The first category we’re exploring in The Field Library 2019 Reading Challenge is to “Read a Collection of Short Stories,” and the reason we’re starting with that is because the category is so vast and so varied that you practically have to find something that’s going to ring your bells.
You might be able to make the argument that short stories are the best way for people to experience reading these days. Everybody’s busy, and it’s increasingly hard to carve out enough time to devote to a full novel (though, of course, if you’re a real novel lover, you’ll find or make time to read one), but you can read a short story in an interval of otherwise wasted time (waiting for a doctor’s appointment, for instance, or standing on line at the airport or the like), and it requires much less of a commitment. You’re not risking much on any story, either; if one story doesn’t work for you, you can just move on to the next one, or skip around to find one that appeals to you (note: if you’re doing this challenge, you are supposed to read all the stories in the collection you select). A short story doesn’t give you the depth and multiple characters and plotlines and subplots you can dive into when you’re reading a novel, but by the same token, a short story can be much more shocking, much more powerful, because of its concentration (think about it: how many novels are as vivid and memorable as, say, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”?).
A collection of short stories by different authors is a great way to increase your exposure to different authors: in one volume, you can read stories by a number of different writers, and you know they were already vetted by whoever the editor of the volume is. If you’re looking for an introduction to a genre, say mystery or speculative fiction, checking out a “best of the year” anthology gives you a snapshot of what people in the field believe are the best works in the genre.
When you’re considering a collection of stories by a single author, you’re taking more of a risk, especially if you don’t know the author that well. A good short story writer, though, will showcase different themes and styles and give you a well-rounded introduction to his or her work (for instance, Carmen Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties has quite a varied group of stories, including one very long and strange one based — sort of — on Law and Order, Special Victims Unit, and several other stories that make you stop and think when you finish them). If the author is someone whose work you know (like Neil Gaiman, one of my personal favorites), reading his or her short stories can be a treat, like a special dessert.
This is probably going to be the category with the most possibilities, so check out the list here, and find yourself something new and interesting.