The Rise of the Short Story – Stu from Winstonsdad’s Blog

TheRISEoftheShortStoryWelcome 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.

The tagline for Winstonsdad’s Blog is “best in translated lit from all four corners”.  That’s no idle boast:  Stu has reviewed 325 books from approximately 86 countries.  He’s the creator of the popular #TranslationThurs hashtag – and is one of the most passionate bloggers on the topic of translated and international literature on the web.  To be honest, I’m not sure where he finds the time!  When he’s not blogging or tweeting ( @stujallen ), then he’s participating in a lit month dedicated to one country or another, or engaged in a reading challenge or a juror on a shadow jury.
Simply put – If you’re interested in translations then you NEED to be reading Stu’s blog and following him on twitter.  Period.

I like the occasional short story I sit in the fence I regards them never a huge fan or hater of short stories ,because of the nature of what I rad mostly translations as with them in English they tend to be second class so there isn’t as many translated .But in recent years it is slowly change press like Peirene ,archipelago ,granta and new directions have all been publishing wonderful collections in translation . As for the short story on whole I thing as media and ways we read have changed they have come more to the for they suit podcasts ,phones and e readers and average short story can be read in a days commute to work . I feel short story have found there new home in the digital world .

As for a suggestion I ll give one definitive one and a couple other writers my book suggestion is Circus  Bulgaria by Deyan Enev a collection In Translation of rather unusual and odd short stories my favorite being one about a little boy and a hedgehog at night . My other suggestion is to look at the short stories of some great writers Evelyn Waugh and  E M Forster both much better known for the novels but both wrote innovative short stories much different than there novels at times .

Stu’s recommendations:  Circus Bulgaria by Deyan Enev, Evelyn Waugh & E.M. Forster

Thank you Stu for sharing your thoughts and recommendations on the rise of the short story.  And (most sincerely) for creating #TranslationThurs

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The Rise of the Short Story – Jenn the Picky Girl

TheRISEoftheShortStoryWelcome 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.

Jenn is the quintessential Southern lady.  She’s just so darn nice!  We first met in New York City at the 2012 Book Expo, where I like to think we bonded in the line for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prisoner of Heaven.  On her blog – The Picky Girl:  Reads, Creates, Blogs she not only  reviews books both critically and academically;  Jenn gives readers a window into the life of a single girl in the great state of Texas.  And –  I know you’re dying to ask – is she really that picky?  Keep reading and you’ll find out.

Short stories are, by their very nature, finite, and it is those very parameters that make them so artful in my eyes. It’s much like a snapshot in comparison to film. Not that movies are any better or worse than photographs, but the photographer has to craft the moment in a snapshot in a way that filmmakers (often) do not. The best photographs are those that seem to bleed beyond the borders, attempting to elucidate the objects or people contained within. A good short story does exactly that. My friend Jason Rice had his short story “Again, I Do, Redux”  published over at Vol. 1 Brooklyn yesterday. It’s brief but fascinating to read about a guy who realizes on his honeymoon he’s made the wrong choice. There’s nothing simple about it, yet it’s so accessible.

I argue this quite a lot, even though short story collections are least written about on book blogs and other review outlets. I think the dilemma is not so much the reading of the short stories but the writing about them. How do you begin? If the collection doesn’t tie together in terms of interconnected stories or characters, how on earth can you review it as a whole? It can certainly be difficult, and most reviews focus on stronger, more interesting stories, while reviewing the writing overall.

But reading short stories is another matter altogether. Perfectly fitted to waiting rooms, traffic jams, class breaks, or bed, in the last 20 minutes or so before sleep, a short story collection sits waiting. Most collections are loosely connected and can be picked up and put down, unlike a novel where continuity is typically key. I find myself seeking out short stories when I’m particularly busy or no book on my shelves is too inviting. They’ve gotten me out of more than one reading slump, and the confines of the narrative and complexities of the subject matter continually fascinate me.

