Wherein, despite our pledge, Books by the Banks is mentioned, and we discuss short stories, their state in the world today, and recent pertinent acquisitions

I had the pleasure of listening to the panel discussion “The Short Story: Dead or Alive (We’d Like to Know)” at Books by the Banks this year, moderated by Jason Gargano, with panelists Donald Ray Pollack (Knockemstiff, Doubleday 2008) and Moira Crone (University Press of Mississippi, 2006).  After verifying that there were in fact two living breathing short story writers in the room, who by their presence affirmed that the short story is still alive, the discussion turned to why short stories aren’t really all that popular, why novels are, unlike short stories, so long and full of unecessary stuff, and why they are preferred by publishers when it comes to selling copies.  They went on to discuss the short story’s decline from popularity in America (the heyday of the Saturday Evening Post et al), to it’s rather awkward current state of affairs: widely taught in creative writing courses because of managable length, but, other than occasional movie deals, utterly commercially unviable.  It is true that short stories aren’t as popular as novels here at the Mercantile, but we do get a collection once in a while.  Fans of this particular form might be interested in a recent spike in the arrival here of short story collections:

Best New American Voices 2009, edited by The Mercantile’s Own (by which we mean she spoke here) Mary Gaitskill.  If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in MFA seminars, this is a completely inaccurate representation because it represents high quality, diamond polished work.

The Best American Short Stories 2008, edited by The Mercantile’s Own Salman Rushdie.  This fabulous series is widely utilized by MFA aspirants, and for good reason.

The Boat by Nam Le–Keep an eye on Nam Le.

Yesterday’s Weather by Anne Enright–A retrospective short story collection from a Booker-winning novelist

Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano–This is a New Directions title.  I actually own a New Directions t-shirt and tried to buy one for Norm.  Either they never sent it (or for that matter responded to my inquiries), or some unethical New Directions press fan in the Postal Service absconded with it.  Whatever the case, I don’t know how Bolano gets away with writing about writers, but it seems to be a part of the Latin and South American tradition.   “Naturally he is a failed writer, barely scraping a living in the Paris gutter press . . . ”

A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime and Suspense by Anton Chekhov.  Needs no explanation.  “My story begins, as do most traditional well-written Russian stories, with the phrase ‘I was drunk that day.”   -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 12:03 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. I was always fond of Flannery O’Conner’s short stories.

  2. I like short stories, and would have thought they’d be increasing in popularity, particularly since the average person’s daily allotment of “free time” seems to be diminishing in apparent proportion to the shrinkage of their bank accounts. I like the prospect of being able to sit down for an hour or two at the end of a day and receive the instant (by comparison) gratification of reading a story from beginning to end. I’ve mentioned here before my horrible habit of beginning but not finishing books, and part of my problem is that I often can’t seem to allot the amount of time necessary on a daily basis to complete an entire novel… and by the time I try to get back into a story I’ve set aside, I’ve either entirely forgotten the plot or characters, or at least lost the flow of things. So I’m all in favor of the short-story… not that I’m an authority on the genre, but I do relish a good, suspenseful Edgar Allen Poe or Henry James tale on an autumn evening. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I’ve been tinkering with writing some short stories myself, with the idea flitting through the creative cobwebs in the back of my mind that maybe, some day, I’d try to publish a collection of short stories. Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged to read that short stories aren’t terribly popular with publishers. But I’ll keep on tinkering, and who knows, maybe some day, “Sweet Toad’s Tales of Warty Woe” will be a favorite at the Mercantile :-)

  3. oops: Edgar Allan Poe… geez

  4. I’m hoping, too, that “Bookbloggin’ Brian’s Brief Book of Pithy Parables” will sit proudly ignored on the shelf at the ML.

    I’m partial to Stephen Leacock, Neil Gaiman, James Thurber and one or two others whose names escape me.

  5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Roald Dahl wrote the only short stories I’ve ever loved.

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