Via CBC Books
Among the adverse effects of the ongoing global pandemic known as COVID-19 has been a loss of revenue for writers, publishers, and booksellers. While this is by no means the most serious consequence of a sickness that can be measured, to date, in 4.56 million cases and 308,000 deaths worldwide, producers and purveyors of literature nevertheless number among the groups that have suffered material loss as a result of lockdown measures: writers with new books are unable to tour to promote them; booksellers are unable to hand-sell titles to readers who might otherwise never discover them; publishers must gamble with already infinitesimal margins by making decisions about when – or even if – to bring out certain books.
All of this has a cascading effect. Readers suffer for not having access to literature, which can be especially beneficial during periods of turmoil. Reading has been shown to reduce stress, something we could all use a bit less of in our lives right now. In times of crisis, we turn to stories and poetry as a means of placing current experience in perspective, processing emotions and purging negative feeling, and understanding that we are not alone in the world.
Readers recognize this and will not let a global pandemic stand in their way. A recent BookNet Canada survey indicated that since COVID-19 struck, 58% of people responding said they were reading more than previously; 39% claimed to be reading the same amount.
Creators and suppliers, meanwhile, have been coming up with creative and innovative ways to get books into people’s hands. Don Gorman, publisher of Rocky Mountain Books, has created an interactive map of independent Canadian bookstores offering curbside pickup or home delivery. Publishers are finding ways to give back to their communities, literary festivals have pivoted online, and virtual book tours, launches, and book clubs have proliferated.
Not all of this is going to be about COVID-19. One of the things literature can offer is distraction and there are still other subjects and stories that readers will find relevant or comforting in the world. One of the impetuses behind this year’s 31 Days of Stories was to provide anxious people looking for an outlet precisely this kind of solace.
I’ve already laid out my thumbnail defence of short fiction, but it does seem like these days the form is particularly useful. Stories can be read in a sitting and they provide an aesthetic experience that is much richer than their small stature would suggest.
One of Canada’s recent champions of new writing in general, and short fiction in particular, is novelist and story writer Kevin Hardcastle. The author of the story collection Debris has put together a robust list of seventy-two short stories by Canadian writers, which is posted at the website for CBC Books. The list is wide in its range and subject matter and provides a strong introduction into the Canadian short story in the 21st century.
“The writing community I found, and some of the best new writing I read in past years, came as a result of writing, reading, and sharing short fiction,” Hardcastle writes in his general introduction. “So I thought that curating a list of short stories by Canadian, Indigenous, and Métis authors would be a fine way to read some literature and to lend support.”
So on a May long weekend unlike any other in our lifetimes, why not read some Canadian short fiction? I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better having done so.