Monday, 27 June 2011

Short stories and our modern lifestyle

"The short story form is better suited to the demands of modern life than the novel" wrote Simon Prosser, Publishing Director of Hamish Hamilton.

I used to think so too, but over the years I've changed my mind. Yes, there are sites where you can download stories but printed novels are easier to dip into. As Lorrie Moore wrote "that is often how novels are read, fifteen minutes at a time. You can't read stories that way."

Rather than read before I sleep I sometimes listen to things like itune the New Yorker stories (that include a commentary) or PRI selected shorts but I have to concentrate on them. I don't listen to them while driving in the way I'd listen to downloaded music.

I'm told that sites like Shortfire press are becoming more popular, offering e-shortstories in various formats (mobi, epub, pdf) for 49p or 99p. Random House plan to set up something similar in autumn 2011. This is a facility I'm likely to use, but I don't think they'll catch on until the short story widens its appeal. If anything, short stories are becoming harder to read

  • unlike the novel, the short story is "invariably literary." (Joyce Carol Oates)
  • the "well-written short story is not suited to the sound bite culture: it's too dense; its effects are too complex for easy digestion." (William Boyd)
  • "the commercial slick story has largely died out, the stories we are left with are almost always all serious art." (Lorrie Moore)

If this is the case, what went wrong? In a recent essay, Sarah Whitehead blames the golden age of the magazine era, when "The Strand" sold over half a million copies a month.

  • "The unprecedented and unrepeated growth of the magazine industry, which underpinned the growth and popularity of the short story genre, was the catalyst, if not the source of twentieth-century critical dismissal of the form."
  • "The magazine story has imbued the short story genre as a whole with the value of the disposable, the appeal of the marginalized and the inexorable link between literature and consumer culture."

After the bubble burst, only literary and genre stories survived. Is Flash Fiction the answer? I used to think so, though in another recent essay Holly Howitt-Dring says that "Because [Flash] could be viewed as stories working solely by implication, I feel that they have been mistrusted and sidelined in literature".

Is the short story going up or down? Do you listen to MP3 story stories or Flash? Are e-books the answer?


  1. Hi,
    Nice stories. Thanks for sharing..

  2. You definitely put a new spin on a topic that’s been written about for years. Great stuff! ncie posting