The Short-Story Vending Machine

Short Édition
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The short story—the beginning writer’s training wheels, the chosen purview for literary giants like Alice Munro and Flannery O’Connor, the slightly pretentious little brother to the novel—is coming to the streets of Grenoble, France in an unexpected container: a vending machine.

The southeastern French city will soon be home to a handful of devices that dispense short stories rather than sugary snacks or soft drinks. The machines will offer a choice of stories one, three, or five minutes long, and their bank of 600 short stories, determined by the publisher Short Édition’s thousands of subscribers and writers, is free of charge.

In a 2012 interview with The Atlantic, Sadie Stein, The Paris Review's deputy editor, explained how short stories are distinct from novels:

A short story, when it’s good, doesn’t draw you into a comforting world; it shakes you up. It’s not … what you want to read before going to sleep: It’s a different kind of intellectual and emotional commitment.

Perhaps one of the most artful descriptions The Atlantic has published on the short story was written in 1949 in the form of an essay by the novelist and short-story writer Eudora Welty, entitled “The Reading and Writing of Short Stories”:

Where does beauty come from, in the short story? Beauty comes from form, from development of idea, from after-effect. It often comes from carefulness, lack of confusion, elimination of waste—and yes, those are the rules. But that can be on occasion a cold kind of beauty, when there are warm kinds. And beware of tidiness. Sometimes spontaneity is the most sparkling kind of beauty—Katherine Mansfield had it. It is a fortuitous circumstance attending the birth of some stories, like a fairy godmother that has—this time—accepted the standing invitation and come smiling in.