Apparently, we're in them midst of a short story boomlet. I know this because The New York Times told me so in a recent article, "Good Fit for Today's Little Screens: Short Stories."
I tend to put little trust in trend pieces. If I believed every trend piece, back in the '90s, I would've cashed in my first 401(k) and invested the proceeds entirely in Beanie Babies. If I'd gotten onboard the unstoppable real estate boom, I'd at least have plenty of empty houses in which to store them, at least until foreclosure came.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
The Times article theorizes that it is digital technology's ability to bring short stories to the "small screens" of our phones, mixed with the "insatiable maw" that is the Internet that makes the short story an increasingly attractive option for both writers and new digital-only publishers like Byliner who package individual shorts for formats like the Kindle.
It also cites evidence like the recent sales success of George Saunders' collection of stories, "Tenth of December" (a top seller in Chicago), as well as a certain amount of anticipation for new short story collections by acclaimed novelists Karen Russell ("Vampires in the Lemon Grove") and Jess Walter ("We Live in Water").
You'd be hard pressed to find someone who is a bigger fan of short stories than your humble Biblioracle. Between single-author collections, literary journals, anthologies and the weekly Printers Row Journal selection, I probably read 300 short stories a year. I'd love to report that we're in the midst of a short story boom, except that there isn't any real evidence that we're experiencing anything out of the ordinary when it comes to short stories.
Short stories are simply a permanent part of our larger literary landscape. "The Best American Short Stories" anthology has published continually since 1915; "The O. Henry Prize Stories" have been going since 1919.
We are long past the pre-television "golden age" when general-interest periodicals like Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and Reader's Digest offered multiple works of short fiction every week, but the short story form hasn't been mysteriously dormant since, only to be resurrected by the digital revolution.
Saunders now finds himself at the top of best-seller lists, but he's been building a reputation by publishing fantastic short story collections since "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" in 1996.
Jennifer Egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad," a collection of linked short stories, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011. Another collection, "Olive Kitteridge," by Elizabeth Strout, won in 2009. Recent years have seen a number of strong selling and critically acclaimed collections, such as Junot Díaz's "This Is How You Lose Her" (2012), Edith Pearlman's "Binocular Vision" (2011) and Wells Tower's "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" (2009).
In the Times, author Amber Dermont argues that stories are good fits for the "digital age" because today's readers "want to connect and want that connection to be intense and to move on."
I agree with Dermont that the allure of short stories is their "intense collection." Read "Victory Lap," the first story in "Tenth of December," and see if your heart doesn't skip every other beat.
But I disagree that this somehow makes short stories uniquely suited to our times. Our digital devices are interruption machines, not vehicles for intense connection. If anything, short stories endure despite these obstacles.
Reading a great story is like being put under a short but intense spell — a sensation I treasure. But if people were really after something quickly read and genuinely felt, we'd be in the midst of a poetry boom.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
This week, short story collection recommendations for everyone!
1. “America Again” by Stephen Colbert
2. “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
3. “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson
4. “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” by Mindy Kaling
5. “Benjamin Franklin” by Walter Isaacson
— Hannah S., Chicago
For the part of Hannah that likes her irony served smart, I'm recommending “Birds of America” by Lorrie Moore.
1. “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach
2. “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville
3. “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand
4. “ The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart
5. “Bossypants” by Tina Fey
— Jorae R., Chicago
For Jorae, I think she'll enjoy the classic short story forms that Tom Rachman employs in his series of linked tales of a struggling English-language newspaper in Rome, “The Imperfectionists.”
1. “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel
2. “Sweet Tooth” by Ian McEwan
3. “Tenth of December” by George Saunders
4. “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling
5. “Joseph Anton” by Salman Rushdie
— Angie H., Chicago
Angie, and just about everyone else, for that matter, can't go wrong with Jhumpa Lahiri's “Unaccustomed Earth.”
Get a reading from the Biblioracle!
Send your last five books to printersrow@tribune. com. Write “Biblioracle” in the subject line.