Reading

Anthology 101

Year after year, more genres and formats are added to the heap of writing compilations--here's a look at the best of the first of this year's lists.

Book Digest Receiving an advance copy of The Best American Mystery Stories 2008—guest-edited this year by George Pelecanos—reminds me that Houghton Mifflin’s onslaught of its franchise The Best American Series anthologies is not far behind. What started in 1915 as simply The Best American Short Stories now has every stripe of superlative excessive collections, including the imaginative and contrived The Best American Nonrequired Reading. But the 21st century is all about exploiting Brand, right? So let me move on. If not the “best” stories, Pelecanos’s 19 selections are certainly quite wonderful, as he is certain to upset purists by including fine writers like Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munro, Thisbe Nissen, James Lee Burke, Robert Ferragamo, Michael Connelly, Chuck Hogan, and Joyce Carol Oates. My favorites are a poignant, flashback-filled story by Kyle Minor (“A Day Meant to Do Less”), Scott Phillips’s well-modulated nostalgia (“The Emerson, 1950”), and Stephen Rhodes’s Wall Street morality tale (“At the Top of His Game”).

For many years, Shannon Ravenel edited the New Stories From the South anthology; she’s turned over the reins to Kathy Pories and yearly guest editors: Alan Gurganis in 2006, Edward P. Jones in 2007, and Z.Z. Packer in 2008. As expected, these anthologies do feature many of the South’s favorite sons and daughters (which, if you are out of touch with that region’s rich literary tradition and culture, is a major public service); in this instance, Packer’s introduction is an intriguing, smart, and provocative essay entitled “The Double Indemnity of the South”:
And as backward as we've been portrayed—or as backward as we’ve sometimes portrayed ourselves, slipping behind a curtain of innocent and na├»ve agrarianism, rural somnolence, and sleepy everlasting vowels—the truth is that every awful and beautiful thing that has happened in America happened in the South first.
Kudos to Dan Wickett and Dzanc Books for finding a need and filling it well with the initial Best of the Web 2008. The volume’s editor, Nathan Leslie, writes:
This anthology does not attempt to capture some very vital aspects of the online experience—no multimedia experience, no interactive texts, no surfing here. We limited ourselves to four genres—poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. There are others; this isn’t our attempt to build Rome in a day… Rome will come. It will take time. For now I simply hope you like the anthology we put together. Read, enjoy, savor.
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