Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Little but Large

I am amazed and thrilled that a book of short stories can win a major award!

Today the Guardian announces that the winner of its first book prize is A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by the Chinese writer resident in the US, Yiyun Li.

Now I now that this book has not come from nowhere - it's already won several major international prizes, including the PEN/Hemingway award - and that the political import of these stories will have helped in this, but these are SHORT STORIES, for goodness' sake.

For years now the short story has been in major decline in Britain, to the point where it's almost dead, and I began this blog lamenting this fact. It's years since the fact that short stories don't sell became established publishing wisdom and many British writers - including me, originally a short-story writer - were forced away from short-story writing into other forms. It's years since, squeezed by market forces, the British print literary magazines, the last great haven of the short story, more or less disappeared (online magazines having yet to achieve the same kind of reputation with the literary establishment). (As I've written before, I've had my own attempt to combat this last decline, but found the battle so hard it left me no time to write.)

Depressingly, I've seen a more general contempt for the short story increase down the years, and signs that people no longer know how to read them. My reading group, for instance, won't touch them: they're not satisfying, some of the members have complained, you can't sink into them like you can with a novel, and anyway how could you discuss a whole book of different stories? They had not entertained the idea that a single really good short story could take as much time to discuss as a novel.

Now wouldn't it be nice if this award meant the turning of the tide?
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