Jonathan Paper­nick is the author of the new­ly pub­lished col­lec­tion of short sto­ries There Is No Oth­er. He recent­ly wrote to us with the below piece on why short sto­ries are more impor­tant now than ever.

When I tell peo­ple that I have just pub­lished my sec­ond col­lec­tion of short sto­ries the reac­tion more often than not is: when am I going to write a nov­el? I have noth­ing against nov­els; I enjoy read­ing them as much as any­body, and have in fact, already writ­ten and pub­lished one. What I find strange is not the fact that read­ers are encour­ag­ing me to write a nov­el — it is the fact that the accom­plish­ment of writ­ing a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries is almost entire­ly dis­missed as some­how unwor­thy. More and more the pub­lish­ing indus­try seems to be over­come with a block­buster men­tal­i­ty in which only a few books can rise to the top of the review pages and the best­seller list, while so many oth­er books are not deemed wor­thy of discussion.


Pub­lish­ers and agents love to say that peo­ple don’t read short sto­ries any­more; I don’t believe that. What they’re real­ly say­ing is that short sto­ries do not make enough eco­nom­ic sense for them. It’s true that a suc­cess­ful nov­el may sell 50,000 or 100,000 copies, and a suc­cess­ful col­lec­tion of short sto­ries may sell a few thou­sand. But, read­ers should not con­cern them­selves with eco­nom­ics, just good, well wrought sto­ries. With less and less time in our busy lives, short sto­ries are the per­fect anti­dote to the worka­day world — an expan­sive, human expe­ri­ence com­pressed into a pack­age that can be con­sumed in its entire­ty in a half an hour, and some­times in as lit­tle as five min­utes. Short sto­ries allow us to walk in the shoes of a char­ac­ters and under­stand her hopes and fears and dreams inti­mate­ly with­out hav­ing to make a three or 400 page com­mit­ment that may nev­er be met. What bet­ter way is there for a read­er to under­stand a young Jew­ish girl’s sex­u­al dilem­ma with her cru­ci­fix-wear­ing suit­or than to spend four pages in her mind as she works through the com­plex­i­ties not only of her tra­di­tion but also of her expec­ta­tions as a mod­ern young woman, with­out the read­er actu­al­ly going through the expe­ri­ence her­self? How else can we enter the mind of a reli­gious extrem­ist, or an Iraq war vet, or a girl strug­gling with her weight, or a drug addict or… the list goes on and on. The fact is, we are bet­ter peo­ple for read­ing sto­ries, more under­stand­ing, human­is­tic peo­ple, able to empathize with those who are not us. This world needs greater under­stand­ing, and a well-writ­ten short sto­ry can pierce the heart like a bul­let and stay with a read­er for the rest of her life.

The Kin­dle and oth­er e‑book for­mats make it eas­i­er than ever to obtain short sto­ries from online mag­a­zines like Nar­ra­tive mag­a­zine and One Sto­ry. For the old fash­ioned read­er, One Sto­ry also pub­lish­es one sad­dle-stitched pam­phlet-sized short sto­ry every three weeks that fits per­fect­ly in one’s back pock­et or purse — most sto­ries can be read dur­ing an aver­age rush-hour sub­way com­mute. I’ve recent­ly dis­cov­ered a great new lit­er­ary jour­nal called The Drum: A Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zine For Your Ears, which pub­lish­es audio ver­sions of short sto­ries that can be eas­i­ly down­loaded to an iPod or iPhone. In the past few years I have cer­tain­ly come to appre­ci­ate micro fic­tion, sto­ries of 500 words or less, but I’m still hav­ing trou­ble get­ting my head around Twit­ter Fic­tion which is adver­tised as Great works of fic­tion in 140 char­ac­ters or less.” But, I think I can find the time to let it grow on me.

Due in part to these new inno­v­a­tive ways to bring sto­ries to the read­er, I believe that the short sto­ry is poised for a renais­sance, now it’s up to you, the read­er to help make this happen.

Jonathan Paper­nick is the author of The Ascent of Eli IsraelWho by Fire, Who by Blood, and the new col­lec­tion of short sto­ries There Is No Oth­er. He will be appear­ing this sum­mer and fall in farm­ers mar­kets in New Eng­land and New York with his push­cart and his new alter ego Paper­nick the Book Ped­dler.

Jonathan Paper­nick is the author The Ascent of Eli Israel and There Is No Oth­er. His fic­tion has appeared in numer­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies. Paper­nick lives out­side of Boston with his wife and two sons and is a Senior Writer-in-Res­i­dence at a Boston-area college.