So today I wanted to highlight my short story writer trifecta, the three short story writers whose writing is simple but far from simplistic, whose work I return to again and again, never tiring of the beauty and humanity encapsulated in such brief spaces:

Part of what I love about short fiction is the payoff. When you read a novel, sometimes the payoff is long in coming. In short stories, you don’t have long to wait, and the first time I read “Cathedral”, I sat, book in hand, tears in my eyes. Because Carver’s characters are nothing special. They’re Joe Blow, shallow, jealous, profane, insensitive. They’re you and I on our worst days. But there is some spark, some moment that lifts them from their ordinary lives, and the result is profound.

Start with: “A Small Good Thing”/”Careful”

Cheever. John Cheever speaks to the lost magic and wonder of adulthood. His stories are often called “stories of suburbia,” but in truth, they’re about the humdrum life of the adult, and those ways in which we either fall prey to it or challenge it.

If you’ve read anything by John Cheever, odds are it’s “The Swimmer”. And, if you haven’t read it, click on that little linkamajink, stat. Cheever’s stories are rife with internal conflict, but there’s also a sense of wonder in his stories that never fails to amaze me because of the sober subject matter. “The Swimmer” is the story of a man who decides one lazy Sunday afternoon to swim across town in swimming pools. And if that sounds odd, just wait until you see where these swimming pools take him. When we discuss this story in my Intro to Lit class, I have students help me create a map of the pools along with complete descriptions before we analyze this epic journey. It never fails to involve just about everyone (and if you teach, you know how difficult engagement can be).

Start with: “The Enormous Radio”/”The Country Husband”

I would say, of the three, Dubus is the most different. Whereas Cheever and Carver’s characters are isolated, whether they know it or not, Dubus’ characters are so humane. His character sketches are so sympathetic and forgiving of human failings. These are people facing loss of different sorts, and they react in the ways we do or the ways we might want to but cannot or do not.

Again, to focus on one particular story, “Killings” is probably his most anthologized story. A mother and father grieve for their son, and justice is far from being done. Watching his wife is almost as painful as Matt’s own grief, and that grief leads him to act in the only way he can conceive. It’s heartbreaking, and his anger, guilt, and sadness are palpable, urging you to understand and forgive, even if Matt himself cannot.

Start with: “A Father’s Story”

Jenn Recommends the masters of the short story:  John Cheever, Raymond Carver & Andre Dubus.

Thanks Jenn, for taking part!

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Updates from a BookSexy World

Dear Readers,

This past weekend was my niece’s first birthday.  And I’m not above using that as an excuse for missing Friday’s installment of The Rise of the Short Story.  But never fear, it’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming this coming Friday with a post from Jenn the Picky Girl.

Today my review of 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev, translated by Angela Rodel and published by Open Letter will be live at the webjournal Necessary Fiction.  Edited by the author Steve Himmer, Michelle Bailat-Jones (book reviews) & Amber Lee (interviews), Necessary Fiction delivers “a fresh story each Wednesday. We also host a monthly Writer In Residence, offer book reviews, and have serialized a novel (which is now available as an ebook).”  It’s a wonderful resource for discovering new books and authors.

Now, back to reading.  I’m just finishing up the audiobook of Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King and just beginning a disturbing French novella the Necrophiliac by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated by Don Bapst.

What’s everyone else reading?  Are you fixating on a particular author or country?  Have you discovered a new title you’re all about?

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The Rise of the Short Story – Bristol Short Story Prize

TheRISEoftheShortStoryWelcome 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.

Inaugurated in Bristol, England in 2007, the Bristol Short Story Prize was created by the editors of the Bristol Review of Books (a quarterly magazine – and yes, that’s a lot of Bristols).  I learned about the prize thanks to RobAroundBooks.  Their goal is to… actually, they put it so well I’ll just let them tell you.  Here’s the list entitled “Our Aims” straight from their website.

