Sudden Fiction and the Google

In the editors’ introduction to New Sudden Fiction, Robert Shapard and James Thomas note that, in the years since their most recent anthology of short-short stories came out, the World Wide Web has changed the way we write, publish, and read fiction, with scores of new online literary journals having started up since then. So what’s out there now? they say they wondered. “We Googled all kinds of short-shorts,” they write—by which I believe they mean they searched for all the various names for the genre that they’d mentioned two paragraphs earlier, such as “flash fiction” and “skinny fiction”—

and found most entries were for ‘sudden fiction.’ Could this be right? True, it had been around longer than some of the others. We checked our finding against the number of Google pages for recent New York Times best sellers. ‘Sudden fiction’ beat out several of them, including those made into movies—even some chosen by Oprah. As a final check, we tested the first phrase that came to mind (‘armadillo sex’) and found this too out-Googled the New York Times and Oprah. We concluded Google wasn’t necessarily a good judge of literature.

By my Googling, as of this morning: the phrase “sudden fiction” appears on about 128,000 pages on the World Wide Web; “flash fiction,” about 639,000; “skinny fiction,” about 61. Taking a few titles, randomly, from Oprah’s Book Club Archive (oh, dear Oprah, living writers of the forthrightly made-up love you, please start picking contemporary fiction again!) from 2000 (searching for both the title of the book and the author’s name, both as exact phrases): The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, about 243,000; House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III, about 58,000; Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz, about 46,000. “Armadillo sex,” on the other hand, comes in at about 274. Which leads me to conclude that either no one ever told Shapard and Thomas about Googling with quotation marks—or that, sometime in the past ten years or so, there was some magnificent, mysterious book published, a book that everyone wanted to read, such that it became a huge best seller, but no one ever blurbed or reviewed or discussed this popular yet secret book, it was a giant, quiet conspiracy, an elephant in the library, no one wrote about it at all, ever, anywhere, except for one or two Web sites, here and there, sites more obscure than, say, our understanding of the mating habits of bony-plated nocturnal omnivores.

Wanting the world to still have undiscoverable, un-Googleable secrets, I’m hoping it was the latter.