The Sleepers Almanac, No. 5
Sleepers Publishing, $24.95 pb, 300 pp
What makes a good short story? Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn, editors of the fifth Sleepers Almanac, say there is no objective measure of quality; that everyone likes something different; and that they simply choose what appeals. As I sit down with their funky-looking volume, I don’t want to believe it. If that is the case, there is no place for literary critics, no real justification for academic literary study, and the premise for an editor’s judgement is shaky. Why should what they like matter particularly?
The Sleepers have set me a challenge: how to quantify quality. To start, both the Almanac and Scribe’s first anthology of short stories, New Australian Stories, edited by Aviva Tuffield, look fantastic. Their cover designs are eye-catching, bold and suggestive of the innovative material within. That professionalism is extended, in both cases, to the editing, which is excellent; the reader is not irritated by typos, the layout is stylish and the ordering of stories is sensitively done – perhaps with one exception. In the Almanac, three or four stories in a row seemed too clearly cut from the same stylistic cloth. But that brings us to the delicate matter of deciphering literary quality.