Sunday, December 25, 2005

Belletwits


It's the Reader's annual fiction issue again, and once again it's an exercise in small-pond-ism. The idea of a Chicago-centric fiction issue sounds OK at first. But the Reader manages to make it virtually unreadable. They start with a groundless assumption: that Chicago writers will inevitably produce 4-7, and only 4-7, stories per year that the rest of us will want to read. In fact, Chicago writers produce a varying number, but the Reader only bothers to find and publish 1-2, padding the issue with 2-5 that aren't worth reading.

I'm assuming the authors are Chicago-based. The Reader doesn't bother to run an editor's letter or any biographical info for the authors, so I have to infer that they're Chicagoans. Actually, one of the authors got a bio: Hillary Frank, whose story "Arachibutyrophobia" is (coincidentally?) the only good one. Why does she, and she alone, get a bio? I got the feeling the editors stuck it in because they needed to fill up a few extra lines. Either way, it doesn't seem to have crossed the editors' minds that readers might want to look up other stories by these authors or just have a general idea of where they're coming from.

That said, there's no need to provide a bio for many of these people, since they're well-known members of the Reader's crumbling stable of regulars. The editors' lazy reliance on the same people year after year is infuriating considering how many bright young writers are out there, desperate to be published.

It would be so easy to fix this problem. They could make the issue regional in scope, publishing authors from Champaign-Urbana, Ann Arbor, Madison, etc. They could solicit stuff from the numerous local writers who have established national reputations. They could put the word out to the heads of creative writing programs at AIC, Columbia College, etc. Hell, they could even have a local first-time fiction contest.

But for any of these to work the editors would have to devote some time to putting the issue together. Since it seems to exist for the sole purpose of keeping the ad revenue flowing while the editors take a holiday vacation (raising the inescapable question: "Vacation from what?") I can't see that happening.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're way off, Buddy. Haven't you ever seen the pdf version Reader. It's great because there are so many linked ads on every page that it is genuinely impossible to scroll to the next page of text without clicking on some ad for sex toys or cooking lessons. All that said, I think you're unfair to the Reader because it's like, you know, the cool paper.

3:51 PM  
Blogger joelando9422 said...

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6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See now this is a well written entry , actually going beyond a strained, one note "sucks!" to make a valid criticism with (*gasp*) actual suggestions on how it could be done better. My goodness, y'all are actually writing like your age.

You are correct in that the fiction issue reveals a certain laziness in both compilation and presentation.

I also wish the Reader would attempt to be more daring or dynamic in the content. Most stories are the usual modernist stuff, full of minimalist action and mood pieces with frequent autobiographical overtones and any connection to Chicago is largely arbritary. Humor seems restricted to a token piece, as if serious fiction cannot be amusing.

Considering the success of literary shows like The Dollar Store and collections like Chicago Noir, why not try to give the issue a theme or gimmick? As many themed short story anthologies have shown, the results are often more consistently interesting, if not high art. But who gives a crap about hight art when it's a free tabloid. I'd prefer a batch of Chicago Superhero stories over another one about some ambiguous moment which defines the gap between mother and child.

The biggest problem with the fiction issue, however, is it doesn't fit the format. Many readers - well, me at least - find it hard to engjoy a short story in newspaper page size and layout. It might work with one page stories, but longer than that an the pacing is thrown. The page jumps are the most irritating as it's a pain to scan all the "continued from page x" at the back of the issue to find the last 3 paragraphs of some tale. Since it's not the usual content why not skip the usual format and print entire stories together?

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read Jessica Hopper's most recent Music column, "Girls, Girls, Girls" in the 1/6 issue? It's a really crappy, college freshman level attempt at a feminist critique of sixties music. The Reader needs to clean house.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hopper is fucking terrible. Her selfish pseudo-feminist critiques are underinformed and less than worthless. Someone in editorial must have a hard-on for her. Maybe she's ascended because Liz wouldn't put out. Ann Sterzinger keeps it real enough (although she's pretty much gone now), but if the Reader's going to cherry-pick local zine writers, they need to look harder.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Best American Short Stories of the Century is padded with a lot of stuff that is pretty awful, but it's "literature" today.

4:53 AM  
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6:09 AM  
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6:10 AM  
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6:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since nearly everybody's being anonymous, I'll be anonymous, too.

I got two stories rejected for this year's fiction issue; both are better than the drek they had last year and the year before, but no worries. I figured it was a longshot, anyway, given how clannish the READER editors are, but had to try.

Most magazines are about as bad, in terms of greenlighting friends and slushpiling outlanders.

2:19 PM  
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7:37 AM  
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1:59 AM  

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