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Best American Short Stories, The

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Product Details

  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publishing date: 10/10/2007
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780618713479
  • ISBN: 0618713476


Wonderfully eclectic, The Best American Short Stories 2007 collects stories by undeniable talents, both newcomers and favorites. These stories examine the turning points in life when we, as children or parents, siblings or friends or colleagues, must break certain rules in order to remain true to ourselves. In T.C. Boyle's heartbreaking "Balto," a 13-year-old girl provides devastating courtroom testimony in her alcoholic father's trial. Aryn Kyle's charming story "Allegiance" shows a young girl caught between her despairing British mother and motherly American father. In "The Bris," Eileen Pollack brilliantly writes of a son struggling to fulfill his filial obligations, even if this requires a breach of morality and religion. Kate Walbert's stunning "Do Something" portrays one mother's impassioned and revolutionary refusal to accept her son's death. And in Richard Russo's graceful "Horseman," an English professor comes to understand that plagiarism can reveal more about a student than original work.

Questions for Best American Short Stories Series Editor Heidi Pitlor

Each year's edition of the Best American Short Stories is edited by a prominent guest editor who makes the final selections for the collection--for 2007, it's Stephen King. But working alongside the guest editor is the series editor, who reads thousands and thousands of stories all year long and passes the best on to the guest editor. For years, Katrina Kenison held that one-of-a-kind role for the Best American Short Stories, but in 2007 she handed the reins over to Heidi Pitlor, a former editor at Houghton Mifflin and a novelist in her own right (her debut, The Birthdays, came out in 2006). We asked Pitlor a few questions about what many would consider a dream job. Congratulations: you now have one of those jobs that must make people say to you, "Oh my goodness, you just sit around reading stories all day! What a life!" Please dispel all relevant myths.

Pitlor: The key is to have young children. I have one-year-old twins, so I have yet to hear the question above.

I used to imagine Katrina Kenison, the former series editor, swinging in a hammock on a sunny day (there was always a hammock in my mind, and always sunshine), lost in her short stories, the twitter of birds somewhere nearby, a bonbon in her hand. I can assure you that none of the above applies to my day-to-day life--and I'm guessing it didn't apply to hers. Reading this volume of fiction requires intense concentration, large amounts of coffee, total quiet, a babysitter for my kids, and sadly, no bonbons, at least not on a regular basis. Still, I have no complaints. I do love my job and being able to read this much. Can you explain the process of selecting the best American short stories? What's your relationship as series editor with the year's guest editor (in this case, Stephen King)?

Pitlor: Magazines that publish fiction send copies to me. Literary journals, mainstream magazines, you name it. I probably receive three to four magazines a day. Typically, I read all of this fiction--more specifically, the short stories (no novel excerpts allowed) written by Americans or those who have made the United States their home. I choose 120 that I think are the best, and pass them along to the year's guest editor.

Stephen King wanted to read along with me, and so he went out and bought tons of magazines himself. We spoke quite often about what we'd read. But typically, I go off on my own for most of the year, pull the stories, and then work with the guest editor at the end of the year to help him or her choose the final twenty for the book. You're a novelist as well as an editor. How do you read all these different (or depressingly similar) voices every day and keep your own voice strong when you sit down to imagine your own work?

Pitlor: Good question! When I'm writing regularly--and I must admit that I need to get back to this--I try to write each day before I begin reading. Again, coffee plays a big role. I get up, take care of the twins for a few hours until the sitter comes, then take typically my third cup of coffee out to my office, which is above my garage. I write first, so that my mind is clear of other writers' voices. I try not to think too much when writing a first draft. For me, thinking sometimes leads to inadvertent stealing. If I'm trying to sort out some sort of puzzle in what I'm writing, it's too easy to remember another writer's approach to a similar one. If I can write a first draft quickly, I'm better off. In his introduction to this year's collection, King writes that many of this year's submissions felt like "copping-a-feel reading"--stories driven not by a need to be told, but the desire to show off for editors and other writers (rather than regular old readers). Did you have the same reaction? What was your sense of the year's reading?

Pitlor: I'll put it a different way than he did. I often felt that writers put on airs. To me, it's apparent when writers aren't being true to themselves, especially in their writing voice. I want to forget that I'm reading--unless being aware that I'm reading is exactly what the writer is after. But typically, I want to lose myself in the words, to forget that someone is behind them. I want to believe the characters more than that.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of stories that did feel true and urgent, that did take me out of myself for a brief while. Story writing seems to ride waves of influence, driven at various times by the models, say, of Updike or Barthelme or Carver. Is there a writer now who you feel is the most influential in the stories you read?

Pitlor: Carver still seems to be a big influence--I'm not sure his influence ever waned. Hemingway too, as well as Chekhov, Faulkner, Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Tim O'Brien. No one model comes to mind more than the others at this point. What story was your most exciting discovery of the year? (And did King like it too?)

Pitlor: There were many for both of us--this is the best part of the job. He and I frequently enthused to each other about this or that new writer. But also about great stories by more familiar writers--that can feel like a discovery too. I don't know, though--naming the most exciting writer feels a bit like admitting you have a favorite child.

