“What Good is a Story?”
from the essay collection, Small Wonder (2002)
written by Barbara Kingsolver
I have always wondered why short stories aren’t popular in modern America. We are such busy folks, you’d think we’d jump at the chance to have our literary wisdom served in doses that fit between taking the trash to the curb and waiting for the carpool. We should favor the short story and adore the poem. But we don’t. Short-story collections rarely sell half as well as novels; they are never blockbusters. They are hardly ever even block-denters. . .
This is the start of “What Good Is a Story?”, an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, detailing the three months she spent in 2000 as a guest editor for The Best American Short Stories series. Kingsolver had to read 125 short stories before she could pick the twenty best ones. In her essay, Kingsolver explains those hectic three months, why she loves short stories, and what reading means to her.
On reading during this hectic time,
. . . all of us have to work reading into our busy lives. The best tales can stand up to the challenge-and if anything can, it should be the genre of short fiction. . . If we lived in silent white rooms with no emergencies. . .we probably wouldn’t need fiction to help us explain the inexplicable, the storms at sea and deaths of too-young friends.
On choosing the stories that she did,
With a pile of stories on my lap I sat with this question, early on, and tried to divine for myself why was it that I loved a piece of fiction when I did, and the answer came to me quite clearly; I love it for what it tells me about life. I love fiction, strangely enough, for how true it is. If it can tell me something I didn’t already know, or maybe suspected but never framed quite that way, or never before had sock me so divinely in the solar plexus, that was a story worth the read.
I don’t know about you, but that is very true for me. I don’t want to read anything predictable or something that I already know. Many of the books I’ve read lately have uncovered to me lives I don’t usually think about. Reading this essay reminded why I picked up this book the very first time. I enjoy Kingsolver’s writing. It’s accessible and tells me something that I knew but couldn’t put into words myself about reading.
I won’t give you any more quotes but if you’ve enjoyed any of Kingsolver’s other works, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this amazing collection of essays. Or if you haven’t read Kingsolver before but enjoy a mixture of the personal and the political, this book may be for you.
Other books you may enjoy:
A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life by Nancy Peacock