Adventures in Reading


Short Stories: Best American Short Stories 2008

The Best American Short Stories 2008 is a solid collection of well-crafted and thoughtful writing. I have been introduced to some new authors I will definitely be reading more from like: Kevin Brockmeier, Nicole Krauss, Alice Munro, Miroslav Penkov, and more. I’ve adored the contributor’s notes in the back (especially as it is so rare to have short story authors comment so intimately on individual stories), and have dutifully made copies of the 100 Other Great Stories of 2007 as well as the “addresses for American and Canadian magazines.”

This was my first experience reading the entirety of the collection and Heidi Pitlor’s and Salman Rushdie’s notes were promising in exploring new boundaries of “best” and “american” and “short” and “story.” Writing about the collecting process, Rushdie said:

“Old-fashioned naturalism was the dominant manner this year, and creative writingese, I have to say, was often in evidence. There were so many stories that were well observed, well crafted, full of well-honed phrases; so many rhythmic, allusive, technically sophisticated stories that knew when to leave matters unresolved and when it was right to bring events to a dramatic climax; so many stories that had everything one could wish for in a story…except for the sense that it had to be written, that it was necessary. This was what I had expected and perhaps feared: a widespread, humorless, bloodless competence.”

Leaving the collection, I cannot say that I was terribly moved or impressed, and perhaps it’s simply a difference in taste and judgment between Salman Rushdie and myself, but I felt his previous statement was an apt description of a fair few stories within the collection: “well observed, well crafted, […] well-honed phrases, […] rhythmic, allusive, technically sophisticated” but ultimately “bloodless.”

The collection as a whole is a safe collection that offers some textbook examples of short stories, and of course with a few exceptions as mentioned above. But it took me ages to get through the book, I most often didn’t feel engaged as a reader, and I even tried to pace myself – like a runner – to get as much impact as I could from each story.

I return to my previous comment that it “is a solid collection of well-crafted and thoughtful writing.” Some of my disappointment perhaps lingers from the editorial promise of something more daring, a little more adventurous. (Hell, the mention of flash fiction had me flipping pages!) This collection is a leisurely stroll when I had expected it to run.

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1 Comment

I agree–tried to read the collection last fall (I try to read every year’s collection, as I write short stories), and I simply couldn’t get engaged by many of these stories. They did feel strangely ‘bloodless’! And, yes, I thought Rushdie did hit on, in his intro, some of the very problems with the collection…

It has occurred to me in recent years that perhaps the training that so many (most?) story writers receive in MFA programs might somehow be creating a generation of highly competent, but oddly distanced young writers!

Comment by wellcraftedtoo




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