Since 1915 Houghton Mifflin (et al) has maintained the tradition of publishing a yearly anthology of short fiction (ably assembled, for many years, by Martha Foley) entitled not surprisingly Best American Short Stories. Leaving aside the unfortunate American overuse of superlatives, this annual collection is high quality rivaled only by the yearly O Henry Prize stories compendium. Each year a guest editor is presented with about a 100 stories, drawn from a very broad and diverse mix of publications and culled from a much larger group by the current series editor.
As is the practice of Best American annuals, novelist Jennifer Eagan guest edited 2014’s volume. Among the contributors are, CHARLES BAXTER, ANN BEATTIE, T.C. BOYLE, PETER CAMERON, JOSHUA FERRIS, NELL FREUDENBERGER, DAVID GATES, LAUREN GROFF, BENJAMIN NUGENT,JOYCE CAROL OATES, KAREN RUSSELL and Laura Van Den Berg. Worthy reading.
Sometime in the 1980’s Best American Essays (and Best American Mystery Stories )was added to the soon to be burgeoning Best American brand under the direction of Robert Atwan. This year’s essays anthology is guest-edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan, he of the celebrated essay collection Pulphead. Even if you are not familiar with this all-star cast of writers such as DAVE EGGERS, EMILY FOX GORDON, MARY GORDON, VIVIAN GORNICK, LESLIE JAMISON, ARIEL LEVY, YIYUN LI, BARRY LOPEZ, CHRIS OFFUTT, ZADIE SMITH, ELIZABETH TALLENT,WELLS TOWER, PAUL WEST and JAMES WOOD, be assured that the topics chosen range far and wide with refreshingly original explications.
Baltimore’s talented crime story novelist Laura Lippman hosts this year’s Best American Mystery Stories 2014 and consciously avoids drawing from the usual suspects thus including surprising names for the genre— MEGAN ABBOTT, DANIEL ALARCÓN, RUSSELL BANKS ,JAMES LEE BURKE ,PATRICIA ENGEL, ERNEST FINNEY, ROXANE GAY, CHARLAINE HARRIS,JOSEPH HELLER, ANNIE PROULX and LAURA VAN DEN BERG.
Sometime around the turn of the century, someone over at Houghton Mifflin with a some marketing savvy added all manner of categories to the Best American brand which currently includes—Travel Writing, Science and Nature Writing, American Comics, American Infographics and Non-Required Reading.
Not to draw to fine a point but I am still troubled by the insistence on literary journalists and other wise thoughtful folks can not shed themselves of mania for superlatives. The Best American Stories don’t have to carry that name for me to be interested reading them.