This week, Reading on the Rails is all about stories. Read them, listen to them, write them—and glory in the brilliant little packets that are short stories.
On your kindle
Sometimes stories that center around an individual can fall flat: the voice unrealistic, the events implausible. But in Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls, the best quality of her eight stories is their authenticity.
Schappell brings us eight captivating stories about individual girls—their unique voices, their feelings, their problems. She blends together humor with horror to create stories that sit like cream atop a milk bottle: thick and rich, but with a certain lightness that rises to the top.
On your smartphone
Every so often, NPR holds a contest in which it asks readers to submit 600-word stories that can be read in three minutes or less. The exercise focuses on one beautiful aspect of the short story: its brevity.
It may not take as long as writing a thousand-page epic, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy to pen a one-page tale. The emotional depth and complex layering of Lauri Anderson’s A Saint and a Criminal—winner of the contest’s sixth round—conveys her authorial skill.
Bonus: If you’re an aspiring fiction writer, try using the contest’s prompts for your own inspiration—and see if you can pack a literary punch into a page.
On a podcast
I recently discovered another wonderful free feature of the increasingly moneyed New Yorker website. If you love the magazine’s short stories but don’t subscribe, check out their Fiction Podcast page for monthly readings and discussions of stories from their archives. With the click of a button, you get a story read to you and—what’s more—a book-club worthy discussion of the tale.
Pulitzer-prize winning Annie Proulx is a master teller of dark, draining stories. In this collection, she recounts eight tales that each share a character: the state of Wyoming. Proulx personifies the rugged land, making its silent voice as powerful as those of the roughened folk who live within it. The collection, which concludes with the heartbreaking Brokeback Mountain, is so gripping that you won’t want your commute—or the stories—to end.