In reaction to a New York Times article stating there is a short story boom, thanks to digital technology and shortened attention spans, Salon published an article saying there is no boom. Laura Miller, the article’s author, notes that the only book mentioned in the Times article selling well is George Saunders’ The Tenth of December, and Miller attributes that to other factors, writing, “Saunders has built a devoted following over the past 17 years, hadn’t published a book in a good while and — most important of all — was heralded in the headline of a long, radiant profile in the New York Times Magazine as producing ‘the best book you’ll read this year.’ All of that could have happened 10, 20 or 30 years ago and produced the same result.”
Yet, the Times articles does not necessarily make the case that short story collections are selling well. (Really, how many books are selling well now-a-days?) The Times instead makes an argument that the Internet has made it easier to publish short story collections and has even given rise to some indie presses focused solely on short stories. Miller does, however, acknowledge that the advent of smartphones changed reading habits, but she wrongly states that the Times claimed smaller screens have led to a resurgence in the short story. I’m not so sure that is what the Times articulated but rather that reading habits are changing and the Internet has shortened attention spans. As a creative writing and literature teacher, I see this all the time. Trying to get students to read a novel, or even a long poem, is a challenge. Now I don’t have particular evidence that the Internet has fundamentally altered the brain and changed attention spans, but it does seem likely. The youngest generations have grown up with the Internet, with instant information, and with a culture of soundbites. They want entertainment easy to digest in a sitting or two.
Regardless, the Times and Salon articles provide interesting debate about the place of the short story in contemporary society and whether or not it is undergoing a resurgence because of the Internet.