Thursday, 17 July 2008

SHORT STORIES & BOOK GROUPS




I ran a book-group in the bookshop I worked in for over two years. I ran two others in two libraries for over four years. Rarely could I interest my participants in short stories. Until a few writers joined the latter library group. Then things really took off and we had a discussionary ball, to coin a phrase. We read Hemingway, McGahern, Scott Fitzgerald, Edna O'Brien, Frank O'Connor and many more.

Christopher Meeks discusses this on the She Is Too Fond of Books site and has lots to say on the subject. A small quote from Meeks:

'If librarians don’t see the book reviewed, how can short story collections get in libraries? If libraries don’t offer a lot of collections, then how do people consider short story collections? If book reviewers don’t consider collections, then it’s not on the radar of ordinary readers. Thus, it’s an extra challenge to get a short story collection seen.'

Read the rest of the article here.

7 comments:

Aidan said...

I am surprised that that is true in Ireland. I was exposed to short stories throughout primary and secondary school partly because it is the form in which so many Irish writers have excelled I guess.
I am just as likely to read a book of short stories as a novel. The main barrier is if the writer is known or not. It is perhaps harder to get well-known writing only short stories because novels are the main form featured in media reviews but I don't think that people are intrinsically turned off by the form (which would be an issue for poetry).
I guess that your experience would testify to the opposite though.

Women Rule Writer said...

There appears to be a general resistance to the short story, unless the book is written by someone famous. A resistance to unknown, not-heavily-promoted writers maybe?

I'm not the best person to comment, in fairness. Because I adore the short form, I try to keep up with what's happening, therefore I can't speak for the ordinary reader. But I have come across this time and again where people want the long haul of a novel in order, acc to themselves, to feel 'satisfied'.

I like to think that's changing but it's hard to tell from my POV. Most readers I talk to regularly love all literary fiction and therefore are v open to it in all its forms: short, novella and novel.

I read less and less novels personally.

BarbaraS said...

A familiar story, WRW. You could equally substitute poetry for short story, and you'd have the same reckoning. Getting the librarians some sort of mini-broadsheet might be some way around it - like a round-up of what's happening in publishing, re up and coming writers. But, that' a whole other ball game, I guess.

Chris said...

I wrote about short stories on Dawn's site, and just found that you had mentioned what I'd written on your site--thank you. While I explained how getting reviewed and seen is a challenge, I'm finding that people do like reading good short stories. The form fits into their time schedules. With short videos being a popular form, I convinced a company, Expanded Books, to experiment with me and create a short video about my short stories. You can see that and an excerpt of a story at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JGhhxgmvPA

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi Chris
Thanks for stopping by.
Wow, that video is great and a brilliant idea. Congrats!
WRW

Ruby said...

"There appears to be a general resistance to the short story, unless the book is written by someone famous."

I would tend to agree with that. Would Faber have gone with Anne Enright's short story collection if she hadn't been so high profile (it was in the pipeline before her Booker win, so I bet they were delighted.

However, sometimes fame is not a precursor to having your short stories published. Look at Lorrie Moore who has published several collections, and yet only one novel which she is not well known for at all.

I'm a huge fan of the genre, and while I think anthologies do well, it can be hard to push single author collections. The Frank O'Connor International Award hugely raises profile too - I would never have heard of Yiyun Lee and her wonderful stories otherwise.

Ruby

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi Ruby and welcome. Yes, I absolutely agree about the Frank O'Connor raising the profiles of little known writers. That's why a shortlist this year would've been great for both writers and readers. Still, we can make our own choices from the longlist, eh?
The Anti-room is pretty cool! Good luck with it,
WRW