Very recently I learned that one of my favorite Mary Gaitskill stories, “The Nice Restaurant”, has never been collected. I still have the issue of the New Yorker it appeared in, and while I do own Mary Gaitskill’s work, it had never occurred to me she wouldn’t have collected it yet until a friend mentioned it in passing on Twitter and I was reminded, again, why for at least 20 years now, I save stories from magazines.
They fall through the cracks. They don’t always get collected, and sometimes the writer never becomes a published author, i.e., with a book. And so in my shelves there’s a collection of literary journals and magazines alongside the books. I go to them when I teach.
I’m thinking about it today in relationship to a new project I’m involved with, the Storyville app, launched by the man who helped make buying music on iTunes so compulsive, Paul Vidich. Paul is a former Warner Music exec and also a MFA graduate of Rutgers-Newark, and he has turned his attention to the short story, even, as Peter Orner notes today, some say it is dying. Perhaps even because of that: he, like me, has that same passion for saving stories.
Paul’s project is, as described over at the Fiction Writers Review,
focused on stories from newly, or soon-to-be published collections, as well as on rescuing lost shorts from forgotten collections, securing stories that have fallen from the literary canon by negotiating 2nd-serial, electronic rights from every major publisher in hopes of republishing them for the Storyville audience. The publishers are, of course, delighted. With marketing budgets for collections already slim due to low sales, a decision that only compounds low sales further, many readers simply don’t know where to find great stories in the marketplace.
When Paul invited me to be an adviser, it was like I’d found an electronic way to do what I’ve been doing for a while now.
In a new essay of mine up over at The Morning News, I talk about some of my reading habits and ways I tried to address a decline in my pleasure reading, or, as I like to put it, how the internet remapped my brain, and an e-book re-remapped it—and brought me back to books in general. One of the things I’ve been enjoying recently is reading short stories on my phone, delivered via app, like Wells Tower’s “Raw Water” on the McSweeney’s app, for example. Being able to do this is something I’ve wanted for years, and even thought was necessary–I know some are skeeved out by the e-book, but I don’t think of it quite that way–I think of it as the story liberated from the page, in a sense, as if it got up and ran away to join the electronic circus. Before, leaving the house used to entail deciding which book I wanted to read later if I ended up in line or on the train–I can’t ride subways without something to read–and I used to sometimes walk out with three books in my bag. Now I like how I can relax a little, and if I end up waiting in the package line at the post office, read a great story on my phone.
I remember the first time e-books almost happened, and everyone decided they were never going to come to anything. It felt like the future had come and we’d said Not now. Technology was changing the music industry, film, television and pop culture, and it felt like literary culture was getting left behind. It’s almost the end of 2010 now, and the future is back and it doesn’t look the way we thought it would even two years ago: Indie bookstores are growing as the chains decline, and some are going to sell e-books. The Atlantic reinvented itself, turning a profit for the first time in years, and with the debut of his app for the Adderall Diaries, Stephen Elliott made the e-book even seem like last year’s news. Many have predicted the end of the printed book but I don’t really see it that way–I feel like watching my own consumption, it’s only gone up. I’m still buying books, but now I’m buying things I wasn’t able to buy before, and a story a week on my phone is an example of that. It’s not replacing anything in my life, it’s just a way to have more.
Storyville will send you a story every week to your iPhone or iPad (the Android version is underway, coming up in 2011). The first story, “The Transgression”, comes from TNB Fiction Feature Author Ben Greenman’s new collection, Celebrity Chekhov, followed by “Miss Famous”, from Robert Boswell’s Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, and after that, stories from Daniel Kehlmann and Miljenko Jergovic. Check us out.