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.
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.