Tuesday, September 25, 2007

death of a short story?

Vivian over at upstreet sent me a link a couple of days ago and I want to post about this.

Vivian's link is a plug to save the short story. She makes some good points--we all say we like short stories; now we just need to take the simple step of reading them! (Not inconsiderable) literary value aside, the short story is really valuable because it allows would-be authors to cut their teeth and publish in small ways to get attention for longer/more commercial projects. So it really is worth making an effort to support the short story (if we possibly can).

Let's do an honest little survey now. Do you read short stories? (Most of us don't, so don't feel bad if the answer is no.) Even if you say you do, do you seek them out and buy them, or do you just enjoy them if you happen to come across them online/in a magazine? Seriously, I'm curious. Let me know if you read them/buy them/like them.

The truth is, when I choose something to read, I want a little more commitment than a story can offer. I want something long that will fill a couple of days. Also, because I'm terribly gauche, I want a novel because more other people are likely to have read it so I can talk about it with other people. (I'm very codependent and NOTHING, not even reading or (duh) writing a diary can be completely private or they lose all interest for me. I like performance reading.)

At the same time, I do have to say that some of the most powerful things I've ever read have been short stories. I don't think of myself as seeking them out, but a recklessly high percentage of my favorite books are short story collections:

1) Salinger/Nine Stories
2) Salinger/ Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters!
3) Fitzgerald/Babylon Revisited
4) The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories (truly awesome collection)
5) Any Faulkner short story, ever.

I also can't explain why I remember details from short stories 15 years after I read them (when sometimes I don't even remember whether or not I liked a novel). Anyone remember THE VELDT? About the futuristic children who murder their parents in their simulator toy room? or THE TUNNEL, about the boy who trains himself to swim under a rock jette? How about that Jack London story about the guy crossing the tundra with his dog whose luck falls out and is left with the choice of killing the dog or dying himself? The Joyce Carol Oates story about the child molestor who passes himself off as a high school student? The most recent of those I read 10 years ago, and I still carry vivid images in my mind of the stories.

I find short stories to have very strong impressionistic power. I think, for me at least, they are more likely to change the way I look at the world than a novel is--the novel, after all, is escapist, and allows you to remove from your own reality when you read it.

So I guess I'm a grudging and unconfessed short story fan. Vivian's email is a good reminder for people like me--the ones who DO love but don't think to buy.

Tell your friends.


Sherri said...

I think the reason short stories make a more profound impression is because they're distilled into a single idea/event/theme, unlike a novel. And usually there's an unexpected twist at the end, which is the aspect that I love most about them.

That said...No, I don't buy them new, but only because of budget concerns. I do snatch up any short story collection I come across at library sales or yard sales. I have a full shelf of collections.

Have a great day!

angelle said...

i was about to write an entry for this too! i think it's awesome...

i read them MOSTLY because i feel i should. as a writer, as someone who is trying to churn out story after story, i need to know what's out there, what's acclaimed. but often times, i find most short stories tedious to go through. there always seems to be less payoff than novels.

of course that's why, when i come across a short story i LOVE, it's a big deal to me.

hmm. i def need to post about this now.

Jill Myles said...

I confess I'm one of those people that doesn't read short stories. When I *do* read a good one, I'm all "Wow, I should really read more of these!"

But honestly, a lot of short story writing tends to put me off because you have to be all weird and slipstreamy and stuff. I just want to write a darn story without worrying if I'm being 'introspective' enough and all that junk. I think for me, it's a case where the 'writing biz' has ruined the reading for me.

sarah said...

I came across your blog by accident. I love A Rose for Emily. Read it first when I was in grade school, and you're right, really good stories stay with you.

Precie said...

I've renewed my love affair with short stories recently, right around the time I seriously started writing fiction. Some, like Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" and Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," have held places of honor in my head for years and years. But I've been reading more collections and buying copies of Glimmer Train too.

Brevity has its own appeal and maintains certain formal constraints that novels don't have. Especially for people who don't have a lot of free time. :)

Vivian said...

Ah, yes, good old Arnold Friend. JCO's "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?" is one of the best ones ever.

Thanks for your support, Moonrat. For those who are unaware, One Story is a litmag consisting of a single short story in each issue. Kind of an interesting concept. I believe subscribers get one every three or four weeks.

moonrat said...

ARNOLD FRIEND!!! yessssss

Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy said...

As strange as this sounds I, too, have renewed my interest and love affair with the short story. If it wasn't for Lorrie Moore's short story collection, LIKE LIFE, I probably would not have any interest as a fledgling writer or a lover of short stories or, importantly, understanding (and reading about) the craft of short stories. I can't stress this enough , but I suggest reading any of Flannery O'Connor's COMPLETE STORIES collection. Like Faulkner she's a downright master (and thinker) of short story writing. So, as I posted from Angelle's blog and as an avid short story reader, let me provide some excerpts from an essay written by O'Connor titled, WRITING SHORT STORIES and answers and responses written on a symposium of short stories:

"For the writer of fiction, everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality, and as much of the world as can be got into it. It involves judgment. Judgment is something that begins in the act of vision, and when it does not, or when it becomes separated from vision, then a confusion exists in the mind which transfers itself to the story."

"A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inaccurate...The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning..."

"...The best I can do is tell you what a story is not.

1. It is not a joke.
2. It is not an anecdote.
3. It is not a lyric rhapsody in prose.
4. It is not a case history.
5. It is not a reported incident.

It is none of these things because it has an extra dimension and I think this extra dimension comes about when the writer puts in the middle of some human action and shows it as it is illuminated and outlined by mystery. In every story there is some minor revelation which, no matter how funny the story may be, gives us a hint of the unknown, of death."

Rinse and repeat, my friends.