Monday, February 14, 2011

Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby*

We get most of our information electronically, from our computers and handheld devices, from the digital signals our TVs pick up, and other sources. Many of us also socialize on the Web, via Facebook or Twitter or the like. And more and more people are reading on digital devices. (I confess: I am sometimes one of them.)

If you want to know more about the three finalists for The Story Prize, Google them. You'll find video, audio, interviews, excerpts, reviews. You can learn a lot about Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, and Suzanne Rivecca and their books via the Internet.

Or you can come and see them live. The Story Prize event on March 2, provides an opportunity that you can't experience electronically. Sure, there will be a Webcast you can watch ten days or so later. But seeing someone in three dimensions and sensing his or her presence, is a very different experience. Ask anyone who was there two years ago to hear Tobias Wolff read "Bullet in the Brain" in its entirety, and they will tell you that a Webcast is a poor substitute. There's also a certain energy in a room where hundreds of people gather to listen.

So if you love short stories, live in or close to New York City, and are available the night of The Story Prize event, I urge you to try to make it to the New School's Tishman auditorium (tickets are $14). You'll see and hear the authors read excerpts from their books and discuss their work on-stage. I try to make that discussion a conversation that the audience is overhearing. I don't write questions ahead of time, and the authors generally depart from their talking points and say things they haven't said before that reveal how they work and how they view the world. If you're there, you'll also feel the tension and energy in the room when Julie Lindsey, the founder of The Story Prize announces the winner.

Despite the suspense of that moment, I would add that the event is not just about the winning book for us. We aim to shine the spotlight equally on each author and to celebrate everyone's work—all three finalists, of course, but  also the authors on the long list, every author who wrote a short story collection in 2010, and everyone reading and writing short stories and keeping the form alive and kicking in the digital age.

* With apologies to Betsy Lerner for appropriating her blog headline style. (Betsy, consider it an homage.)