100 Years of the Best American Short Stories

100 Years of the Best American Short Stories

Book - 2015
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The Best American Short Stories is the longest running and best-selling series of short fiction in the country. For the centennial celebration of this beloved annual series, master of the form Lorrie Moore selects forty stories from the more than two thousand that were published in previous editions. Series editor Heidi Pitlor recounts behind-the-scenes anecdotes and examines, decade by decade, the trends captured over a hundred years. Together, the stories and commentary offer an extraordinary guided tour through acentury of literature with what Moore calls "all its wildnesses of character and voice."

These forty stories represent their eras but also stand the test of time. Here is Ernest Hemingway's first published story and a classic by William Faulkner, who admitted in his biographical note that he began to write "as an aid to love-making." Nancy Hale's story describes far-reaching echoes of the Holocaust; Tillie Olsen's story expresses the desperation of a single mother; James Baldwin depicts the bonds of brotherhood and music. Here is Raymond Carver's "minimalism," a term he disliked, and Grace Paley's "secular Yiddishkeit." Here are the varied styles of Donald Barthelme, Charles Baxter, and Jamaica Kincaid. From Junot Díaz to Mary Gaitskill, from ZZ Packer to Sherman Alexie, these writers and stories explore the different things it means to be American.

Moore writes that the process of assembling these stories allowed her to look "thrillingly not just at literary history but at actual history -- the cries and chatterings, silences and descriptions of a nation in flux." 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories is an invaluable testament, a retrospective of our country's ever-changing but continually compelling literary artistry.

LORRIE MOORE, after many years as a professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is now the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Moore has received honors for her work, among them the Irish Times International Fiction Prize and a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. Her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was short-listed for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and her most recent story collection, Bark , was short-listed for the Story Prize and the Frank O'Connor Award.

HEIDI PITLOR is a former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007. She is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage.


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Sep 13, 2017

I don't enjoy short stories as a rule, but found this book interesting in letting me sample a variety of authors, some well-known and some I'd never heard of before. I like best the Sherman Alexi story (some humor and a lot of outlook on the American Indian experience from one of their own). Philip Roth's story was a pleasant surprise as I have never enjoyed his writings and after two attempts at his earlier novels, skip over him. I found this tale a good "coming of age" take on something that may or may not have really happened. It was also interesting to read, or at least try to get into some very well-known and venerated authors and finding them not much to my liking - but at least I now have an idea of why I don't care to read certain authors.

Jul 07, 2017

Look I know this took me two months to finish but I have a very good reason for that, alright? These stories are all so dense, each one like a rich, delicate cheesecake. You don't just eat 40 cheesecakes in a week, do you? No, you eat one whole cheesecake every day, like an average American. So that is what I did, I read a story each day or every other day, giving these stories time to sink in, enjoying each delicious sentence as I wandered through the history of one of America's finest publications.


A Goodreads review could not possibly cover the scope of these stories so I will just highlight the very best of the best. To start from the beginning, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" is a great story about a man's love for his daughter and the alcoholism that prevents their being together. It's so good that it makes me want to revisit Fitzgerald's other works even after attempting to read that boring Gatsby book (Come at me, nerds). John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio" is a strange tale of domestic life with a supernatural twist, while James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" tells the story of a drug-addicted jazz pianist from his brother's perspective, and describes music more beautifully than any writing I've ever seen.


As this tome moved into authors of more recent years, I worked my way through absurd and poignant stories like Mona Simpson's "Lawns", about a girl trying to break off a physical relationship with her father as she makes her way through college. There were also more diverse stories of people affected by colonialism and immigration, such as in Jamaica Kincaid's "Xuela" and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Third and Final Continent." There isn't much sci-fi or satire to speak of other than George Saunders' "The Semplica-Girls Diaries" which is an incredible story that makes you identify with people from two sides of a point of contention. But probably the best story of all, in my estimation, is "What You Pawn I will Redeem" by Sherman Alexie. No story in this volume is written more clearly, more effectively, or more humorously while relating very serious problems plaguing native American people. If you read only one story from the collection, that's the one to read.


There were some stories I skipped as you can only eat so many flavors of cheesecake before you find one that doesn't sit well, but even if it's not a perfect collection, it is still a great collection for its sheer coverage and scope. Reading from cover to cover provides a fascinating look at the history of the American short story, showing how our perspectives, ideals, and stories have changed so dramatically, while still remaining so essentially American. Now if you'll excuse me, I've eaten quite a bit of cheesecake and may need to regurgitate some of it onto my own paper. For isn't that what writing is at its most basic? Taking the ideas of others, digesting them, and creating your own projects from their inspiration? I don't know. The one thing I do know is that I could really go for some cheesecake.


More Reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/mancolepig

Feb 01, 2016


Very little from early years and most from 1970's to present day. Could be more balanced. There are NOT more good stories today than there were years ago. I expected the very best through all the decades. Big, chunky heavy book not conducive to reading.


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