Friday, December 21, 2007

Short story collections

Short stories are a pleasure to write. They let you explore an idea - so what would happen if an old woman bought the Holy Grail at a flea market (Neil Gaiman) - that might not sustain a whole novel. They let you use a viewpoint - second person, YOU! - that could get annoying after pages and pages. They can sustain a pace that would be exhausting to write - or read - for more than half an hour. Also you can see your end destination, unlike writing a novel which has been likened to driving in the dark with your headlamps off.

But apparently they're not so much fun to read. 'Allergic' is how publishers apparently feel towards them. Still, on a positive note, 2007 was good to the short story. Good for my own collection too. There was a fabulous conference at Edge Hill University, where even a short short six-word story - Funeral follows honeymoon. Groom was eighty - was discussed excitingly. There's a new website - The Short Review - which has reviews of upcoming and classic collections. Small publishers are taking the short story and seeing what they can do with it. There's a National Short Story campaign - although am I the only one who thinks this has fizzled out to a kind of worthy educational resource, and doesn't offer the surprises it needs to market the short story - certainly to new writers and readers? However, there's still a wealth of on-line journals that need filling. All of them run with passion.

So in the spirit of the 'Best of's...' here are my personal short story awards for 2007..

Best collection by a writer I hadn't heard of before (and also best title) ...St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
by Karen Russell
(although Philip O'Ceallaigh's Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse is a strong contender for both categories.

Best collection by a writer I'll buy without thinking twice ... Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor.

Best anthology that I turn to again and again ... The Burned Children of America - I can't recommend this one enough but looking at the Amazon prices I see it's practically a limited edition Harry Potter nowadays. I'll doubly not lend mine out now.

Best collection for finding a perfect sentence on every page ... Self-Help by Lorrie Moore.

Best promotion for a short story collection ... No one Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July. Is there anyone left who hasn't seen this yet?

And the most fun I've had with short short stories ... The Fabulous Your Messages project.

Not a bad list. Although I wonder if the short story wouldn't be better served if it takes back its place in popular literature - women's magazines, TV mags, newspapers etc etc - rather than becoming too much of a niche, poetry-style, literary form. There's something about the panic surrounding the short story at the moment that reminds me of campaigns to save engendered animals, so let's bring the short story out of the dark and back to the hearth, where it belongs. There's nothing wrong with being domestic sometimes. It lets us bare our teeth when no-one is expecting it!


bob said...

That's a great list. I'd add (if I may be so bold) "Circling the Drain" by Amanda Davis, which I found earlier this year.

Sarah said...

Good add, Bob. That's not one I've heard of so I'll enjoy finding out more.