EVERYONE’S INVITED! EVEN YOU, T.C.!
Supposedly the short story is down on the list of what’s popular to read these days, far behind, in order, nonfiction and then novels. I find this baffling. Once upon a time, about a million years ago or so, short stories were extremely popular. Short story writers were the superstars of their day. I heard yesterday from a reliable source that Ernest Hemingway was once paid $50,000 for a single story. This day deserves a renaissance.
I am hereby making it my personal mission to make the short story catch fire in the popular zeitgeist. In a country where people once paid money for a pet rock, I believe this is not out of the question. My motive is not simply to make a decent living. I’d be happy with $50,000 for at least two stories. Ha. My motive is to get people to read some great stuff that’s not getting read.
Part of what makes me insane about this, putting aside that I am completely passionate about the form, both reading and writing it, is that it makes no sense. You hear people say that they don’t read, or they prefer to read novels because they don’t have time. Um. Okay, the thing about short stories? They’re short. You read one, you take anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour, yes, there are longer short stories but even those will for the most part consume no more time than the local news or a bad movie, and you will have, optimally, all or even any one of the following which is good enough for me:
1) a feeling, or multiples thereof
2) a chuckle, a guffaw, uncontrollable laughter or combinations thereof
3) a thought, or multiples thereof
4) a new or even slightly new perspective on the world
5) a new or renewed sense of connection to the world, and/or the people in it
6) brain stimulation, good for prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia and longer lasting than Sudoku
7) (worst case scenario) pure entertainment
And I’d like to add that we all get enough news all day every day everywhere, we’ve all seen every episode of Seinfeld and the Simpsons enough times to give it up a few evenings a week, and I’d like to say that these are examples of good shows, so think about one show you watch that’s total crap, like I dunno, that inane show with the suitcases and the money, that’s a whole hour of crap that you could be reading some great short story that would rock your world. Why wouldn’t you want that? Don’t say escape. You can escape while you sleep. Or you can even do both. Let’s say you watch the suitcase show and also some reality show featuring Flava Flav and a Brady. Pick one, and let one go in favor of a short story.
Okay so here is where I’m going to start. I’d start with my own book, but the paperback doesn’t come out for another month, so I’ll hold off bothering you about that until then. What you will do is you will buy and read George Saunders new book of short stories, IN PERSUASION NATION. On the cover is a nice photograph of a man stopping to smell a flower. The very cover expresses my worldview, so you can only imagine what might be inside, except you can’t, since you probably haven’t read George Saunders, and even if you have, you still can’t, because only Saunders can, that’s what makes him him.
You will tell me that you have done so in the comment box. There are twelve stories in this book. This comes out to three stories a week. You will sacrifice three mindless hours of your life for this, and don’t even try to tell me they’re not there. I know what you do and I know it because I do it too. You will report back here on June 1 for discussion, or even before if you like. You do not have to be my friend. You only have to like to read. And you will link this to many and several people who you believe could be convinced of my theory that the short story is due for a Travolta-level comeback minus that weird Scientology movie.
It makes no sense to me that everyone knows who Paris Hilton is but everyone doesn’t know who George Saunders is. Because Paris Hilton? SHE DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. AND NEITHER DO THOSE DAMN SUITCASES.