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  • Good writing, uninspiring stories.
    From Amazon

    I had been a regular reader of the "Best American Short Stories" collections for years, until I finally decided that I was reading these stories more out of a force of habit than out of real interest. The stories were well written and all, but they lacked almost any imagination or spontaneity, and was very hard to relate to either the characters or the plot lines. This has been a trend in American writing for some time, where stories are all products of the same fiction workshop mentality. Even though they are written by vastly different writers and deal with distinct issues, just like the cafeteria food it all starts to taste the same after a while. With that in mind I was rather hopeful that for 2007 the editor of the collection was Stephen King, someone well outside of the academic fiction mainstream. I was hoping that his predilection for weird and unusual stories would shake up the short fiction scene, and infuse some freshness and rawness to this genre. However, to my dismay, this collection ended up being more or less the same as all of the previous ones. For the most part. There were a few stories that stuck out with their innovativeness and freshness, but for the most part writing, although stylistically impeccable, was uninteresting and dry. There were an unusual number of stories that deal with death and aging, and this might be what's on King's mind a lot these days. Or it might be the general property of American short fiction these days, and one might be tempted to read a lot into it, but that would make for a very boring story. The collection even contains a story about the unhappy life of a college professor - this theme, in my humble opinion, is by far the most overrated in all of literature. Lives of American college faculty are excruciatingly boring - and I say that as one of them. Sure, we do have a fair share of troubles and tribulations, but these are so insular and irrelevant to the world at large that it's hard to imagine anyone caring very deeply about them. As I said, the writing in these stories is impeccable and of rather high quality - indeed, probably the best that English language has to offer. If that is all you care about, then the stories in this collection are well worth the effort and time invested in reading them. I myself will probably go back to getting the subsequent editions of the "Best American Short Stories." However, if you want interesting stories that will keep you glued to the printed page and fascinated with their content, then you will have to look around on your own. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any reliable guide to direct you in that pursuit.

  • The best AND the worst!
    From Amazon

    I generally enjoy anthologies, it's rather like having someone come over and cook a surprise dinner for you using their taste and not yours. Of course whilst one may not be partial to the entrée or the soup, it is hoped that a feast can be had on the main course and dessert. That analogy provides a fitting introduction to this collection of short stories; that is to infer the entrée and soup were tasteless and thin. Thankfully the sorbet was sour and lively and lead us nicely on to a monumental feast. Fortunately being so full from the gluttony in the middle one hardly noticed the odd-tasting dessert tacked on the end. Something which the chef wasn't quite sure would work or not and when it wasn't quite ruined s/he decided to serve it up anyway in the home that no-one would notice. Sorry, we did! As hinted at in the title, this collection should perhaps be re-titled 'The best AND worst American short-stories', because ultimately that is what it is. Fortunately, however, there is more, much more in the way of the 'best' and only a smattering of the worst. If you divide the stories up into the good and the bad, I would only put four stories into the latter category; those being: i) Toga Party - John Barth ii) Pa's Darling - Louis Auchincloss iii) Solid Wood - Ann Beattie iv) Where Will You Go...? - William Gay In actuality, those four stories are utterly without merit and I shall not give over any more undeserved time trying to intellectualise and dissect what is essentially no more than bad writing. On the flipside of these absolute waste of paper and space, lies all the other sixteen stories - that is a pretty impressive average by anyone's reckoning and credit should be rightly served up at the respective tables of messes Pitlor and King for their superb editing skills and for possession of a long-lost attribute - taste. So to the winners. It is very hard to choose a top five, because the remaining sixteen were all either excellent, really excellent or middle-to-excellent, however, if I was pushed I would say my top five stories from this collection would be: i) Findings & Impressions - Stellar Kim ii) L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story - Lauren Groff iii) My Brother Eli - Joseph Epstein iv) The Bris - Eileen Pollack v) Dimension - Alice Munro To return back to the series and guest editors, and beyond them to the original editors and publishers of the magazines and journals that first published these stories I take my metaphorical hat off. I think that the breadth, depth and sheer quality of the writing contained in this anthology should be applauded. More than that, though, what it says about American publishing and American short-stories is that unlike the economy and the banking sector, the American Story is alive and well. And furthermore, unlike America's lost promise of democracy, its Literature is carrying the torch, forging ahead in the world and lighting the way; setting and maintaining the international standards it was once renowned for, the great American (literary) way, something which no other nation on earth can still come close to equalling. This collection gives us all hope that Literature and in particular the short-story is not lost, but alive and well and for that we should all rejoice.

  • Reading Club
    From Amazon

    I chair 2 reading clubs. We read the books out loud to each other and discuss them while reading the stories and afterward. The group has been meeting for a number of years. The two books you have asked me to rate - Best Short Stories 2007 and Stars of David are the two books we have been reading. I interchange the books with the groups. I have followed up on the Best Short Stories of 2007 with 2008 and there is no comparison in my mind. I did not suggest 2008 to the group but I personally have read 2007 3 times. First to assure that I would suggest it and then with group 1 followed by group 2. Each time there are facets and reactions from the group that add to the enjoyment. Both books have been received by the groups with enjoyment.

  • Fair
    From Amazon

    I'd say about 1/2 of the stories in this collection were any good. The other half were boring.

  • Purchased for a class
    From Amazon

    It was a good book for the class but I would not read it for fun. The stories were well written but not the type I would generally read.

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