Russian Reading Update: Chekhov, plus some thoughts on short stories

bookshelf_banner This week I finished a large batch of Chekhov short stories; I may have overdone things, because I can’t say that the more stories I read, the more I enjoyed.  I loved some of his stories and have written about them in detail on the Chekhov page of my Russian Reading project, but I’m worried I may have done them a dis-service by bulk reading.

Sometimes I think that short story collections are a bit like exhibitions in art galleries, for example, when you go to see a special exhibition of Van Gogh’s work or maybe a collection of rooms focussing on an art movement or theme.  I generally read collections of a single author, rather than edited compilations of different writers’ work, so I’m mostly thinking here about exhibitions of one single artist.  Reading Chekhov reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago, going to see an exhibition of Modigliani’s portraits.

Modigliani's portrait of Anna Zborowska

Modigliani’s wonderful portrait of Anna Zborowska

Normally Modigliani draws the eye from across the room and stands out as beautiful and unexpected.  Somehow, seeing his work in room after room met with diminishing returns.  It was interesting seeing how his paintings developed, but it wasn’t as impressive as being stuck by individual gems.  This is in contrast with other artists of course; Picasso can easily sustain an entire gallery of his own, though this may be because of the incredible range of styles and techniques he used.  Reading collected Leskov tales, a few weeks ago, was a joy from start to finish, but I’m afraid I found Chekhov harder going.  On the other hand, the novels I’ve read for this project have been nearly consistent hits.

My point is that maybe some short story collections should be approached differently to novels.  Would I have preferred my Chekhov reading if I’d done it in stages?  Should I have interspersed his stories with work by other writers?  I do plan to revisit him at some point in the future, so I’d be grateful for any reading tips.

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8 Responses to Russian Reading Update: Chekhov, plus some thoughts on short stories

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I love Chekhov’s short stories, but I think with shorter works, like poems, it’s best not to read too many at once. “Dippable” is a word I’m using a lot about books lately and I think dipping into short stories is a good thing!

    • It’s an excellent thing, but I do struggle with it – I’m a novel reader by habit and it’s hard to change how I read when it comes to short stories. I’m a bit better with poetry, but not much!

  2. I don’t know about Chekov in particular, but I often find that short story collections can be a bit much, that I’ve forgotten the early stories by the time I get to the end. It probably is better to dip in to one at a time, but then I always think I’ll forget to do so & will never reach the end! So I’m no help at all, really 😉

  3. JacquiWine says:

    It’s difficult to strike the right balance, isn’t it? I think can relate to your art gallery analogy. There are times when I wonder whether I’ve overdosed on a particular writer’s short stories (especially if I haven’t left enough breathing space between each one). On the other hand, some collections (such as Revenge, Yoko Ogawa’s collection linked short stories) benefit from being read back-to-back. There’s a kind of synergistic effect, almost as though the cumulative power of the collection as a whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

    Kaggsy is probably in a good position to advise on how best to approach Chekhov. His stories can be quite melancholy, full of missed chances and unfulfilled lives, so dipping in and out might be the way to go. I’ll be interested to hear how you find the Teffi collection – her stories are quite varied, which might negate some of the issues you encountered with Chekhov.

  4. I’ll look out for the Ogawa stories, they sound like my kind of read. I think I’m often looking out for that kind of synergy when it comes to edited editions, but it can be hard to find in ‘Best of…’ collections.
    I’m really excited about Teffi, maybe I’ll try the slow approach with her, reading the stories as they fit into the chronology so I’ll gradually finish the whole collection after the 1905 revolution novels.

  5. I have lots of Russian fiction – novels and short stories – on my shelves and haven’t yet got round to reading any of them (shame on me! How does this happen??). Having said that, I remember being captivated by Gogol’s Diary of a Madman during my first year at university (about 35 years ago; I read it for pleasure, not as part of a module). I’m particularly looking forward to War and Peace, and The Idiot. I’ll refer to your blog when I do get round to them 🙂

  6. Let me know what you think of them! I do think it’s great to start Russian Reading with Gogol rather than War and Peace or Dostoyevsky, it means you’ll have a much better idea of their context than I did on first reading…
    Diary of a Madman is just wonderful, I keep seeing new translations of it around but I’m trying to restrain myself.

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