Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Short

There's a discussion going on over at After The MFA, and I get the sense, at a lot of other writing sites, about the health of the short story. I don't write them (at least not yet) but I think short stories are such a vital element of reading for a writer, and maybe just as importantly, for the health of the the literary tradition, period.

As I commented over there:

Funny, all I read about is how Americans’ attention spans are so much shorter today, so it’s kind of baffling why the short story — seemingly tailored for short bursts of time — would be unpopular at such a time. I think it has a lot to do with the marketing and packaging of the genre. In nonfiction, essay anthologies are selling very well, so maybe publishers need to think about marketing short story collections in the same way, even gathering them according to theme (instead of single-author) the way the nonfiction anthologies are assembled.

The short story collections I seem to like the most are just like that -- assorted authors, gathered either by theme, place of original publication (see post directly below), year (Best American), or some other criteria that tosses together an interesting and often unexpected mix of writers and styles. That way, I get exposed to stories and writers I might never have encountered on my own often biased trips through the bookstore.

Ever wonder why the hot nonfiction anthology marketing success train hasn't migrated to the short story side of the shelf? I suppose one could argue that the hundreds of literary journals published should logically fill this market niche, but with their current means of distribution, uneven funding, and other obstacles besetting lit journals, it's unlikely they can make a dent as far as the general reading public is concerned.

I would enjoy reading a combination anthology that mixes nonfiction essays with short stories of fiction -- all labeled accordingly -- on a specific theme. Many times I have found it compelling to read a novel (or short story) and then a memoir (or essay) on similar subjects and marvel at how each writer handled the material and emotions. What about you?

Are you reading any short stories? Writing them?

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