I feel like maybe I need to defend my outrageous statement of a couple posts ago: "The literary short story is doing fine."
Here's an example, one of the finest short stories I've ever read in my life: Alice Munro's "Dimension," which was in the New Yorker in 2006 and reprinted in BASS 2007, the one edited by Stephen King. It's about a woman whose husband murders their children. You couldn't ask for more difficult material -- I can't usually read that kind of thing, and yeah, I more or less sob the whole time I'm reading it. But people, take a look at that story. I don't know if anyone has ever committed an act of such extraordinary empathy. It takes the top of my head off. It really does.
And how about Lydia Davis? Those of you who value plot over all might not love her, but she does everything a great artist must do: she communicates a specific and meaningful experience -- often just a mental state of being -- in an absolutely original way. Her collection was nominated for the National Book Award! I never thought I'd see the day.
Jim Shepard's collection, Like You'd Understand, Anyway, was also nominated. Now, I'm not crazy about his stuff. I find it tedious and the characters muted. But he's writing short stories, and lots of people with taste different from mine love it, and it is highly imaginative and original.
And Miranda July's collection was published this year, too -- it's another totally original piece of work.
There are many others -- I'm sure I'm leaving some obviously good ones out.
You know, I don't expect to be blown away every time I open the New Yorker or Harpers or The Paris Review or the Georgia Review or Epoch or The Alaska Quarterly Review or whatever. But sometimes I am! And you know what, genius is rare. I read a truly brilliant short story maybe twice a year. Do we really need more than that? Do we need Hemingway on the back of our cereal boxes?
Maybe some readers don't like anything I mentioned above. Maybe you like something different and something that isn't published much these days. If so, please, start a press! Or a journal! Even a web journal. Seriously -- it's so much easier than it used to be to become a publisher. When I get my stuff together and find my letterpress I'm going to start a publishing house, no joke.
But maybe you think there's good stuff out there, but not enough people read it. There's only way to get Americans to read more -- if you think that's a useful goal -- and that's by teaching literature in schools. And teaching it well. God knows if we'll ever be able to turn the ship around and do that.