Edited by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1 (“The universe is not made of atoms; it is made of tiny stories.”) is an example of the recent trend toward the “collaborative voice,” where thousands of contributors offer text and art to be compiled into one publication—or, in this case, Volume 1 of three publications.
This first volume, a small conceit if taken at face value, celebrates the collective endeavors of so-called “stories” that consist of but a few lines, from the whimsical to the borderline rebellious, none with real teeth or the rage of an author with a passionate message. Rather, the chosen selections hardly challenge an inert imagination on a quiet Sunday morning after skimming the local newspaper.
Ho hum—cute idea, but why? It’s hard to escape the suspicion that this is a vanity piece, albeit with a hefty price tag for a Hallmark-sized tome. Hardcover no less. Sponsored by hitRECord, the profits are split between artists and the company, selections chosen from many thousands of contributions, proof that many are willing to send their work in for judgment. What does this enthusiasm say about the writing community? There are no “author” credits. Nor should there be, given the paucity of the material, the contents more like elevator music than punk rock, illustrations mostly cartoonish (childish), the whole proudly unsophisticated, a Facebookian celebration of mediocrity. One has to wonder—were there any angry contributions, shocking illustrations, anything demanding censorship by Gordon-Levitt’s red Sharpie? Or has our environment been reduced to unctuous sound bites, tiny stories to lure us into thinking the world is manageable (“Can’t we all just get along?”).
The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, may just be a collaborative venture to celebrate shared ideas and quasi-intellectual concerns, hardly a threat to literature. Perhaps I’m showing my age, the edgy phrases of East Village poets lost in the techno-beat of a world where outrage is soothed by hypnotic digitalized images and the tranquilizing murmur of group-speak. Very sweet, these tiny stories, very… nice. But there’s a reason tiny stories are usually meant for tiny people.