Via Rake’s Progress I found this oldish but greatish Michael Chabon essay introducing an issue of McSweeney’s that was devoted to plot-driven short stories–“thrilling tales” (no, I don’t pay as much attention to McSweeney’s as I probably should). Chabon writes:
As late as about 1950, if I referred to “short fiction,” I might have been talking about any one of the following kinds of stories: the ghost story; the horror story; the detective story; the story of suspense, terror, fantasy or the macabre; the sea, adventure, spy, war or historical story; the romance story. Stories, in other words, with plots. A glance at any dusty paperback anthology of classic tales proves the truth of this assertion, but more startling will be the names of the authors of these ripping yarns: Poe, Balzac, Wharton, James, Conrad, Graves, Maugham, Faulkner, Twain, Cheever, Coppard. Heavyweights all, some considered among the giants of Modernism, source of the moment-of-truth story that, like homo sapiens, appeared relatively late on the scene but has worked very quickly to wipe out all its rivals.
Chabon even has a good word to say about Stephen King! His weariness of literary lit meshes with some recent link-rich postings by Michael Blowhard about books and the book biz, here and here. I always find Michael’s cheerful pragmatism about book publishing smart and refreshing, his omnivorous reading habits emulation-inspiring. I thought of him, actually, when I read Terry’s great Orson Welles almanac the other day–words I am going to tape to my brain.
In semi-related news, Sean Rocha over at Slate tells why 23 different books could claim to be top-ten best-sellers last week, and why no one can say for sure whose claims are legit:
The reason for all this secrecy is itself the worst-kept secret in the literary world: Hardly anyone buys books. Hyping a book as a “national best seller” creates an illusion of momentum and critical consensus that the phrase “over 25,000 copies sold”–which would actually be a pretty good figure for literary fiction sales in hardcover–does not. Thus, the industry’s modesty is protected by the fig leaf of relative sales: The current No. 1 on every fiction list is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but there’s no way to tell from the ranking whether it is selling 1,000 copies a week or 1 million.