Book Clubs Often Give Short Stories Short Shrift

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book clubBy Katherine Sharma

In an upcoming book club meeting, we are discussing the short-story collection Runaway by Canadian Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature as a “master of the contemporary short story.” Despite the prestigious award, Munro wasn’t an obvious choice. There is a hesitation in book groups to tackle a story collection; it’s hard enough to structure a conversation about one plot and set of characters, much less multiple ones! That’s a shame because some of our most iconic fiction is in short-story form. Consider the authors: Start with Chaucer and move on to O. Henry, Anton Chekhov, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Henry James, Guy de Maupassant, James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger and Jorge Luis Borges, to name only a few. What about sci-fi giants Bradbury, Asimov and Clarke, icons of the eerie Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, or mystery masters Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie? There are hundreds of great writers of short-story gems. Some recent collections include Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, and John Updike’s My Father’s Tears and Other Stories. As Publishers Weekly said of Munro’s Runaway stories of love, betrayal and time’s surprises: “One never knows quite where a Munro story will end, only that it will leave an incandescent trail of psychological insight.” But how to tap those insights in a single discussion? Short-story writers liken the process to appreciating an art gallery or rock album collection, meaning pieces appeal individually yet the collection is more than just the sum of its parts. Unique style and story-telling combine with recurring themes or characters to heighten the overall impact on readers. For book clubs who want to add a story collection to their roster, here’s a general plan of attack from one author, and for Runaway in particular, BookBrowse offers a discussion guide at


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

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