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Joel Achenbach: Gary Smith and the endangerment of detailed, long-form stories

Telling the tale: Long-form narratives such as (counterclockwise from top) the St. Petersburg Times' feature "The Girl in the Window," the Bible, Gary Smith's "Beyond the Game" and Leo Tolstoy's novels on 19th-century Russian life would need more acreage than what's available on tiny cellphone screens.
Telling the tale: Long-form narratives such as (counterclockwise from top) the St. Petersburg Times' feature "The Girl in the Window," the Bible, Gary Smith's "Beyond the Game" and Leo Tolstoy's novels on 19th-century Russian life would need more acreage than what's available on tiny cellphone screens. (Screenshot From Tampabay.com; Tolstoy Portrait By Vladimir Voinovich: David Hoffman/the Washington Post; Cellphone: Joel Garreau/the Washington Post)

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The best feature of print is that it doesn't interrupt you. It doesn't try to link you somewhere else. It doesn't talk back. That's a killer app in and of itself these days. Interactivity is a great virtue sometimes, but there are other times when you want to read a story that doesn't try to heckle you as it squirms in your lap.

And so the Gary Smiths are not out of business yet. Stories won't die, he says.

"People crave stories too much. It's kind of the pipeline to the heart."

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, which continues to run long narratives even while dabbling in supplemental online blogs, tells us, "I can't imagine a world in which the only thing of interest is the brief, the ephemeral, the flickering and the tweeted."

Dave Barry, humorist and best-selling young-adult novelist, says by e-mail: "You can't really read Twitters. I mean, I don't see anybody ever going to the beach with a big old mess of Twitters. Gotta have a plot. The big change from Jane Austen is that now the plot has to have really hot vampires."

And here's Walter Isaacson, the media sage and biographer, whose Rolodex would be a thing of wonder were anyone to still use Rolodexes:

"The good Lord is pretty smart, and He also knows better than most of us how to communicate and get his Word out there. Thus in the Good Book he presents to us, he MAKES IT A NARRATIVE!"

In the beginning . . .

Yeah, that's a narrative all right. Sold like mad.


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