggestion. I suppose the Lake Wobegon should be mentioned in that breath, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read but never got round to reviewing Orsinian Tales many years ago. It’s been on my mind to revisit but there’s so much else to read, hasn’t there? Not read any of the Lake Wobegon stories but I never say never! Well, hardly ever…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoy good short stories and respect that they can often be more difficult to write than a full-length novel. I usually only read one at a time, in order to process it. I’m also not a big sci-fi fan but if well written, I can appreciate it. We don’t find books, they find us, so the book was there for a reason.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. “The trick with reading short stories, I think, is not to rush from one to another without taking a breather between. The best of them should be given time to soak into the thought-stream.”

    Oh, yes. A well-written story should be savored. It takes a little time for the effect of the word-magic to sink in so it can be truly enjoyed.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. I agree – each short story needs a bit of time afterwards; I usually feel they are still somehow unfurling in me after I finish them – more so than full-length books, as with those I have more time to digest them while reading 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

  7. I don’t generally gravitate toward sci-fi, but when I do I’m not disappointed, Cath. And I totally agree with you about taking a breather in between to think about what just happened and to whom. It helps with my own writing as well.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Give short stories time and space and be a haven for book orphans! I love these sentiments, Cath! You leave me with plenty to ponder on quite apart from the book you focused on. Totally agree about leaving space between short stories (with exceptions as Chris points out). I don’t read enough of the genre but I have a number of collections lined up. I may only read some from each collection but I shall remember your advice!

    Liked by 6 people

  9. I can’t read science fiction; the subject reminds me of school and I don’t understand half of what the author is talking about. I always read your posts and I am so pleased I came to your tutorials in Dursley Library

    Liked by 6 people

    • Hello Sue, how lovely to hear from you. Those Dursley Library sessions were great fun, weren’t they? I hope you’re still keeping up with some writing, I did enjoy your stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I just bought a 1964 Sci-Fi ‘yearbook’, in which there are a couple of stories I never forgot, and wanted to see if they still did the business. 3 of them, in fact, did! (Tho’ with one or two amusing chronoclasms each….aliens, in a spaceship, explaining something on a board, using chalk, for example!)

    Liked by 5 people

    • Those three stories must have been good to have echoed all the way from 1964 to today. I’m intrigued, are they famous? I’m already drawn towards aliens who favour blackboards and chalk, perhaps an unintended reference to ciber security techniques.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I read a lot of SF and I don’t know any of those names on the cover either. I don’t think I knew them 13 years ago, either, but then again, 13 years is a long time. I’m glad the allocated shelf space paid off in the end!

    Liked by 5 people

  12. I enjoy sci-fi, Cath, but as with any genre, it’s the quality of the characters that determine whether I will enjoy a particular story. I do prefer novels to short stories, but a good story is a good story. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Cath, I love this post. These collections are wonderful usually and I do put the book down between stories. I read short stories these days much easier than full-length fiction. I call it my plague fatigue.

    Liked by 6 people

  14. This is my perennial problem with Lovecraft. Read one of his stories – a good one, mind you – and you’ll be questioning the foundations of our existence for days. But read FIVE Lovecraft stories in sequence, and you’ll find he’s entirely too dramatic and predictable. I prefer to let the Star-born sink in before re-reading about Cthulhu, or else it muddles together somewhere in the middle.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. oooh & now you’ve reminded me that’s far too long since I’ve delved into a good book of short stories — have you read (not scifi tho) Lucia Berlin? so wonderful! as a kid, I loooved short stories because they were easier for me lol

    Liked by 3 people

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