A Century of Voices

bookI started the new year off with voices from the last century. I know, I’m weird.

The voices are contained within this volume of short stories. They’re in chronological order starting with the year 1915 so reading through them is like reading through history. Not the kind of history you read in textbooks, but the kind that’s filled with people’s thoughts and feelings. There have been stories about immigration and racial issues, farming communities and mobsters. Poverty. Cruelty. Injustice. And yes, hope.

Famous voices can be found through the pages, including the familiar ones of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the others, the ones I hadn’t heard until now.

One of my favorites so far, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, was published in 1917. It shows how often women were dismissed, even though they were always there farming, cooking, and cleaning. That attitude comes through as the normal way of things with passages like this:

“Oh well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend.

Reading through this volume has reminded me why I love short stories. They give the reader so much in only a few words. The best short stories could easily be novels. They’re packed full of emotion. In these times with so little time (really the way it’s always been), it’s surprising that more people don’t read short stories.

It’ll be interesting to see how writing styles have changed over the last century. I’ll keep reading through time and will let you know how it goes in future posts.

What do you think of short stories? Do you have a favorite short story writer?

49 thoughts on “A Century of Voices

  1. “The women did not speak, did not unbend.” What a sentence. We’ve spoken of our mutual love for short stories before, Sheila. When they are well written, they are extraordinary gems: often understated and powerful. I love the idea of you traversing time through this collection.

    • Isn’t that sentence amazing? That short story is such a great one. It has one of those endings that can’t help but make you smile. If novels are meals then short stories are like tiny desserts – with chocolate. You might like this collection too because it’s not on Kindle. It’s a fun experience going back to a book that’s a few inches thick!

      • tiny desserts, with chocolate!!!!

        I will think of this next time I read a short story (my next collection of short stories on my list is by Alice Monroe).

      • Alice Munroe is in this collection too and I’ll look forward to that one! She’s not until the late 1980s though and I’m at around 1940 for now. 🙂

  2. That sounds like a cool book. Short stories are fun. I should pull out my book of shorts from college and peruse it occasionally. It would be good for me, I bet.

    • That sounds like a fun experiment. It could be like traveling back in time in a way. I still have a few of those notebooks around somewhere too. Maybe it’s about time to dig them out of the basement.

  3. I’m not really a reader of short stories, though I’ve read some collections by indie authors. This collection sounds like a wonderful trip through history though. You’re right–women were so often dismissed, including in the history textbooks. Probably why I found history class dull and unrelatable. All about men, wars, and dates to remember. I was flipping through my son’s American history text last year and was pleased to see it’s much more inclusive now. Chapters devoted to women and minority groups. Was a nice change to see.

    • It’s funny how change always seems so slow, then you look back over the century or even the past few decades and realize how much has changed. I’d love to look through one of those history books again to see those changes. Each generation has more history to learn too. It makes you wonder how they can fit it all in these days!

  4. I enjoy short stories, but for whatever reason, prefer novels. I think short stories are actually pretty hard to write though because you are trying to pack so much in. This sounds like a really great read.

    • That’s true that it can be a different way of writing and reading. I haven’t read short stories in a while and I forgot how different they can be. It seems like writers can be more free with short stories. Maybe it’s easier to get emotions into that smaller space. I’m up to about 1940 and it’s a great one so far – sort of like an emotional history.

  5. I love short stories, and for many years, that was my preferred genre to write. Only recently I’ve delved into a novel, and WOW, it’s a whole different animal.

    But reading short stories I will never stop. I have many favorite authors, like the revered Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, as well as Maile Meloy, Antonia Nelson, Loorie Moore, Julie Orringer. I could go on and on, but all this makes me want to read 🙂

    • I used to write short stories too, then the novel took over everything. Now I’m looking forward to writing a few more short stories. 🙂 Thank you for those recommendations – I love Alice Munro and will make sure to look up the others. Happy reading!

  6. I’m so glad you’re back from clamming, Sheila! 🙂 It’s funny, my published work thus far, have been short stories, but I don’t read them too often. I enjoy reading a full novel, but have recently ventured into the novella world, so short stories might be in my future. Interesting you mentioned these short stories easily being turned into a novel. I’ve considered that with my short stories, one in particular. Good to see you again!

    • Hahah – thank you! It’s easy to get lost while clamming or dreaming. It’s the same with me – I’ve written lots of short stories and published a few but don’t read them much either. They really are like little bites of chocolate instead of a full meal though – sometimes that’s all you need.

  7. I too really like that line, The woman did not speak, did not unbend.
    I don’t read a lot of short stories, the last was probably Stephen King’s, Full Dark No Stars. Although now that I think about it, even his short stories are long!

    • I can see that happening because some of his novels are pretty long. It’s funny that even his short stories are even made into movies. Thanks for reminding me – every once in a while I think it would be fun to read the one that Shawshank Redemption is based on but then I forget. I haven’t read Full Dark No Stars either and will have to look those up.

  8. Im a fan of a giant novel. I guess I could say I mourn a good book after I have read it Sheila. So a short story is hard for me because I want more. Sounds like a fascinating read though, especially for someone like me learning the craft of writing. You do notice the differences in pace etc after reading a classic and comparing it to a recent novel of our time.

    • This one is sort of like a giant novel but only because it’s so thick! 🙂 That’s true that there’s a big difference in writing styles as the years go by. I usually like the classic writing because it’s more poetic. These days, we’re told to write simply because people just want to be entertained but then it feels like we’ve lost something along the way.

