Friday, March 16, 2012

Hating on the Story: an American Tradition

I've got a short story collection on the way in the next month or so. Like every fiction writer, I'd heard rumors about the reading public's distaste for short stories. I had no idea, however, the deep and historical extent of our loathing till I read Seth Fried's historical analysis, which begins by citing a strangely compelling recent study:
According to the study, when a sample of readers were asked whether they would rather read a novel or a short story collection, 100% of participants barfed at the mention of a short story collection. When asked whether they would rather read a short story collection or have a hardcover copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom thrown at each of their heads in such a way as to cause the corner of the book to strike them sharply in the temple, 90% of participants said they would prefer to have the novel thrown at them. The remaining 10% hastily took out their own copies of Freedom and began flagellating themselves about the temples, as if they now believed that doing so would help ward off short stories in general. To summarize the results of this study in the words of your average publishing professional, short story collections are a “tough sell.”
Read the rest at the Tin House blog here. And note the historical illustrations!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Sherlock's Caution for the Google Age

"I consider that man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

--Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887)