A few months ago I wrote an essay about my recent re-acquaintance with the local Public Library. Regular readers of Page & Spine may remember my poverty-propelled, prodigal-like return to The House of Free Books and Sauce-Stained Pages. I am happy to report that all fences have been mended. Mother institution and returning son are both doing fine. Actually, more than fine. You see, I’ve made a startling discovery: The American Short Story is alive and well, and living at the Plainville Public Library! I know, somebody cue the trumpeters and release the doves. The dark ages are over.
What I’m blathering about is a series of annuals published by the Houghton-Mifflin Company called—get this--The Best American Short Stories. Really! Puts a thump in your old thorax, don’t it?
Imagine my surprise when I came upon these unassuming, dimly-lit shelves lined with volume after volume of short stories in print. On paper. I didn’t know they did that anymore. Barnes & Noble never told me. Borders (RIP) never told me. Certainly Wal-Mart never told me. But short stories still get published. Anthologies of the best still find space on library shelves. And, according to the rubber stamps on the first pages, people (albeit a few) are still reading them. Yes, Virginia, there is a Granta Claus! Anyone else feel like this is an appropriate time for a tequila break? Cheers!
Okay, here’s the skinny. According to Houghton Mifflin Company, they’ve been publishing The Best American Short Stories annually since 1915. Are they all still in print? I don’t know. I’ll let you archeologists do the spade work. But the Plainville Public Library stocks them all the way back to 1965. That’s forty-eight beautiful little piggies in a line just begging to be picked up. Talk about your meat market!
But there’s more (isn’t there always?). Each year Houghton Mifflin Company enlists a guest editor to select the twenty or so stories for that particular collection. The 2005 edition, which I’m clutching in my white-gloved hand even as I type, was compiled by Michael Chabon. Yes, that Pulitzer-winning Michael Chabon. Other guest editors (since 1978) include Joyce Carol Oates, John Gardner, Anne Tyler, John Updike, Richard Ford, E. L. Doctorow, and a partridge in a pear tree, for heaven’s sake! No. I’m not hallucinating--not since that humiliating incident in the IHOP ladies room in Billings, Montana.
Folks, be honest. Did you already know about these treasures? Were you holding out on me, or what? Did I inadvertently insult your mother? Or is it possible that you, too, were unaware these marvels?
Picture it: The best short stories of the year as published by The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Salon.com, Harvard Review, (and more) in one tidy publication. Last week I breezed through The Best American Short Stories of 1997 (as edited by E. Annie Proulx), and by the time I was finished, I needed a cigarette … and a massage.
All kidding aside, my short story-loving friends, when you get tired of looking up skirts, look up these anthologies. If you’re rich enough, buy them. If you’re poor, borrow them. If you’re desperate, steal them. But don’t miss out. See for yourself how it’s done when it’s done well.
For those of you with slightly more specific tastes, Houghton Mifflin also compiles annuals of America’s Best Mysteries, Sports Writing, Essays, and more (there’s that ‘and more’ again).
Happy reading. And pass the tequila.
August 20, 2013, Elmore Leonard died today at 87 years old. He was one of the most prolific and versatile writers of the post WWII era.
While his Westerns and Historical novels and screenplays are noteworthy, Elmore Leonard was best known for his gritty, realistic neo-noir crime novels, including Stick, Get Shorty, and Riding the Rap. This writer will forever be in debt to the author who taught me about 'ear' and set the bar for writing natural, unencumbered dialogue--the bar I'll chase forever. LAH
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