I haven’t actually come up with a list of 11 reasons, and I don’t know where I’d rank this if I did. But, along with political extremism and free porn, it’s something that seems very popular on the web these days. Making lists that is.
Embracing new forms of media technology to the detriment of more traditional forms of media is something that I’ve shunned, or at least lamented, in the past. But I’m not a crotchety old man just yet, and I’m not above changing my mind. Some little snippets of new media I hadn’t explored until recently were podcasts. Probably most people with an internet connection know what they are, and certainly, most of those people are more familiar with them than I am — or at least than I was. But gosh darnit, I’ll have to say that I’m a fan now. There are lots of podcasts to choose from of course: Try listening to a weekly rundown from The Economist, a daily dose from Slate, or an investigative story from the BBC on your way to work. Better yet, take This American Life with you on that boring 45-minute drive to visit your mother. Podcasts allow the convenience of having these shows with you when you get a chance to listen to them. These shows and news sources aren’t new to me, but now I have them when and where I want them.
Dig around a little more, and you can find something amazing, though. Something you haven’t encountered before. For example, The New Yorker has a series of podcasts in which famous (this is a relative term these days) writers read some of their favorite short stories by other famous writers — short stories that have previously appeared in The New Yorker.
In order to get an idea of how great these are, start with “One With a Bullet.” This is one of my favorite writers reading one of my favorite stories by another of my favorite writers: T.C. Boyle reading “Bullet in the Brain,” by Tobias Wolff, and then discussing the story with The New Yorker‘s fiction editor Deborah Treisman. Boyle’s reading is skillful and entertaining; he’s said before that he prefers to say that he performs stories rather than reads them because reading sounds so boring. He then discusses why the story works so well and what’s unusual about it without embarking on the usual esoteric wankery of literary theory.
There’s a lot of horse shit out there that passes for literature, and often it seems that modern short story writers are out to punish us rather than entertain us, which may be contributing to the decline of the genre. Short stories used to matter. Not so much anymore. These little podcasts from The New Yorker prove that short fiction can still be entertaining and relevant. Oh, and they’re free.