201 Anton Chekhov Stories

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by Travis Richardson

On June 19 I finished a project I had started a year and five months earlier: to read every Anton Chekhov short story translated by Constance Garnett.  These were the first English translated stories of Chekhov (and several other famed Russian writers), and they are also in the public domain. I wanted to read the complete works of a writer I admire. I usually read novels (and all other works) in a scattergun approach: reading only one or two works of an author because I want to get a taste of everything out there. Often this includes reading a random book in a series because it was the first I picked up by that author. I don’t think this approach is bad, and it plays into my overall mind frame of being a generalist instead of a specialist. Of course it should be noted that specialists often make more money and get more respect because they eventually become experts in their field. I feel like I know just enough for cocktail conversations and trouble.

With Chekhov Shorts, I also wanted to see if I could put myself on a schedule and timeline to read a complete body of work as well as record critical thoughts about it. I’m pretty bad at reviewing things that I read. It’s not that I don’t want to recommend what I read, it’s just that it takes time and focus, which are often hard to find on the best days. Also, criticizing somebody’s hard work, especially if I’m disappointed, makes me feel uncomfortable. Egos are fragile in the creative world. Most, if not all, of my Amazon reviews are high, because it’s not easy for me to come down hard on somebody. That being said, if I’m given a pre-published work for commentary, I will be tough on it to make sure it is in the best shape possible.

It was easier reviewing Anton Chekhov’s stories since he has been dead for over 100 years. If I didn’t like one work, he has several other stories that are excellent. In reading all 201 stories, I found a few weren’t very good, generating an indifferent shrug. Most were solid, expertly crafted tales with strong emotional impact. But a handful transcended good, rising to the level of amazing works of art. Chekhov’s prodigious volume of work is even more amazing (I believe he wrote over 700 stories along with several groundbreaking plays) when you consider that he died at 44 while being a physician who actively treated patients and never charged the poor.

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Master Storyteller Anton Chekhov

Even more amazingly, he became a writer out of circumstance. His father fled creditors, leaving his mother and siblings penniless. While putting himself through through school, he wrote satirical stories to support his family. It doesn’t take much to look at his life and wonder what have I done.

Reading Chekhov, chronologically from #1 – 201 was such a treat. I got to see the evolution of the a writer. His stories went from mocking Russians to feeling empathy for them. That being said, he could definitely expose the ugly power of the wealthy or the mob mentality of the peasant class. Each story offered a new insight into humanity. He wrote from the point of view of selfish men as well as magnanimous men; empowered women who manipulate men and impoverished, powerless women who are at the whims of men. He had stories from a consumptive, idealistic revolutionary, a banker who engages in a extreme bet, a spoiled youth who will not learn, and heartbreaking works about impoverished and abused children. There were comic stories about the clergy accidentally enticing his brethren into sin, a clueless princess, and drunken lawyers mistaking the wrong house.  He had extreme perspectives including one from a baby and another from a dog. (And all of these examples are the tip of the iceberg.) Chekhov was a man trying to figure all of it out.

As his writing progressed, so did the length of some of his stories. He wrote a few novella length stories like The Steppe, The Duel, and My Life, but he never wrote a full novel. And I don’t think he needed to write a novel. He had enough content and character compressed into his short stories.

I was happy to have kicked off the project with my old college buddy Dr. Steve Steffensen. If it was not for him, this project would have never gone anywhere. Steve built the website and helped keep me accountable. He wrote over 100 reviews all while working a stressful job in DC and being a dutiful father to two wonderful kids. My sister, Ronda Endress, created the awesome Chekhov Shorts logo.  (She creates book covers too.)Chekhov Shorts in Color

Often Chekhov Shorts seemed like a passion project that few knew about. But then a few months ago, students from an English school in Azerbaijan contacted me. They had been reading a few Chekhov stories and they offered their analysis on them. Another reader, Karl, wanted to know where the 201st review was since he had read all of the stories. This prompted me to finish the final review that I had been putting off for a while.
Now that it is done, I have a few more harebrained ideas I want to pull, but I hope to organize the website better so people can find stories easier and see how each one was ranked.

Do you have any huge projects you’d like to tackle?

Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity short story award in 2014 and 2015 as well as the Anthony short story award in 2014. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at http://www.chekhovshorts.com, and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record.  www.tsrichardson.com 

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20 Responses to 201 Anton Chekhov Stories

  1. Joe Stephens says:

    My big project is to write a true literary work. I write series detective fiction, but I feel like I have something deeper to say. I just don’t know what it is yet.