  • To publish a brilliant short story anthology every year, full of fresh and original writing, and to get it stocked in as many bookshops as possible. This includes high street chains, independent shops and online booksellers.
  • To inspire and encourage writers and readers.
  • To discover and promote previously unpublished writers.
  • To provide) an opportunity for writers to get published.
  • To share our enthusiasm for short stories in as many ways and with as many people as possible.
  • To establish ShortStoryVille as a dynamic and exciting annual celebration of short stories.
  • To inspire young people to read and write short stories through our schools’ projects.
  • To establish Bristol as a short story centre.
  • To raise the profile, support and raise funds for Bristol Review of Books magazine.

After a little back and forth via Twitter (@BristolPrize) with Joe Melia, who is the prize coordinator, I realized I’d found the perfect person to ask to dissect the popularity, the importance and the current cultural relevance of short stories.  And – lucky for us – Joe graciously agreed.

In the UK there’s definitely been an increase in short story activity in recent years – the number of stories and collections being published, the number of reviews, the amount of comment and discussion, the
emergence of the Edge Hill Prize for short story collections, and the explosion in short story events. You
only have to check out the ever-growing list of U.K. and Irish magazines and journals publishing short
stories on Tania Hershman’s website as an example, or look to the emergence of a single short story
category in the prestigious Costa Book Awards. Bear in mind, too, that Tania’s list doesn’t include lots of
the mainstream magazines that have been publishing short stories for decades like Woman’s Weekly. And all this in a country that according to publishing folklore doesn’t give a hoot about short stories.

I think this increase is largely down to the way the internet and social media etc have enabled short story
readers, writers and publishers to connect with each other and share their enthusiasm. Websites like The
Short Review, RobAroundBooks, Threshholds in the U.K., and U.S. ones like Charles May’s blog, The
Mookse and The Gripes, and Books On the Night Stand’s Short Story Project for example. This has
shown just how many people there are who really do want to read short stories.

There’s a great sense of occasion when reading a short story. It’s a real commitment, there’s no room for
daydreaming like you may sometimes get away with in a novel. The reader is completely involved and
the rewards are immense. I love that Stephen Amidon quote about George Saunders : ‘You do not read
Saunders’s stories so much as watch them detonate on the page in front of you’. It’s a brilliant depiction
of what happens when a story works for you as a reader. Or the writer Elizabeth Taylor’s observation that the mighty Alison Macleod often quotes: “the short story gives the reader the feeling of “being lifted into another world, instead of sinking into it, as one does with longer fiction” “.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that short stories suit this current era more than any other because of short
attention spans, the hectic pace of life etc. etc. Short stories have always been relevant – in this era and
every other. Or the idea that they’re great because you can wolf down a story in a lunch break or sprint
through one on a commute. If anything the opposite is probably true, I think. To make the most of
reading a short story you have to ‘slow down’ as Professor Harold Bloom says in his book ‘How to Read
and Why’. Or as Lorrie Moore put it in a Paris Review interview:

“There’s a lot of yak about how short stories are perfect for the declining public attention span. But we
know that’s not true. Stories require concentration and seriousness. The busier people get, the less time
they have to read a story. (Though they may have a narcotizing paperback novel in their purse. This is not their fault.) Shockingly, people often don’t have a straight half hour of time to read at all. But they have fifteen minutes. And that is often how novels are read, fifteen minutes at a time. You can’t read stories that way.”

If anything, the scoff-it-quick idea may well be a reason why some readers don’t take to short stories. If
you approach a short story thinking “this is going to take me five minutes, it’ll be really quick, I can just
whiz through it and it will blow my mind” then you’re going to be disappointed most of the time.

A defining moment for short stories in the U.K. may be on the way. The much-anticipated Literature
Prize is set to fully unveil itself in a month or so as it aims to become the UK’s most prestigious literary
award. It will certainly get massive exposure. There are big hopes that it will invite short story collections
to be submitted as well as novels. Not before time. Canada’s big literary award the Giller Prize, for
instance, has accepted short stories as well as novels for nearly 20 years. If it happens then there will finally be a major U.K.-based literary award and celebration of fiction writing where novels and short
stories are given equal billing. Literature Prize gang may you have the courage and the vision to do this!
And then, what if the £40,000 first prize were to go to a short story collection? Now that’s a story that would definitely detonate!

