Taken as a whole, these volumes offer about 1,400 pages of American supernatural literature in handsome and durable LoA bindings. If you like horror, and / or are an open-minded literary elitist, there is much to like here.
To reiterate, this is a horror anthology. Maybe 10% of the pieces herein are what may be called fantasy or SF, but even these are generally fairly somber and mature in their mood. No folktales, no Rip Van Winkle, no jumping frogs. Be sure you know what you are getting here.
What's not to like? Just a few items:
1. Editorial notes on content are non-existent. Compared to that other seminal horror anthology of a few decades back (Hartwell's Dark Descent) the Straub collection has little info on the stories herein or why the editor thinks they are worthy. We have basic author bios and that is about it. For the stories that are duds, we readers wonder why ol' Straubie included them, and for the selections included by the more prolific horror authors, we wonder why this piece and not XYZ instead? Understanding the mind of the editor in context is often what separates good anthologies from mediocre ones, and I am not sure if the decision to omit such notes altogether was Straub's decision or LoA policy. In any case, the absence of such text is the major deficiency of this set.
2. Explanatory notes are both too brief and not highlighted in the text. Want to know what that puzzling reference you just read means? Flip all the way to the back of the volume and scan through the page numbers. Find the number? Good, now you know. You didn't? Oh, well, turn back to the story and continue reading. This is standard with LoA volumes, as they evidently figure having note numbers or asterisks in the text (or footnotes) is somehow downscale. Not much explanation is needed for these tales, and this combined with the hit and miss method of notation means the reader will soon learn to ignore the existing endnotes altogether.
3. Minor works by big names. Oh, look, Tennessee Williams wrote a ghost story and Stephen Crane wrote about a canine psychopomp. Whoop de doo. These mediocre pieces are meant to defend the "ghetto" reputation of horror, but horror fans will care less about justification through inclusion of lame tales, and true snobs will not even be reading these volumes in the first place. Slight trifles by famous writers to prove some "cultural cringe" defense are pointless. To be fair, some of the stuff included here by the literati (e.g. Capote & Cheever) is actually excellent.
4. Present Imperfect - in Volume II, Straub arguably includes work by modern "serious" writers which is not especially good and which also slights excellent horror writes practicing in the same period. We get tales by Chabon and Saunders, but nothing by Laird Barron or Dennis Etchison. Yes, Mr. Barron has not been published in The New Yorker, but he is a serious and deeply talented author who is dedicated to the genre supposedly being exemplified by this collection. We also get some "postmodern" work in here by The New Eggheads of Horror, including what can charitably be called fragments by Kiernan & Vandermeer, and a whimsical (though likeable) surrealistic piece by Joe Hill. This stuff isn't terrible, but it means we are missing out on seeing excellent work from the 70s and 80s by more "genre" writers like Ed Bryant, Charles Grant, Karl Edward Wagner, Theodore Sturgeon etc. IMO Straub has made the mistake of thinking that recent quirky postmodern stuff is somehow representative of some massive advance in literature and has slighted the later 20th century in order to showcase 21st Century authors whom he personally knows and likes. As a result, New Yorker subscribers will be somewhat more pleased with Volume II than Datlow fans will.
Those are all my complaints and really they are just fully explained quibbles. A solid 75% of this material is excellent and fully gratifying and the remaining quarter is more subjective and some people may well adore the stories I don't like and / or may have been bored stiff by some of the pieces I would have liked to see included. This is the case with virtually any collection of stories.
For those who like their horror a bit more fully seated within the tradition and scope of the genre, you may prefer Hartwell's Dark Descent if you want to own only one comprehensive anthology. For those who are more experimental minded, and / or those who would consider owning more than one horror anthology, this is a great collection and a pleasant reading experience that will give you many hours of pleasure.