Welcome to The Rise of the Short Story: a series dedicated to exploring the short story and its current renaissance. To that end – all during the month of February some of my favorite bloggers and podcasters will stop by to tell us why they love (or hate) short stories, why they think they’re back into vogue and to (of course!) recommend some of their favorites.
Rob is a self-proclaimed “literary evangelist” whose website, RobAroundBooks is truly a place of literary worship. From his castle in Scotland (and with his trusty wolfhound at his feet)* Rob reviews the best of literary fiction, translations, essays and – apropos – short fiction. Below he shares his love for this oft under-appreciated literary form, his thoughts on why readers might have shied away from short fiction in the recent past and his hopes that short stories will continue to grow in popularity for the foreseeable future.
There’s definitely been an upturn in interest in short fiction in the past year or so and this is heartening, but I think we still have a long way to go before the short story is embraced by the majority, despite it being in my opinion the most accessible literary form we have, in an age where so many other things are vying for our attention.
The problem I think, lies with people having a perception that they can only enjoy an immersive and involving reading experience with longer works of fiction. I appreciate that people like to climb into the skin of characters and walk with them on a long and winding road of a novel, but hidden beneath the surface of a well written short story is as much immersion and involvement as any reader can take, and it’s all wrapped up in a concentrated form, making it all the more potent and intense.
Thankfully, due to advances in technology which are facilitating a wider distribution and exposure to the form (mainly through ereaders, tablets and smartphones etc.), more and more readers are beginning to see the light when it comes to short fiction. They’re realising just how powerful and rewarding short stories can be, and how satisfying it is to able to consume an entire literary creation in a single bite, without having to return to it.
The short story is certainly regaining the popularity it once had, and publishers are cottoning on to this, but there still exists much hesitancy. Thankfully, there are a few brave souls out there leading the way (in the UK – Bloomsbury, Salt Publishing and the Bristol Review of Books, for instance), and what with literary awards such as the Costa Book Awards picking up on the interest, the picture just keeps getting rosier.
I adore short fiction for all the reasons I’ve stated above, but mainly because I think it’s the purest and most glorious of literary forms. There are certainly plenty of masters out there that one could read in order to get an education on this (such as Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant who explore every aspect of the human condition, through to contemporaries such as Simon Van Booy and Alexander MacLeod who are breathtaking in their ability to paint incredible pictures with words), but an absolute favourite of mine is Kevin Barry and his riotous collection, There Are Little Kingdoms. In my mind there is no better short story writer alive today, and with this collection Barry offers a taste of a marginal side of Ireland that one is unlikely to forget. Alternately, if one is looking for a more general survey on the short story, then one can’t go far wrong in picking up a copy of the Oxford Book of Short Stories, edited by the late, great V.S. Pritchett.
Rob’s recommendations: There Are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry & The Oxford Book of Short Stories edited by V.S. Pritchett. Rob has a whole section of his site dedicated to Short Fiction, where you can read more of his short story reviews and recommendations.
Thank you Rob for sharing your thoughts and adding to our TBR piles!
*Rob has repeatedly (and patiently) explained to me via Twitter that he does not live in a castle. Nor does he own a wolfhound. And yet the dream lives! You, too, can follow Rob (who does live in Scotland) on Twitter @RobAroundBooks