My visit to my local Barnes and Noble was quite surprising. After I asked the Customer Service woman where the “Short Story” section was, she looked at me as if I asked her where to park my unicorn! She then went on to tell me that they had no section such as that. However, she brought me to two sections in the store, one shelf in Fiction and one shelf in Science Fiction, both with a sticker that read, “anthologies.” I have never heard that word before, but she explained that an anthology was a collection of pieces from different authors. These two shelves were the only short stories that were organized together in the whole store. Otherwise, as the woman explained further, others were scattered throughout various sections based on author, editor, or genre, and that they had very few selections because most people come in for novels, not short stories. Despite the small selection, I was able to make observations about the short stories in Barnes and Noble.
According to Merriam-Webster, a short story is defined as, “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.” I felt an in-depth definition was in order, since people often see short stories as nothing more than just that, a small tale. As for the popular collections of short stories, from what I could see, many were about horror or the supernatural; however, it may have just seemed that way from the sections of the store they were in—Fiction and Science Fiction. Unfortunately, I am not one to enjoy short stories all that much, as I am always left wanting to know more of the story. In the past, I have enjoyed works by Edgar Allan Poe, like “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I also like one story I had to read for a high school mid-term assignment called “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. On the other hand, I was surprised that there were a few anthologies I found myself skimming through. For instance, there were two books that jumped out at me: “Don’t Read This Book” and “Clockwork Fairy Tales: A Collection of Steampunk Fables.” I suppose the covers are what made me gravitate towards them. Being such an eclectic collection, there wasn’t a theme for the short story book cover art, but that’s what made the books I wanted to read all the more fascinating. The title of “Don’t Read This Book” grabbed my attention for the sole reason of why it is appealing to do something one is not supposed to do. However, once I picked up the book, the cover was even better. It had two identical girls with sewn up mouths, covered in blood, guarding a chest that held a book. It was practically begging for me to pick it up. As for “Clockwork Fairy Tales,” it had a classic Steampunk style bird, made of shiny metal, standing on a pair of Steampunk binoculars, and the border was all gears. The cover was tempting me to look into the book for a view into those binoculars. I could be overanalyzing, but both those books and their artwork really jumped out at me. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for all the books. For example, on the Fiction Anthologies shelf there was a book titled, “The Best American Short Stories.” The cover was so bland with dull blue and red colors and a plain white font; it was not appealing to the eye at all. As I stated before, the selection was varied due to the small space that was dedicated to short stories, so most of the books were unique in there appearances and styles. Finally, I must admit that this visit to Barnes and Noble only gave me one piece of advice, to grab the reader’s attention. Although with my portfolio work I will not have book covers to design, my opening sentence has to be what draws the reader in. It must be as commanding as “Don’t Read This Book” and as inviting as “Clockwork Fairy Tales.” It may not have been a lot, but the visit was significant and taught me to look at short stories in a new way.