Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What Ails the Short Story?

Just as I was trying to absorb the sadness at the announcement of Silverfish New Writing's ceasing of publication, I stumbled across this piece on the state of short stories in the US by Stephen King.

In the beginning of the quote, King says something that I have been telling to anyone who cares to listen to me. I don't know anybody who reads short stories these days except for other writers, wannabe writers or critics. And has it affected the way short stories are being written these days? Yes, it has. Read what King has to say on this:

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.

Last year, I read scores of stories that felt ... not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers. The chief reason for all this, I think, is that bottom shelf. It’s tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ. If the stories felt airless, why not? When circulation falters, the air in the room gets stale.

5 comments:

Obiter Dictum said...

I love a short story. It fits perfectly in between a bus ride, with the evening cup of tes. But incrasingly I have found them herder to read.

The richness of tale seems to have disappeared, it has evolved perhaps and I have not evolved with it.

Must write a post on this.

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks for your comment.

The problem is the commercialisation of the story or of all things that fall under literature. Most lit schools, cliques, publishing rings, journals and publications (who either exploit the wannabe writers or publish a select few) are all responsible for this state of affairs. Also, the common reader has moved on to cinema, TV and internet. Today, nothing matters. Everyone is a writer with access to a blog and e-publishing tools, everyone is talented and articulate. So, who cares what gets published in a Granta or a Paris Review? Who cares if the stories have evolved so much that they don't interest the common reader. They better watch the next episode of CSI or 24.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for this zafar. we always say the short story is doing comparatively well in the US too, as compared to the UK.

as for the loss of snw ... i think things are in a state of shake-up, not finality! that could actually be a good thing

Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks Sharon. It's a relief to know that things in a mercurial state. I hope something solid comes out after this shake up. Meanwhile, what you yourself are doing there is amazing. Cheers!

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