It’s been said, in order to become a good writer, you’ve gotta read a lot.
“So where to start?” you ask while muttering under your breath “Dear God, please don’t say ‘War and Peace'” As people have usually started it three times at least, and it’s rare for them to ever finish it. (Given Tolstoy’s lyrical waxing and the likes, can’t say I’m too surprised we find inventive ways to use the book; doorstop, anyone? I know, I’m a meanie.)
Although there are many great novels out there that could do with being read, I consider it better to try reading as many short stories as possible, not only because short pieces are revealing in how flexible narrative fiction can actually be. It may also give us the confidence to experiment within our own writing.
Here is a short list (Okay, I ‘fess up, two of ’em are novellas):
- ‘The Swimmer’ John Cheever
- ‘A good man is hard to Find’ Flannery O’Connor
- ‘Nettles’ Alice Munro
- ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ Truman Capote
- ‘Animal Farm’ George Orwell
- ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ William Maxwell
- ‘Saying Goodbye to Sally’ Richard Yates
Now these suggestions I have made are in part personal, when I read them, I was deeply affected or intrigued by either the language and/or the experiences of the characters. I consider these stories to be excellent examples of good story telling as well as good writing.
In fact, the effect ‘Animal Farm’ had on my imagination was so immense that when I saw ‘Babe’ shortly after finishing the novel, I could only perceive the animals in the movie through the lens of Orwell’s story. I have subsequently re-watched ‘Babe’ several times and enjoyed every moment of it without Orwell’s Aesopian landscape intruding. But I think this anecdote illustrates perfectly the transformative nature of storytelling, and the extraordinary power language can have when we use it properly.