Saturday, May 22, 2010

Short Attention Span? There’s A Book for That

While we love the energy that’s been expended to create Orca Book’s new Rapid Reads series, it seems to us to be one of those ideas that look good on paper before you realize that the mousetrap has been reimagined... and it’s still just a mousetrap.

Rapid Reads launched this spring with four titles: Love You to Death by Gail Bowen, The Middle Ground by Zoe Whittall, The Spider Bites by Medora Sale and The Barrio Kings by William Kowalski. Clearly, the problem isn’t with the authors chosen to launch the new series: these are some of the top in their respective fields. The trouble, for us anyway, is with the actuality of the thing. Rapid Reads look like books. They have covers and ISBNs... but at between 12,000 and 20,000 words apiece they are not even novella length: long short stories, at best.

In a press release, though, Orca tells us that their Rapid Reads are aimed at busy people without a lot of extra time. “In our increasingly fast-paced world,” they write, “we believe there is a market for well-written, well-told novels that can be read in one sitting.” They point out that readers who are struggling with English or have other “literacy challenges” may likewise find the books appealing. And while that sounds terribly altruistic, we’re back to the initial new mousetrap complaint: in our “increasingly fast-paced world” we already have a solution for all of these readers: it’s called the short story. In fact, you can fit many -- or at least several -- into a single volume, you can tuck them into newspapers and magazines, even print them for free online. And while we support the creation and distribution and especially the promotion of the short story as art-form, we don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel. Especially when that short story wheel is time tested and good and true.

If you’re craving truly superlative short fiction that doesn’t masquerade as anything but, there are many anthologies available. Some of them even geared to certain types of reader or genre or even sub-genre. Two of the very best in North America are annuals, anthologized from various time-tested sources. Two of our favorites are The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories (Anchor Books) and the wonderful Journey Prize Anthology (McLelland & Stewart). Many stories, many hands and single carefully curated book. Wonderful!


Blogger Nans Place said...

I must comment ... as a librarian, I believe the other aspect of the Rapid Reads is that there is easier language for those with English language literacy issues. The short story is not the answer to this, as the language is still as upscale as any novel, and actually, I feel the structure of the the short story is very different, and does not always make for easy understanding. Its not the size that counts :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 10:24:00 AM PDT  

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