Literary short stories rarely, if ever, get a chance to make an impression on their own terms, as they are usually buried in print anthologies that get lost quickly in an ever-expanding universe of published content. When short stories are given a new life in digital format—not only by extracting existing texts and migrating them online but also by translating them into several languages and adding original audio elements to each—as is the case with The Short Story Project—their impact is undeniable.
Professional reviewer Michael Rogers here sheds light on this mighty new entrant into the digital publishing and library market. NSR is pleased to publish this review and we look forward to following TSSP’s progress and development in the months and years to come.—Ed.
Stories that cross the line
Launched in 2015, The Short Story Project (TSSP) hosts a wide selection of short fiction from noted international authors. The acclaimed site—nominated for the London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Initiative Award in 2016, among others—also co-exists as an app of the same name for Androids and iOS devices. It was founded upon the belief that “reading is an experience that can make a difference. An experience that enables reflection on the human condition, inspires empathy and encourages examination; that reading is more than a pastime; it is an activity that can serve as a bridge between people and cultures, a sounding board for voices and ideas.” This belief is evident in many details, including TSSP’s tagline (Stories that Cross the Line).
TSSP endeavors to promote that philosophy through the “lively, stimulating presence of short fiction in contemporary culture,” enabling the “voices of writers from across the world be heard and resonate.” It is the creation of Iftach Alony, an Israeli-born business man with a history of successful entrepreneurial ventures. Alony is the author of two novels (2009’s Thief of Dreams, and 2012’s best-selling Spare Parts), the short story collections, Garuda’s Gaze and Plagues (of Egypt) Now (2015 and 2017, respectively), as well as the poetry collections, Let the Thorns Die (2013) and Gravity (2014). He also is the founder and coeditor of Block Magazine, a producer of several travel-films, and has served as a judge for short story competitions and other literary endeavors.
The carefully curated library comprises several hundred short stories to date, with new stories added weekly, and covers several centuries—from old masters like Cervantes and Jonathan Swift, through Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Hilary Mantel, Anais Nin, Théodora Armstrong, Emily Brout, and many more. The variety and depth of the contemporary collection is especially noteworthy, including such well-regarded short story writers as Jennifer Egen, Lidia Davis, Gyorgy Spiro, Mirenda July, Danill Kharms, Gyusepe Berto, and David Elbachari.
Global scope, with focus on contemporary fiction
TSSP boasts an admirable philosophy, but how does it approach its goal and what strategies does it employ to make the dream reality? To start, it greets users with a bright, colorful interface populated with the standard dropdown menus and access points to its offerings. While the interface presents the user with a number of selections, the screen is well balanced—there’s plenty of text and interesting art but not so much that the view is crowded and messy. The interface welcomes rather than overwhelms. Type size also is adjustable for younger and older eyes.
The main screen is divided into six sections running top to bottom: Spotlight, featuring top stories; New and Noteworthy; Quotelandia, a rotating series of quotes culled from assorted works in the Project‘s inventory; Classics; Humor; and Love. One of the most impressive elements is the international scope—such collections typically are dominated by male English-language authors, but TSSP features a plethora of non-English-language authors as well as numerous women writers. For non-English-language readers, the stories may also be read in Spanish, German, and Hebrew.
Individual story listings sport the standard title/author plus the original language in which the work was composed (translators are listed for non-English-language compositions). In lieu of page-length for each story, an approximate reading time is included—a super helpful extra. Each story features a brief introduction either by a scholar or a member of the site’s editorial staff, which includes experienced editors living and working on several continents. A hot button in the upper right corner allows readers to save the work as a Favorite.
Clicking “More” in the Classics, Humor, and Love components brings up a large collection of works sortable by Reading time (0–10 minutes, 10–20, etc., to 40+), Authors (alphabetically by first name), or Language (besides English, stories by authors originating in 28 tongues ranging from Arabic to Yiddish are available). Once again not overwhelming the screen, “More” retrieves small handfuls of additional stories with each click rather than log jamming the screen with the full catalog of available titles in a single stroke. Filtering the choices via Reading time/Authors/Language allows for quick and easy navigation. Novice users should be able to pilot the site without difficulty.
The bottom of story pages include a “Save Story” button to create personal reading lists, and hyperlinked keywords bump users to a selection of stories related to that topic (e.g., Hilary Mantel’s “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” sports links to #alternative history, #class war, #Great Britain, #history, #political, and #working class stories). Thumbnail biographies for each author are another click away.
These hyperlinked keywords can serve as a boon for libraries utilizing TSSP to build Reader’s Advisory profiles for patrons. Each story displayed after selecting a hyperlinked keyword in turn contains its own set of subject links creating a cascading effect to help librarians/readers further refine their search to isolate the particular element of the story that initially attracted the patron.
TSSP also features an audio component for a selection of stories for both adults and children (note that to access the audio materials, users either must create an account or sign in via Facebook/Twitter). For those on the go accessing the site on a small smartphone screen, audio is a sweet, eye-saving extra.
A tool for encouraging (more) reading
True to its mission statement, TSSP celebrates the reading pleasures and life lessons contained in short works. Story lovers will find a treasure trove of international riches spanning centuries and cultures.
While not a scholarly research site, teachers nonetheless could incorporate its content into curriculums by assigning stories by lesser-known, non-English-language authors that otherwise are difficult, if not impossible, to locate—especially for free. Libraries, too, should investigate the possibility of incorporating the upgraded, ‘institutional’ version of TSSP into their digital portfolios, because, as explained earlier, TSSP has the potential to serve as a nifty Reader’s Advisory tool.
Anyone interested in reading and encouraging reading should bookmark The Short Story Project. Highly recommended.
Michael Rogers is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He was also editor and reviewer at Library Journal and a number of other publications. He is the voice of No Shelf Required’s It Happened… column.