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Attention Span

photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

I wonder why short fiction isn’t as popular as the novel. Maybe because it’s more like a one night stand than the slower, longer term and, dare I say, more respectable relationships we have with certain novels. But I like the idea that within the span of a single night, in just an hour perhaps, I can glimpse another world and what it feels like being there. Some novels take days before you can walk away with that feeling. And the “short” stuff may be just the thing in a world where people have less time and patience (not to mention shrinking attention spans).

The downside, maybe, is that short fiction tends to gratify us too quickly. On the upside, the good short always leaves the reader wanting more. A good short story is never too long, whereas the same thing might not be said for a good novel. I always wish a Flannery O’Connor story were the first chapter of a thousand-page epic. My favorite short fiction always resonates for some time after reading it, often times as long, or longer, than a good novel. Bartleby haunts me as much as Ahab. Maybe more. A sampling of what I’m talking about: Melville, Tolstoy, Kafka, Philip K. Dick, Robert Coover, Raymond Carver, Donald Barthelme, William H. Gass, Samuel R. Delaney, William T. Vollmann, Harold Jaffe, Eurudice, Elizabeth Ellen, Christine Boyka Kluge and Daryl Scroggins.