Joe recommends:  Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins; Aerogrammes by Tania James; This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor; My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman; The Stone Thrower by Adam Marek. 

And I recommend any of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthologies (good news for those of us in the U.S.A. – there’s free worldwide postage and shipping).  

Thanks Joe, for taking part!

BristolPrize

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The Rise of the Short Story – Lori at The Next Best Book Club Blog

TheRISEoftheShortStoryWelcome 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.

Lori is a tireless proponent of indie publishers and authors.  Both at The Next Best Book Club, the wildly popular group she hosts on GoodReads, and at her blog.  At the latter she runs a monthly series called Tell Me A Story that “features previously unpublished short stories from debut and Indie authors.” 

Not only will Lori help you find your next best book – but she’ll also point you in the direction of the next big thing.  Case in point – she reviewed Glenn Duncan’s The Last Werewolf in April of 2011 – a full year before it hit bookstores in America.  She reviewed Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion that same month… and even had a link to his homemade trailer.  So, you’ll understand why I’m so excited to have her share her recommendations for short stories…

I used to avoid short story collections like the plague when I was younger. If I was going to read, I wanted the whole enchilada. Give me 300 pages of the same characters so I can nestle in and live alongside them for awhile, and I was happy. I wasn’t interested in getting to know a set of characters only to say goodbye to them a few pages later and start all over again with a whole new set. Short stories always seemed to be a mixed bag – sometimes I wanted them to keep going and would end up frustrated because I wasn’t ready to let the characters go yet, other times I wanted them to end immediately because I wasn’t connecting with it.

One of the first collections I reviewed for TNBBC was Ben Tanzer’s Repetition Patterns. And it opened my eyes to what short stories could be (and possibly had been the whole time I had been stubbornly ignoring them). The characters in his stories overlapped, they lived in the same town, they watched the same movies, hung out in the same places, sometimes at the same time, sometimes years apart. Alan Heathcock did something similar with Volt. This interconnectedness within the collections made it easier for me to sink into the stories, because even though the scene changes and the characters grow younger or older, it has that familiarity that I love so much in novels. I’ve read and enjoyed other collections over the years that contain stories that are tied to each other by theme, like Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas; collections like Please which feature multiple authors writing about one specific topic; and novel-in-stories like Molly Tanzer’s A Pretty Mouth.

My favorite short story collection, though, is Jose Saramago’s The Lives of Things. The king of allegorical fiction, Saramago manages to make each of the 6 stories in this collection feel like full length novels. He fleshes out each character – most of which are not even human! – while maintaining the punctuation-starved trademark run-on sentences that fans know and love.

Now that I read short story collections more regularly, it’s interesting to note just how many short story collections are being published each year. Does our addiction to technology (and presumed shortened attention span) have an impact on the success of the short story? How about the ever-changing digital publishing platforms? Do you think publishers and authors are simply reacting to the consumers’ desire to have more, faster, quicker? Or could it just be that people are more likely to pick up a collection vs. a full length novel out of sheer convenience? When you’re working full time and raising a family, sometimes it’s easier to sneak in a story or two than it is to try to invest time into a book that you may or may not get back to reading this week. It could be they just fit our lifestyle better. No matter what the reason, Go. Read. Get lost in a short story for a minute or two. You’ll be glad you did.

Lori recommends:  Ben Tanzer’s Repetition Patterns; Alan Heathcock’s VOLT; Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas; Molly Tanzer’s A Pretty Mouth & Jose Saramago’s The Lives of Things.

(And for even more recommendations you can follow Lori on Twitter at all hours of day and night @TNBBC.  And check her out in this article at the New York Times). 

Thanks Lori, for contributing to The Rise of the Short Story.

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