It's no secret that we live in a fast paced culture these days. Our reading habits are just one inclination of this. Just look around you on your commute to work. During my daily train ride to NYC, I watch other commuters and observe their routine. Most people flick their eyes over the newspaper headlines, digesting the first paragraph of an article before moving on to the next one. Those with a book in hand often are devouring a mass market genre book. It's rare you see someone reading Tolstoy or Dickens or even Thomas Pynchon—unless you're like me and are either a former English major or a committed bookworm.
So when I stumbled across Esquire's latest online project -—where they sent 250 napkins out to writers across the country and asked them to write a short story on it-—I thought this was nothing but brilliant. Perhaps now I, an (admittedly) enthusiastic literary snob, can offer something to those who don't take the time to pay attention to stories that are more developed than your typical genre. I realize what I'm saying here, but bear with me. We now live in a society where convenience is pivotal and time is precious.
There's also a romantic notion involved here. Think of the napkin for a moment; an item we usually use to clean our mouths and then crumple up in the garbage.
What's more metaphorical than writing on an item we use for a mere moment in our lives? Stories can offer just such a temporal satisfaction, or they can stick to us long after our first fleeting encounter.
I find these napkin nuggets appetizing. You can find remarkably fleshed out scenes, like in Daniel Alarcon's "Alameda County":
"The young man awaited trial playing a video game on his cell phone, concentrating intently on the tiny screen, wearing a necktie and a suit and sneakers of an almost virginal white, and did not notice the paintings on the walls, art whose blandness could only be described as extreme, as if the artists, upon receiving their commissions, were instructed to depict only clouds, or the facades of well-kept buildings, or street scenes carefully excised of people."There's brevity, as evidenced by Aimee Bender's aloof scribbled note:
"To J. Smith,In this day and age, a short story can go a long way. Perhaps this project can get those who have a spare minute to pay attention to the small details.
Please accept my resignation. The printer is broken. The stationery is gone. Malty is angry, angry, angry.