New York Times’ A. O. Scott Weighs in on Short Story as Rising Phoenix and the Kindle as the Wind Beneath Short Fiction’s Wings

Hunched over laptops or head in hands, elbows on scribbled messy notepads, as we pour blood sweat and tears into our manuscripts, technology raps on our windows, urging us to take a glimpse of the tectonic shifts shaping our literary landscape. The latest volcanic rupture, Amazon’s Kindle, Sony Reader, and other hand-held biblio-tech devices. From A.O. Scott’s article in the NY Times:

The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers.

To read the article in its entirety:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/weekinreview/05scott.html?ref=books

Narrative and One Story now offer Kindle editions of their latest stories and issues. Other journals and reviews are sure to wisely follow suit. Do you own a Kindle, iPhone, or Sony Reader? How has your new-fandangled gadget changed your experience as reader? How do you suppose it will/is change(ing) our role as writers? Care to post a rebuttal to Scott’s argument of short story as rising Phoenix? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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2 Comments

  1. I sure hope so. I’m equal parts optimistic and pessimistic on this. Yeah, I think riding the tide of technological progress is the way to go, but I wonder just how far it can be ridden. For a revival of short stories, it can’t just be the literary elite buying in. A bigger sample of the masses need to buy in as well. And the skeptic in me just cannot see the masses realistically downloading short stories. Ultimately literary short stories (I’m assuming Scott is not talking about genre fiction here) just have the un-hip distinction (wrongly or not) of being academic (that is, to a culture with a firmly “pop” identity). As such, it has the stigma of terminal unpopularity. In other words, you can dress up a school textbook using any newfangled technique, but in the end it’s still a textbook and you won’t be pulling wool over any student’s eyes. But with that said, I hardly think short stories will go extinct any time soon. So long as there are those persistent writers of the form who can double as readers of others’ works, the supply will always be there, albeit in a limited capacity. Actually, I rather like the “indie” status literary short stories currently have. It’s that relative lack of popularity that imbues the genre with exceptionalism. So long as it doesn’t teeter on becoming a complete cultural cipher, I think it’s a-okay.

  2. I love the idea of short stories as ubiquitous as music on the iPod. MP3s allow us to literally have a soundtrack as we live our life, Beck for jogging, Cibelle while grocery shopping, and Oscar Petersen while waiting in line at the ATM. We’re able to pick a song or audio book/chapter, for that matter, for every ordinary moment or special occasion with literally the touch of our fingertips. Now we have parallel narratives slicing into our daily reality, blurring the lines of imagination with our mundane everyday?

    And how can these hand held short stories be more interactive with the environments we tote them into? I imagine we could create Choose Your Own Interactive Adventure with texts. Follow the footsteps of Phillip Marlowe and twitter our experience as text annotations, purchase the same comic books at the same store as Oscar Wao, and listen to the same music as Archie Jones while reading his sad sob story. All you have to do is click a link embedded in text to direct you to store location or book soundtrack or social networking site. Despite the dangers of product placement in fiction, which is already long practiced, I’m anxiously curious about the endless possibilities of narrative evolution in this digital respect.

    The idea of a playlist of stories, creating our own anthologies, mixing Gogol with Doerr, Tower with “The Wife of Bath” how novel! The flip side is the size of the screen, which surely affects style, prose, and therefore content. I keep thinking of the Japanese cell phone text novels. I can’t remember their specific name, but those very short narratives crammed with lots of slang, even emoticons, if memory serves, to tell coming of age tales of rural youth, particularly girls. The medium invariably dictates the structure. In that case, how will the structure of short stories evolve or devolve with these hand held devices?

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