  9. Sheila doll!!!! Such a lovely comeback post. This sounds like a collection I need to check out. I had never read any short stories until I met some fellow Indies. I like them, I just tend to gravitate toward novels.

    I’ve been thinking about writing a short story though. I have an idea…just need more time in my life. 🙂

    • Yes it’s perfect for time traveling! I used to read short stories more often like the ones in Glimmertrain or the anthologies that are published each year and I forgot how much fun they can be. I’ll look forward to your short story! The good thing about writing them is that they don’t take up as much time as novels. It’s a whole different adventure.

  10. Wonderful excerpt! So much can be done with so little when the writing is sooo good. I’ve got this collection, but it’s been gathering dust on the shelf. Must pull it down and read again.

    One of my current short story favorites is Dan Chaon. His book titled “Stay Awake” is haunting.

    • I’m glad you liked it! I loved that story. It really made me smile at the end and it was just as satisfying as a good novel. That would be fun to read through time together. I’m at around 1940 for now – some stories are a little too shocking or depressing but I’m enjoying the different time periods. Thanks for that recommendation – I’ll make sure to look him up.

  11. Sheila, I have avoided short stories for quite a few years but you have piqued my interest and I’ve already tracked down a copy. Perhaps it is time… 🙂

    • I hope you’ll like it. In a way, short stories can be a little like poems. They can be read in small bites and the best ones are just as satisfying as novels. Nice to see you again – I hope you’re enjoying your new year!

  12. Have to admit I struggle with short stories – both reading and writing them. I don’t find they satisfy me, I invariably feel something important is missing, and often question the point of the one I have just read. Now I’m perfectly willing to admit that’s probably down to some lack or flaw within me, but I have tried. A good book, on the other hand, is something I delight in immersing myself in, enjoying the likes, dislikes and quirks of characters, how they react, how they live, how they engage with people. It’s like opening a door into a story about the lives of others. The roundedness of books appeals to me, even if they occasionally have enigmatic endings that leave questions dangling. I remember the books I have enjoyed, while short stories disappear like morning mist.

    • Hahhah – I doubt you have a short story reading flaw! I guess it all depends. Some modern day short stories are too depressing for me. Some are too mysterious. But then there are the ones that are perfect. They make me feel like I have read a novel. All the thoughts and feelings are still there, they’re just more compact and intense. That’s only for the good ones though and those can be hard to find.

  13. Hi Sheila, thanks for a great post. I love short stories and beleive it or not my favourite short story writer is my brother! He’s won some big awards and I am in complete awe of him. It such a difficult genre and definitely requires imagination and great editorial powers.

  14. You’ve just given me reading inspiration. I have been wanting to read some authors of an era gone by, but I can’t read for pleasure every day. And the chances that I do get to read are small, like 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Taking on a classic with that little time to invest didn’t seem workable. I never thought about reading short stories — it’s the perfect solution. I will definitely check out this book! Looks really awesome.

    • Yay – I’m glad! It makes sense to read more short stories when we don’t have much time. I love it when I come to the end of a short story and it gives me the same feeling as a novel. Some stories are better than others but then it’s fun to compare them, especially when they’re all from different time periods. Happy reading!

  15. Being born and raised in South Korea, I haven’t read much of American short stories but some novels. Ernest Hemingway; J.D. Salinger; Thomas Hardy are among some novelists I loved to read. Recently I read more of modern day writers’ works to learn their writing style.

    As to women’s right and their voices, back in old days we were the same as American women and else where. But, now, South Korea has a first female president! Time has changed.

    • I’d love to read a worldwide collection, but to determine the “best” ones, the editors for this read most of the short stories published in this country for each year. I can’t imagine trying to read through all the short stories published worldwide! There are writers from other countries in this collection though. That’s great that South Korea has come so far. It’s funny how slow progress can be, then we look back and see that it has somehow happened.

  16. I have many books of short stories here from my college days…you’ve inspired me to pick them up again. So many I have never read!

    • I’m happy to hear that! I was just in Boston for a couple days and saw the new Edgar Allan Poe statue. That made me want to read his short stories again since the last time was in college. It’s about time to dust off those books!

  17. Excellent, I would love an insight into America’s past and with so many different voices and themes then this will fit the bill. Consider it added to the list, I think my favourite short story was The Body by Stephen King, so much packed into so few pages. The film was almost as good, which is really saying something.

    • I haven’t read that one but it was a fun movie. I’ll have to add the story to the list too. I’m in the 1950s with the short story collection for now and I’m surprised that a lot of them could have been written in any time period. I had been hoping there would be more where the time period could really be felt. The ones that do that are the best ones so far.

  18. Hi Sheila. Thank you for liking my short story Fat Tuesday in Odense, Denmark. I read novels from time to time but read short stories all of the time. I write short stories all the time and, from time to time, write a novel. As for the perception of women by men in society, we’ve come a long way since the early 20th century and not only for women (minotities, gay rights, even animal rights, etc.) which goes to show that what’s good for women is good for everyone. There’s still a long way to go though. And I’m not talking about some parts of the world where a woman is still not worth much in the eyes of men, including her father and brothers.

    • Yes, I think we’ve progressed in all kinds of ways even since a generation or two ago. I always feel like things aren’t changing enough, but at least there have been some positive changes over the last century, especially with civil rights and environmental awareness. Thank you for stopping by – it’s nice to meet you!

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