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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Mini-seminars

Big Book Chain Chat #14: A quick read but certainly not fast food

Meg Vandermerwe - 2010-10-13

A few years ago I read an excellent article by the scholar and feminist Germaine Greer in which she condemned pornography, not simply because it debased and objectified women, but because it pandered to our increasing fast food culture. Pornography, for Greer, is the Big Mac of the love world: immediate satisfaction but zero nourishment. Those who “consume” pornography, Greer argued, ultimately leave the banquet feeling empty, with a greater hunger than they arrived with.

What has this got to do with the short story? Well, I have heard similar criticisms levelled against the short story. There are those who claim that rather than emerging from the experience of reading a short story feeling satisfied, they find themselves only hungry for the main course.

Perhaps it is a matter of taste. There is a luxury to sinking into a good novel. The luxury of two hundred pages with a character is a bit like the luxury of a lazy four-course Sunday lunch with good friends. It is not something many of us have the time to do often enough, but when we do, we swear that nothing compares with it.

And yet, to call the short story a crumb to the novel’s cake is a great injustice. I have read stories (many of them) which continue to resonate with me as profoundly and with as much longevity as any novel. When I was still living in London, I remember missing my tube stop because of a particularly breathtaking story. I then gave the same short story to a friend to read a few weeks later, and she proceeded to miss her tube stop too. (The story was Grace Paley’s “Zagrowsky Tells”, in case you want to put it to the test yourself.)

I am not saying that the short story is better than the novel (or indeed any other genre). It is different. Perhaps those of you who still feel that the short story is only an appetiser to the novel’s main course have been eating from the wrong menu. I would be happy to suggest a story or two that may leave you feeling perhaps not like you have had a long lunch with a good friend, but certainly like you have just tasted something unique and spectacular for the very first time and that from now on you and your taste buds will never be the same again.