A Short Story Collection Question…

So far we are four days in to 2012 and I have yet to do a book review. This is in part because I have read two utterly corking books (and one not so but very thought provoking indeed) that really need my thoughts ever the more honed on them before I put them out in the ether, in part because tomorrows post is about blog changes and I think reviews should follow that and also because my reading had been delightfully higgledy piggledy as I have been multi-reading from three short story collections…


Now I won’t talk about these collections further for now, but reading them has shown me something. I don’t read them in the right order, though what the right order in a short story collection is can be debateable, as set by whomever edited them. I all three cases I have taken the longest of Susan Hill/Ludmilla Putreshevskaya/Dan Rhodes stories (I have just noticed how brilliant these three collections titles are), followed by the shortest before leaving the title story (or the most appealing titled story) till the end. I am worried this is the wrong thing to do.

Is there and right and wrong way to read a short story collection? Over to you…


Filed under Book Thoughts

14 responses to “A Short Story Collection Question…

  1. I think if the stories aren’t connected at all, then it shouldn’t matter in which order you read them. That may ring true for collected works, too. But some collections, the stories are connected, and I would read those cover to cover, in order, even if they’re only loosely connected, say only by geographical location. I think there is often reason in these collections for the order in which the stories appear.

    Good question!

  2. I say read it how you want! Life’s too short to worry about things like that 🙂 Whatever works for you. I usually read the stories in the order they are found in the book, but this is more out of habit than anything else

  3. AJ

    I think it is not unheard of for an author to be consulted on the order of stories in a collection and so — with some exceptions — I tend to read in the order the author/editor sets out. Of course I skip around to my heart’s content in anthologies,

    • I know there must be some planning into the way the stories are ordered but I have wondered why. Especially with the one I read actually, three of the stories had I read them in order were very samey. After reading them in a random fashion I still am confused which one was which.

  4. Rob

    Although I personally read short story collections/anthologies in the order they are presented, there is no right way or wrong way to read them, and most people I know just dip into whatever takes their fancy.

    That said, I think there is some value in reading collected works of an author in chronological sequence (most are presented like this), because there is value to be had in seeing the author develop.

    More food for thought: Putting collected works aside, I’ve heard that a number of short story writers put their strongest stories at the start and at the end, leaving their ‘lesser’ creations propping up the middle. Make of this what you will.

    • I think that might have happened in this case which was interesting as I read the last and then the first last in the random order that I choose, the middle one was a corker the rest lacked something and sounded a little similar. Yet because I read the first (which was incredile) last I have a better lasting memory of the book!

  5. David

    I tend to read them in the order presented, but I reckon if they’re unconnected (and often they will have appeared individually in different magazines etc) then there is no right order. On the other hand I’ve noticed that some collections don’t bother to alert you to their connectedness beforehand (unless they’re billed as “a novel in stories” like – for example – Justin Cronin’s ‘Mary & O’Neil’). My current read, DW Wilson’s ‘Once You Break A Knuckle’ tells you that all the stories are set in one valley in Canada, but fails to mention that several are narrated by the same character and most cross-reference each other. It is debatable – since they move back and forth in time too – whether they have to be read in any particular order, but I think perhaps they work best in the order they are presented in.

    By the way, I’m going to combine your Australian Literature challenge with my own short story ‘resolution’ and make the next collection I read Robert Drewe’s “The Bodysurfers”, a book that has been languishing on my shelves unread for far too many years.

  6. kimbofo

    I dont think there’s a right or wrong way, but I like to think that an author and his/her editor have thought very carefully about which order to run the stories in a collection and, on that basis, it’s probably wise to read them in the order they are presented.

    • You see this seems so obvious now, where the way I read them has come from now I am unsure, it worked for the collection I have just read though. I am not sure I would have bothered with it if I had read it in order.

  7. Lol, I’d never even thought about it! I guess I’m very… obedient. I always read them cover to cover – maybe for simplicity’s sake as much as anything. I tend to read all books cover to cover – intro/prologue through author’s note/epilogue/etc. But you ask an interesting question and I’m sure there’s no *wrong* way per se; there is probably a persnickety author out there somewhere who would scold you for going out of order but s/he would be a minority, I would think.

    This makes me think about music. I’ve been talking with my father lately about albums. I’m young enough that I’ve just about had the “shuffle” option on cd players since I first started owning my own albums; and nowadays Husband and I “dump” our music onto an iPod and then play a master-shuffle. This is great for random variety, but: my father points out the idea of “concept albums” and the careful selection by the band/artist/producer/somebody involved the process, of what order to play the songs in on a record. And I wonder if us master-shufflers are missing something? If great thought went into the ordering of the songs – or, here, stories – maybe there was a larger rhythm or theme or development or greater message built up, that we’re missing when we go out of order. I think the same possibility applies to albums or story collections.

    All of which is not to say that there’s a wrong way; but it might be something to keep in mind and wonder about. Then again, maybe these artists/authors are NOT putting great thought into it after all and I’m making that up…! I wonder, especially regarding music, whether that’s becoming less common. Especially since you can buy single songs on iTunes. Hmm… Have I overthought this?

    • I have to say in normal instances I read normal books in the right order. Though I have heard there isa clever us of this in AL Kennedy’s novel The Blue Book… interesting.

      I like the music analogy, not sure I have the right answer. Though I dont keep whole albums. I get rid of fillers, make of that what you will.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s