    Like

  2. Wranglers says:

    I’m working on my big project an anthology “All About the Girls”. It’s been hard with our big move. I have some help in the beginning selection process, and then after that I am on my own. We have chosen a few writers, who offered us a variety of work, and I’m very pleased with that. Excellent writers–some of which are Writing Wranglers and Warriors. I have other projects started, but I’m not going to work on them until I get this book finished. I would have to really love an author to read that many stories. That being said, I read all of Sue Grafton’s Books, I need to see if she published one this year. I have met this gracious, sweet woman. Cher’ley

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    • Travis says:

      That is great news about the anthology. I wrote up a quick piece, but it was about my mother and not so positive. Grafton is getting close to the end. I think she is on X!

      Like

  3. Doris says:

    I comment you Travis, what an undertaking. You managed to take a passion, follow it through and share with the world. Checkov’s plays I knew of and worked with, but the short stories I’d not. Now it is time to take a look at those.
    I tend to be a hit or miss reader, but if I’m hooked, like Zelazny’s ‘Amber’ series, I’ll go through the whole of the work. Here’s to your next project. Thank you for the heads up on follow through. Doris

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  4. Travis,
    That was some huge undertaking. Wow. Has it helped you become more disciplined in writing reviews for Amazon or Goodreads of books you’ve read?
    I’ve had an idea for a novel for many years but I still don’t think I’m ready to write it. It’s not in the mystery field, it’s a much bigger book that will require much research and reflection. It may stir up some controversy and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I hope to get there on day.
    May your next harebrained scheme turn out as good as this one!

    – Stephen

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    • Travis says:

      Thank you Stephen,

      I still haven’t put out the Amazon/Goodreads reviews. I have a spreadsheet with what I’ve read, but I haven’t done it yet. I need too! Hopefully sooner than later. That’s cool about the big project. Hope you’ll be able to get it out in the world.

      Like

  5. wyoauthor1 says:

    What a great challenge, Travis! Congratulations on your accomplishment! Perseverance, that’s the key, whether as a writer or a reader … or just in life. I’ve not read Chekhov but I am reading a series called “Longmire,” written by Wyoming author Craig Johnson; his books have been turned into a TV series, first shown on A&E for 3 seasons and now picked up by Netflix; season four begins this fall. Craig is also a persevering writer … and it’s paid off for him — may we all know even 1/4 of his success!! Best to you in your reading and writing.

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    • Travis says:

      I would love to have Craig’s success. Even a small percentage. I have one of his books (autographed) but have yet to read it. I want to though.

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  6. I’m in the midst of a project right now, my memoir. Once I get that published, I’ve got a collection of my own short stories.

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  7. Mike Staton says:

    Fantastic, Travis. I’m more scattergun. I see a review of something and it piques me. I’ll read it for pleasure. Like Mark Twain’s autobiographical. Convinced my sister to get it for me as a Christmas present. Other times she’s got me autobiographies of Sandy Koufax and Neil Armstrong. Occasionally I’ll get a science-related nonfiction book that tackles an in-depth subject — black holes… that sort of thing. In the 1970s and 1980s bought a ton of books on the future of space exploration. But I’m much older and things haven’t unfolded as fast as I anticipated. I’m jaded.

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    • Travis says:

      Thank you Mike,

      Yes, I agree about how slow space exploration has gone. It’s interesting that it’s going private. Perhaps a Steve Jobs type figure will jump make something happen (Elon Musk? Richard Branson?) sooner than later. Hope your writing is going well too!

      Like

  8. mmcewenasker says:

    I read several of them from the free site you linked to and I loved the [random] ones I read, but I don’t have your staying power.

    So what’s the next project? If you type ‘most prolific author’ into a google search, the choice widens–greatest / best American / 20th Century etc.

    Or should I ask, “which author will be your next victim?”

    Like

  9. Nancy Jardine says:

    I’ve read some of Chekhov’s plays but not stories. Congratulations, Travis! What you’ve just done is an amazingly disciplined exercise- and not many would tackle it. Before picking up the writing pen in 2011, I was an avid reader and would sometimes go through every book by a particular author- occasionally finding the novels all equally exciting but more often I became a bit bored with the sameness of some of the series writing. Now i’m more scattershot and read across all genres and I’m really liking the variety and the differences of the stories and approaches to the writing. I think what fits your general lifestyle best (usually time challenged) is the most satisfactory kind of reading and change can be good.

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  10. S. J. Brown says:

    Travis, Congrats on reaching your goal. I have more than one large project in the works at all times. I bounce between them as time and weather permits. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  11. sstamm625 says:

    Great work, Travis! Congratulations. Looking at Chekhov and at your accomplishment, I do find myself asking “What have I done?”

    Like

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