Anchor Books The O. Henry Prize Stories
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About the Editor

2011

In early April 2011 I had a conversation with a Parisian bookseller, Odile Hellier, about the present moment in publishing. As an independent bookseller, Odile looks to the future with some apprehension about the possible effect that growing sales of ebooks will have on bookstores like her own. She isn't alone. At this moment, booksellers, publishers, distributors, writers, and readers are wondering about what the ebook will bring.

To her customers, Odile's Village Voice Bookshop is a jewel in the Parisian crown. Located in the brief Rue Princesse in the Sixth Arrondissement, the Village Voice Bookshop—along with Shakespeare & Co and the Red Wheelbarrow elsewhere in the city—makes current and past English-language books available to readers, and hosts readings and panels. The bookstore might seem exotic to a first-time visitor overhearing conversations and inquiries in French sprinkled with English or vice versa. In all the important ways, the Village Voice Bookshop is deeply familiar, a kissing cousin to every other bookstore you've ever loved. Its packed, ceiling-high bookshelves offer discoveries and rediscoveries. Its knowledgeable staff is there to help and recommend and occasionally to say, "You must read this book. I loved it!"

All twenty authors in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011 are classified in the publishing world as literary, both a compliment and a curse. Their readers depend on word of mouth and on reviews online, in print, and on the radio to find their work—and on booksellers like Odile Hellier to recognize and promote excellent writing. What will happen to writers and readers if independent bookstores, so badly battered in the past decades, cease to exist because of the new-found form of book, the ebook? How likely is this to happen?

For publishers, the ebook also brings new questions: How to market them? How to sell them at a profit? How to stay in business in the new universe of book production? For writers, ebooks might be a way to reach new readers, but also a possible threat to our old friend, the printed book. Whatever the eventual impact of this new technology, the fact is that human beings feel easier when the future seems known, and even if such certainty is an illusion it feels better than acknowledging that we face the unknown.

The easy accessibility offered by the ebook might actually result in larger numbers of readers. The printed book might be valued more than ever as a material artifact of the twin acts of reading and writing. Maybe there will be not just one or the other but both, and maybe there will be something else, as yet unknown, something more than we can now imagine.

The stories in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011 appear in both manifestations of the book, new and old. But more importantly, the stories represent the core of what is valuable: the beauty of the written word and the new worlds we enter as readers.

So let's celebrate the wonderful writers of the current collection and thank them for giving us so much pleasure, and for causing us to think and feel in new ways. That's what counts with readers no matter in what form the words are given us.

--Laura Furman
Austin, Texas
April 2011
(Copyright © 2011 Laura Furman)

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(photo © Ave Bonar)