I’ve never really been one to read short stories, but because I’ve been writing a few recently I’ve been trying to remedy that shortcoming. And in the process it’s highlighted something I hadn’t given much thought to before, which is the difference between good writing and enjoyable reading.
I’m not sure why I’ve never really noticed this when it came to novels. Maybe because I simply won’t read certain novels if the subject matter isn’t of interest to me. Or maybe because short stories tend to lend themselves to exploring darker or less pleasant issues. No one wants to spend five hundred pages in a terrible character’s head, but they’ll hang in there for a few thousand.
Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself reading short stories recently that I find somewhat repulsive for their subject matter, but that I can also objectively acknowledge are well-written. The description is detailed, the imagery is vivid, I definitely “feel” that the story is three-dimensional. But I don’t want to read the story. I do read it. In most cases. It’s a short story after all, so it can’t go on forever. But I don’t enjoy the experience.
And I hope I never get to the point where I’m so much a writer that I do enjoy those pieces. I don’t want to do that to my readers and I don’t like having that done to me.
I’m sure there are readers out there with different life experiences and different perspectives that enjoy those stories. And I’m sure there are pieces that didn’t even phase me that really bother other readers.
I would never advocate censoring anyone’s self-expression, so I don’t object to the existence of the stories per se. It’s just really highlighted for me the fact that something can be incredibly well-written and yet be of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever.
(Now, my own stories so far are not very well-written and probably not very enjoyable. So, I’m still in awe of the skill I see in those stories, I just wish those skills were applied to a type of story I’d actually enjoy reading…)