One-Minute Book Reviews

June 28, 2007

Why Do People Like Novels Better Than Short Stories? Quote of the Day #31

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:04 am
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You might think that the short story would be making a spectacular comeback about now. Pop-cultural analysts keep telling us – rightly or wrongly – that attention spans are getting shorter. And digital technologies like e-mail and text messaging have accustomed us to briefer forms of self-expression.

Yet short stories seem to have slumped in popularity since the deaths of masters like John Cheever and Raymond Carver in the 1980s, and fewer traditional magazines than ever are publishing them. People may talk about how little time they have for reading. But at the bookstore or library, they’ll pick up a novel instead of a collection of stories. Why? Here’s one of the simplest explanations I’ve read for why people prefer longer books:

“The natural inclination to put off the endings of good things makes them suspicious of a form that insists on wrapping things up rather quickly.”

Marisa Silver in “It’s All Relative,” a review of Helen Simpson’s In the Driver’s Seat: Stories, in the Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2007, a collection reviewed on this site on June 21, 2007

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Critics and scholars have offered many other explanations for why novels outsell short stories. If you prefer longer books, why do you like them?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. what silver said pretty much sums up the reason i like novels over short stories. to me, short stories require more thinking because the brevity of it doesn’t allow much description, thus it requires more thinking/speculating. it’s not that novels require less thinking, but it allows you to get to know the characters at a more leisurely pace.

    the only short stories i’ve truly enjoyed are the ones by roald dahl. but i haven’t exactly been making myself explore the genre…

    Comment by sulz — June 28, 2007 @ 1:28 am | Reply

  2. It baffles me that in this rush-rush era, people have turned away from short stories, condensed narratives that can be devoured as you wait for a bus or subway. There are still good writers of short fiction around–the title story of Scott Snyder’s VOODOO HEART was one of the best short pieces I’ve read in years. I keep waiting for a renaissance for short form fiction. Perhaps we need another Carver or Cheever to lead us out of the wilderness. Thanks for the post, it was food for thought.

    Comment by Cliff Burns — June 28, 2007 @ 2:42 am | Reply

  3. O-MBR:

    Interesting post. My reading leans heavily towards shorts but admittedly of classic literature. To name a few contemporary short story writers would be a tall order.

    Wonder if there is any correlation with feature length v. short movies, full length v. one-act plays or other media?

    # 30 #

    Comment by William Spear — June 28, 2007 @ 9:20 am | Reply

  4. Sulz: Your comment about novels allowing you to get to know characters at a more leisurely pace was interesting. I love great stories, like Cheever’s. But I do find that reading them can take more intense concentration than many novels. With a novel, once you have sense of the characters, you can often go along with them for the ride. With short stories, you have to try to figure out a new set of characters in every story. That can seem like more “work” to me than figuring out one set …
    Cliff: Yes, a new master to lead us out of the wilderness would be great, wouldn’t it? Of the living short fiction writers I’ve read, the best include Alice Munro (who’s said she isn’t planning any more collections) and Paul Theroux (who writes wonderful short stories but is so much better known for his travel writing).
    Bill: I hadn’t thought about the movie connection. Thanks for mentioning it. I do think many people are now getting from movies and TV what they used to get from short stories. A well-written series like “The Sopranos” provides many of the same rewards as a short story collection. Maybe some people see its creator as our new Cheever?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 28, 2007 @ 9:30 am | Reply

  5. Part of the pleasure of reading a novel is the feeling you get when you are not reading it. When you’re on the phone, waiting for a client, enduring Kenny G, staring out the window thinking, “I wonder what Jean Val Jean will do today. I’ll find out at lunch.”

    Short stories can’t do that. You can’t miss a short story.

    Tom Heehler

    Comment by heehler — July 8, 2007 @ 6:58 pm | Reply

  6. Tom: Definitely. I miss some characters even when I KNOW what they’ll be doing that day. They’re like friends I can’t wait to revisit.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 9, 2007 @ 3:06 am | Reply

  7. […] som deckare, chic-lit, underhållningsromaner, etc. Det verkar vara samma sak i England och USA. Janice Harayda skriver att intresset för novellen började dala redan på åttiotalet. Vissa mindre förlag […]

    Pingback by Novellen: på väg att försvinna? « Jenny Enochsson — May 28, 2012 @ 8:23 am | Reply

  8. Interesting, thank you! The Web-related argument in favor of short stories is not applicable because readers are in a different state of trance when reading online than when reading printed matter. For one thing, the body’s not (as) present when you read online. It may be that the more corporeal experience favors the long form: anything involving the body requires slowness of assimilation. (Unless we’re in fight/flight/freeze state but then we’re not looking for stories).

    Comment by Marcus Speh (@marcus_speh) — June 2, 2012 @ 8:11 am | Reply

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