How to read short stories?
July 22, 2012 6:29 AM   Subscribe

How to read short stories so I actually remember them?

I like reading short stories, but I almost never remember them a year later. It's worse the more "literary" and naturalistic they are. There are many books of short stories that I was raving about and recommending to friends right after reading them, and now I can barely remember a single one of their stories. They all just sort of run together into vague memories of themes and settings, and then I often forget them completely.

I almost never have this problem with novels, including novels by some of the same writers. So... for those of you who like reading short fiction, how do you approach it differently than other kinds of reading? Are you adopting a different frame of mind? Is it better to read stories on a one-off basis instead of reading a book of ten straight through? Do you take notes about each story as you read?

Or is my experience normal, and short stories are just by nature a more transient pleasure than longer fiction?
posted by pete_22 to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I forget both novels and short stories but find that my ability to remember them is correlated with how easy they might be to describe schematically. Indeed, I suspect what I think I'm remembering is often just the outline of how I formulated it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:57 AM on July 22, 2012

Why not write down a quick note about each story as/after you've read it? Post it to Facebook or Twitter or just in a personal notebook, so you can revisit your notes at some point and make recommendations. There's no shame in needing notes to remember things. It's part of why writing was invented in the first place.
posted by xingcat at 7:15 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aside from notes, you may want to actually underline lines, words, passages that stick out to you. I find it really helps me engage with the material. Also, writing in the margins. (Please please do not do this in library books, however. Used bookstore are the way to go.)
posted by dysh at 9:10 AM on July 22, 2012

is my experience normal, and short stories are just by nature a more transient pleasure than longer fiction?

Sometimes you'll strike one that twists your view of reality by 90° and leaves you feeling like a different person, or pushes some of your psychological buttons and leaves a strong and lasting impression, but those are rare. Most short stories - even truly beautifully written ones - are indeed hard to remember for more than a month or two.
posted by flabdablet at 10:12 AM on July 22, 2012

What xingcat said. I started blogging what I was reading years ago, and if I read my own review of it, I remember the story much more clearly than if I just look at the title or cover of the book. The more personal I make the review, the more it's ingrained in my brain. Maybe you can start a goodreads account and develop community connections, too?
posted by clone boulevard at 10:29 AM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reread them, read them more slowly, or try to fixate on certain things (character names, events, whatever) if you find yourself wanting to remember a story. If they're all blurring together, I would suggest focusing on the character (after all, there only a few types of plots in the world - it's the characters that make the stories different.)

Memory is linked to time spent on something.

The reason why you're able to remember novels is that you're spending more time on certain things - character names keep repeating, places keep repeating, so you're able to fix them in your memory, and drawing on those names unlocks nearby memories (things that didn't repeat as much).

I get a lot of "holy crap - you remember that?" but it's because I reread and rewatch a lot of things.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:18 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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