I know I’ve mentioned this before: I am not a big fan of short stories. Never have been. I don’t spend any time on Medium and I have no desire to. This personal proclivity baffles me, because it seems like I would love them the most, as a supposedly anxious impatient person. Tell me, get to the point! Maybe this belief about myself isn’t 100% true. And it also baffles me because I’ve never been able to really articulate why. Only recently have I come to understand that it is more of a time suck to get invested in something which has no longterm benefit; maybe it’s the matured investing entrepreneur in me or just a vulnerable child who doesn’t want to let go too quickly. Play the long game.
Once upon a time I was a subscriber to New Yorker Magazine For almost 10 years.
I have never been its left-leaning audience, but it offers quite a bit more, like culture beats and long form investigative stories. One thing I always did was skip the short stories at the end of the magazine, always. There are a handful of authors I know and love and would obviously give attention to wherever they print, whether on a scrap of paper or cocktail napkin, e.g. David Sedaris, Zadie Smith. I had a best girlfriend at the time who is to this day the only person I know to read as much as myself and talk endlessly about anything she has read. Every week I finished browsing through the mag, I would hand it off to her because she wanted to read the short stories specifically. via The Millions, a blog about books.
Amber Sparks investigates why short stories are overlooked. She writes, “Most people really don’t like short stories. And that includes lots of critics, who often seem to regard short story collections as a warm-up for the real thing.”
I never knew this about ‘most people’. But I feel like this quote understood me! And like I said, why get excited to be cut off?! Praising Famous Short Story Writers (And Demanding They Write A Novel)
Yet even the uber-known J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter tomes writes short stories in the interim.(and I love her and have read books under her pseudonyms, yet have never read even one of her short stories.) [I almost slipped and said ‘infamous’ verses known, but the word is so terribly misused and it actually carries a negative connotation.]
Where there is commerce, there is greed. Where there is ideation, there is stolen replication.
This thought struck me while reading another thing in The Millions:
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed in 1797, “the publisher always knows the profit to himself and his family whereas the author is totally in the dark.” This problem of lopsided information was aggravated by the near-absence of copyright protection in the 18th and 19th century. A bestseller could be expected to spawn an abundance of pirated versions. Charles Dickens, on his first trip to the United States in 1842, complained endlessly about the pirating of his works for the U.S. market. This lack of intellectual property protection led to further conflicts of interest and opinion between authors and publishers: it was standard practice among publishers — even respectable ones — to have multiple print runs without an author’s permission, and writers sometimes tried to sell near-identical editions of the same title to multiple publishers. Because authors couldn’t trust the sales numbers if and when their publishers provided them, 19th-century book contracts were for a fixed fee rather than per-copy royalty payments.
In our new world of self-publishing and e-books and any online writing being more résumé worthy than an actual office job (sometimes), it will always be about the money. Where artist or creatives think they’re spilling their guts out and should be compensated commensurately, this is still not the reality. And in a world of 7 billion+ people, nothing is original! There will be no original again, sorry. Other than technological evolution, I feel like every thought or artistic idea has been had, even if I want to believe otherwise. Yes each person is individual and independent, as I’m not trying to discourage myself or other artist. But as one who sings and thinks in sound and music, there are only so many chords and notes to play -and they already have been. Times over. And there will be many more cases of supposed plagiarism in the next handful of years, e.g. The Marvin Gaye verses Robin Thicke case. Thicke and Pharrell lost, and I don’t believe they should have. The recipe-making pendulum swung into molecular gastronomy years ago: what can we do originally?
What can we do?
Placing new science and new technology into old ideas…
We have the ability to research the past and we are just as easily susceptible to it.
As any faith I had in news journalism wains, my reading time is diverting to other sources, too.
Now I want to share my reading confession, and yes, absolute acknowledgement of anxiousness (in curiosity whether anyone else does this?) :
I often read online articles from bottom to top. I read the headline then I jump to the first line of the last paragraph, which is often a summation of the entire point. And I steadily work my way back up.
It all started from the time-saving, ‘skip the filler-inconsequential story’ to get right to the recipe of food bloggers. I just wanted to know if the recipe was worth making, if I had the ingredients. It morphed into a habit, whether good or bad. And honestly, I don’t see it as bad because I learned something doing it. I learned how journalist write stories, the framework, the same outline over and over and over again. The most basic copywriter of simple overviews like make-up products or travel destinations to political discourse and argument, everybody writes the exact same! And the formula obviously works. Knowing this formula, I am now able to scan my way out of personal story and emotion, and get straight to the facts. Getting to the bottom line is usually at the bottom. Cut through the bullshit, frankly.
I have a big city newspaper editor friend who told me many years ago, ‘the first sentence and the last sentence of a paragraph are the (should be) the necessary components.’ He has both attended and taught speed-reading techniques.
We not only must pick what is truly worthy of our time and attention, but then decide how to harness this time spent efficiently.
Am I missing out on good story or saving myself time? Both and neither. I have always swung between extremes, and I’ve learned in doing so I find my balance. 🙂
Addendum: On the prior post covering podcasts, I mentioned the short history stories via The Memory Palace being ~5 minute episodes. Apparently this was in its incarnation. When I wrote the post, I had only been catching up on the oldest in the feed. Currently they are 15-20 minutes. Just wanted to make note of this. Time.
I’m obsessive almost.