Lately I’ve been reading shorter memoir pieces in back issues of literary journals, rather than book-length memoirs. I’ve noticed a few things by reading stories in journals:
- I don’t know what I’m going to get ahead of time. These pieces are usually listed until the category of “nonfiction.” A story might be a memoir, but it also might be a political essay or a lyrical essay. I’m more likely to find an experimental piece than if I read a book. Whether that matters or not is another issue. But I have long suspected that the reason we have “genres” is that we know how to “take” something when we read it.
- The piece is more likely to have some contemporary slant to it than if it were part of a book. These essays tend to be more “timely,” but sometimes that feels like a magazine trying to be trendy.
- I don’t become as obsessed with any of these short stories as I do when I read a book. I am less invested. Are the writers less invested, too? Nevertheless, some of the short pieces are thrilling in their brilliance.
- I am exposed to a wider range of thoughts and emotions by reading a variety of essays by a variety of writers.
- By reading many writing styles, I learn more about writing at the sentence and paragraph level. By reading books, I learn more about structure.
- I can read one short piece at each sitting, so I feel as if I’ve accomplished something.
- BUT I am not drawn back to the story as I am when I have to take a reading break during a book.
- I can learn a lot about where to submit stories by reading the journals.