In Defense of the Short Story Collection

In Defense of the Short Story Collection

The thing is, there are two types of road trips. The first kind is the destination driven trip, the cross country, New York to L.A. style, “we’re making great time,” dad-won’t-pull-over-for-me-to-pee road trip. The planned out, continuous, stunning road trip that leaves you feeling like you accomplished something, a real trip. A real journey.

Then there is the second kind. The “I sort of want to go out west,” the backpacking through Europe, the it’s-about-the-journey-not-the-destination kind that is about experiencing as much as possible without having set goals. This is the flighty trip that tests your cajones.

And, before we go any further, I just want to say that I have never really been on a road trip other than the first kind. With my parents. Which I’m not sad about, but would totally not mind being given the opportunity to try the second. To be free with the wind in my hair and a knot of anxiety in my stomach because I like there to be a defined plan in everything I do. I am not fun at parties.

But this isn’t about how not fun I am. This is a metaphor. Like all things in life. An extended metaphor that will lead us to the difference between Novels and Short Story Collections. And at some point, instead of being a comparison of the two forms, it will lead into a defense of the Short Story Collection as the future of literature, a plea for publishing houses to accept the Short Story Collection as the new, hip form, and the insulting of an entire country’s worth of would be consumers.

To be more direct: Short Story Collections are the latter type of road trip, in case there was any confusion.

The Short Story Collection allows for a more meandering, more diverse array of stories than the traditional Novel. This is obvious. This is obvious because they, Short Story Collections, allow for a wide collection of different stories. Hence the name. This is akin to the difference between watching a comedy film and watching Saturday Night Live. Why settle for one long story when you can get a buffet of stories, a spread of topics and tones, a diverse set of voices and ideas?

To head off one criticism of the ideas I haven’t really gotten into yet, I would like to mention that, yes, a good Novel would do all of these things anyway. That a good Novel isn’t a sustained scene or tone, but would contain shifts in order to keep the reader’s attention. This is, however, not the point, nor the real meaning behind what I am saying, now, is it?

The Novel, in its greatness and glory, with its weight and overall size, carries a cohesive, typically straightforward idea. The Novel is a task, an adventure, an undertaking. A Novel sticks around, calls you the next days, makes you breakfast in the morning if you stay over. A Novel is conventional, even when it breaks conventions. It is stable. It is reliable.

The Short Story Collection leaves more to be desired, though. It is more exciting, more fun, better to experiment with, to try new things. The Short Story Collection will light candles and play Barry White, but after that leaves you guessing. It’s the New, the Excitement. It’s the future and the present, for the following reasons:

1. Since the days of television, we, as a country, have had our brains reduced to neurological slime, electric pulses firing slower and slower, the pathways collapsing and our physiological responses suffering in this wake. Our attention spans are, collectively, that of an underdeveloped gnat. The way to bring about a resurgence of the literate, to bring the lowest common denominator back to a place that we can feel comfortable about, is through the magic of SHORT stories. Eliminate the excuses. Instead of dumbing down the language and having a nation of YA reading adults (peace to YA. You have a place, though, and thirty five year old “adults” going ga-ga over The Hunger Games does not a society make), let’s keep the language fresh and digging and beautiful, but package it in a way that is less intimidating. I am predicating all of this on the ignorance and stupidity of Americans, but let’s not forget that Snooki has a New York Times best selling novel.

And

2. All the cool kids are doing it. Look at George Saunders. Look at Junot Diaz (who, yes, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning Novel, but is more famous as [and better at being] a short story writer, not to mention his two collections to one novel [for now]). Look at Julie Orringer, whose Short Story Collection came first and is better. The fine folks of the world have taken a stand, whether purposely or not, and said “We will write Short Story Collections and you will purchase them!”

So why, then, do we live in a publishing world that is more apt to go after Novels than Collections? What sort of twisted world do we live in that those at the top, those captains of industry, those conductors of our national symphony of mediocrity, eschew the obvious change in business models in hopes that the old, the classic, will somehow resurge with a reinvigorated force? Do they hope that their sales of e-books at insane markups will somehow help this process?

It shall be noted that I provide no actual figures for sales of Novels vs. Short Story Collections. I am but a writer, and not an accountant. I work in words, not numbers. Numbers frighten me.

So let us all agree that from now on, we shall read and write more Short Story Collections. We will thirst for more stories. We will thirst for a variety of stories. We will push forward with our quest for more, more, ever more, until we have sated our thirst with the sweet brevity of the collection.

Filed under: Opinion

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