Readersforum's Blog

March 5, 2013

Sorry, the short story boom is bogus

Clockwise from top left, Junot Díaz, Amber Dermont, Nathan Englander, George Saunders

Clockwise from top left, Junot Díaz, Amber Dermont, Nathan Englander, George Saunders

The New York Times touts the Internet’s role in reviving interest in short fiction. Too bad it’s not true

By Laura Miller

The short story, like the western, is periodically said to be on the brink of a comeback. The most recent example of this boosterism: an article by the New York Times’ new(ish) publishing reporter, Leslie Kaufman, titled “Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories,” in which “a proliferation of digital options” is said to offer short fiction “not only new creative opportunities but exposure and revenue as well.”

This would be good news — if there were any reason at all to think it was true. Kaufman’s only evidence for this imaginary renaissance is the success of George Saunders’ story collection, “The Tenth of December,” published earlier this year and currently hovering in the middle ranks of several prominent best-seller lists. Saunders’ longtime fans (I count myself among them) have reason to celebrate this, but it really has nothing to do with “digital options.” Saunders has built a devoted following over the past 17 years, hadn’t published a book in a good while and — most important of all — was heralded in the headline of a long, radiant profile in the New York Times Magazine as producing “the best book you’ll read this year.” All of that could have happened 10, 20 or 30 years ago and produced the same result.

Kaufman goes on to marvel at the “unusually rich crop of short-story collections” published (or about to be published) this year. Some, “tellingly,” are even written by “best-selling novelists”! This is all the more astonishing to her since “publishers and authors tend to be wary of short-story collections because of the risk of being critically overlooked and, worse, lower sales.”

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