Readers and writers and short stories
Honestly? I got into short stories because it seemed like a good way to learn to write. It’s become much more than that, of course, but I’ve not paused very often to think about what place they do have for me, and further what place they have for readers.
I’ve been surprised by the amount of interest in A Book of Endings, for example, and overwhelmed by the response of readers. Enough of my friends not only bought the book but *read* it to make me think people actually are interested in the short form. When challenged, plenty of my friends were adamant that yes, they really did like reading short stories even before my book came along and yes, they weren’t just buying it out of sympathy (though I suspect some of them were!) that I thought I’d overlooked something.
I admit I always thought short stories were rather esoteric, enjoyed more by writers than readers. Short stories are often a harder read than novels, I think. Because you have to pay attention the whole way through. Novels you can drift in and out, doze off on a daybed, miss a few words because the hammock is swinging too hard — all those hiccups that occur in perfect reading fantasies. But overall it’s easier to keep track of a novel because even if you miss bits the narrative spine will hopefully pull you through.
So I was still surprised when I read this in the Syd Uni Alumni magazine review of A Book of Endings: “Biancotti is further proof of why readers enjoy the short story, even though publishers prefer to pretend we don’t.”
And over here at the Guardian, some discussion about why women, in particular, are being recognised in the short story field (are they? well, isn’t that good news).
Short stories, on the other hand, are famously uncommercial; that, coupled with the perceived exactingness of the form and its heavyweight literary lineage, means that short stories by women are taken seriously – and awarded accordingly.
That would be ironic if true: women gain more recognition in short stories because short stories aren’t coveted by publishers either. ;)