Don’t ever ask me what my favorite book is. It’s a catastrophe. My mouth opens, and what emerges is…not silence, but not words. It’s the verbal equivalent of those last few drops of milkshake you can’t quite get with the straw.
Can I offer my top ten favorites? Of the books I’ve read this month? Top ten science fiction books? Top fifteen? Favorite books of mine that you might like? Favorite new books? Can I include “fannish” novels, like The Year of Intelligent Tigers (a Doctor Who book, and suffering not at all for that)? Does The Lord of the Rings count as one title, and can I bundle The Hobbit with it? Is Mirable an anthology of interconnected short stories, or a novel? I can never pick just one all-time favorite.
But I can name my favorite short story, maybe the only short story I’ve ever read that makes me cry every time. It is a novella entitled “Fire Watch”, by science-fiction author Connie Willis. Both story and author have won just about every award they’ve ever been nominated for, and they are well-deserved.
“Fire Watch” is the first in a series of linked stories about the near future, where time travel has been discovered and deemed the province of historians, so that the study of history is a hands-on, immersive experience in Victorian Britain, or pre-Crusader Jerusalem, or, in “Fire Watch”, the London Blitz. The story follows a student sent back to the volunteer fire watch that kept St. Paul’s Cathedral from burning down despite the bombing it endured, to experience the reality of the past and to learn from it. What he learns – and his passionate defense of it – is so powerfully written it moves me to tears.
Short stories may sometimes be overlooked because they are bundled with others in anthologies and do not have their own volume, with their title and author’s name on the cover. Or they may be disregarded out of the belief that they do not have space to create a fully realized world or develop a character or work out an engaging plot. None of this is true. Short stories can tell an entire story in a few words, show you a moment that stands alone, terrify and provoke by implying much more than they say, and leave you wondering about the characters or the world long after the last word.
Short stories you can find on the Downs-Jones Library shelves:
- Collected Stories of Charles W. Chesnutt (N PS 1292 .C6 A15 1992)
- Common Bonds: Stories By and About Modern Texas Women (PS 558 .T4 C65 1990)
- Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women, 1860-1960 (N PS 647.A35 I58 1987)
- In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians (PN 6120.95 .L554 I52 2002)
- Writers of the Future, Volume IX (PS 648 .F3 W75 1993)
- Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1900-1970 (PS 508 .I5 V64)
…and a few you can read online through our eBook collection:
- Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours
- Hum: Stories
- The Mirror and Nine Other Short Stories
- The Observable Characteristics of Organisms: Stories
- Rambling On: An Apprentice’s Guide to the Gift of the Gab: Short Stories
- Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island: And Other Previously Untranslated Gems
Read “Fire Watch” in THE BEST OF CONNIE WILLIS: AWARD-WINNING STORIES collection with your Texshare Card or through Interlibrary Loan. Use your Texshare Card @ the following locations: https://www.worldcat.org/title/best-of-connie-willis-award-winning-stories/oclc/813930893&referer=brief_results OR Interlibrary Loan the book through the Downs-Jones Library! See ILL policy and procedures @ http://htu.edu/academics/library/interlibrary-loan-service