Short fiction is not something I’ve ever given a lot of thought to. I read a good bit more of it last year than I have in a good long time, and have come to appreciate the short story and novella forms. It was with that in mind that I tackled A Day’s Read, from The Great Courses, wanting to know more about both the forms and works that are good, even great representatives of them. In a series of 36 lectures, Professors Weinstein, Allen, and Voth explore 36+ works of literature which can all be read in the course of a day, some in only a few hours.
It’s a wide-ranging collection of stories that spans several centuries and a number of different countries. Well-known authors such as Kafka, Hemingway, Balzac, and Joyce are represented along with authors who are lesser known but no less deft in creating small gems. In the course of the 18+ hours, I compiled a huge list of things that I very much want to read, and authors I want to get to know, such as Borges, Calvino, Lagerkvist, Satrapi, Hersey… most of the authors represented here, in fact.
The lecturers break the works down by theme, which is an excellent way of approaching such a broad selection, but in the end, it’s the stories themselves, the allure of the whole, that tempts me. But you can’t organize everyone’s subjective responses to this information, and so theme — Who are we? How do we love? — is a good starting point.
I’m a great believer in understanding what we read. I don’t just mean comprehending the words on the page, but understanding their context in the world, and in our own lives. Approaching literature in easy bites, learning what ideas and concerns drove the writers represented here, makes it easier to approach their longer works with a greater level of comprehension. This course can go a long way to easing the reader into a greater understanding of not only the works presented but literature in general.