Friday, September 26, 2008

Snubbed Again! It's Starting to Feel Personal

Well, it's old news now, but Oprah Winfrey didn't choose a short story collection for her book club, as we had hoped, and hasn't done so since she began featuring books in 1996. But she's not alone. I'm often disappointed to find story collections left off important lists of recommended books.

For instance, the American Booksellers Assn. Fall '08 / Winter '09 Indie Next List for Reading Groups has a grand total of zero short story collections on it out of ten books in the featured list and an additional 51 books recommended by independent booksellers. This year alone authors such as Kevin Brockmeier, Stephen King, Jhumpa Lahiri, Steven Millhauser, Joyce Carol Oates, Cynthia Ozick, Annie Proulx, Joan Silber, and Tobias Wolff have published collections, and there have been some outstanding debuts and books of short fiction by unsung writers, too.

The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program also doesn't include any short story collections among it's distinguished list of great American books. Wouldn't classic American collections by the likes of Raymond Carver, John Cheever, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O'Connor, Grace Paley, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, J.D. Salinger, Jean Stafford, Eudora Welty, and dozens of others (including a slew of living writers) make for good reading and discussion? Even an anthology that features stories by several of these writers would make for a nice big juicy read.

I admire the passion independent booksellers have for literary fiction, and the Big Read is a worthwhile program, but how are we going to get short story collections into the hands of readers if some of our leading cultural arbiters don't recommend them?