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The Best American Short Stories (Best American Series) Paperback – 10 Oct 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 428 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Trade); First Printing edition (10 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618713484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618713486
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.9 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 495,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

Presents a collection of stories selected from magazines in the United States and Canada, including such notable authors as Richard Russo, John Barth, Alice Munro, T. C. Boyle, Louis Auchincloss, and Kate Walbert.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ARWoollock on 30 Jun 2009
Format: Paperback
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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Jun 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 41 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Worth it for the King essay alone... 12 Feb 2008
By JR Pinto - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm a HUGE Stephen King fan. Always have been, always will be. I am also a fan of The Best American series. So, when I discovered that King was the editor of this year's Best American Short Stories, I was duly excited. (Of course, I had to remind myself that he didn't actually write these stories.) Therefore, I was disheartened when a friend whose opinion I value had no interest in this year's collection because she "hates Stephen King." Now, I know she meant his writing - or, more accurately, genre writing (as opposed to literary fiction) because I don't think she's ever actually read anything by King - but how should that reflect on his ability to edit a short story collection.

Well, Stephen King is an excellent editor. One of the things I love about him is that he understands why people read. Therefore, he understands what is wrong with the American short story these days. Writers "write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines...not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn't real reading...In 2006 I read scores of stories that felt...airless, somehow...written for editors and teachers rather than for readers." Beautiful - couldn't have said it better myself. (And King says it better in the book - notice all those ellipses?)

The stories in this collection were written for the reader. All collections such as these are somewhat arbitrary. You might have a different list of stories that you loved. Yet many of these stories - "Balto," "The Toga Party," "Eleanor's Music," and others - achieve greatness. They stick in your mind long after you've read them. With the modern American short story, I too often find myself asking: "Didn't I read this one already?"
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Good writing, uninspiring stories. 5 Oct 2009
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Solid Themes Keep the Series at a Top Level 3 Dec 2007
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While not all stories will please everyone, the 2007 edition has some strong stories. Here is a brief breakdown of some highlights:

1. T.C. Boyle "Balto": A teenage girl must choose between speaking the truth and defending her alcoholic emotionally-arrested father in a tale that recalls Faulkner's "Barn Burning."

2. Joseph Epstein "My Brother Eli": Epstein poses the question does the artist enjoy higher privileges than the rest of us in a story that must be about Saul Bellow.

3. Stellar Kim "Findings & Impressions" A widowed father, also a radiologist, meets a breast cancer patient who makes him confront love, death, and loss in a non-sentimental, moving portrait. The story recalls Thom Jones' "I Want to Live."

4. Aryn Kyle "Allegiance" An elementary school girl learns how desperate we all are to conform and belong to the group in a story that focuses on the social politics of grade school.

5. Alice Munro "Dimension" An abused woman can't break the bond between her and her murderer-husband in a tale of self-abnegation that reminds me of a Joyce Carol Oates essay "They All Just Went Away."

6. Karen Russell. "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves": Wolf-girls are raised by nuns and learn that price one must pay to "become civilized."

7. Richard Russo. "Horseman": A middle-aged lit professor is revealed as a fraud and a cipher with nothing to show for her scholarship other than her blind ambition.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The American Short Story Lives? 27 July 2008
By CV Rick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What I thought I would get with this edition of The Best American Short Stories, guest edited by Stephen King, was a look into the stories that inspire Mr. King. In the introduction he claims, "There isn't a single one in this book that didn't delight me, that didn't make me want to crow 'Oh man, you gotta read this!' to someone." While there were some very good stories in here, there were also some that made me shrug and wonder how many pages remained to the next story.

In his introduction, Mr. King does talk about the declining readership and dwindling markets for short fiction. I believe the short story's days are numbered and well not quite as pessimistic he does talk about how hard it is to find short story magazines in bookstores and how difficult it is to get motivated to write for a dwindling audience and how many stories out there seem to be designed to be in the mold of previously published stories rather than are excited page-turners. He's right - the market is incestuous enough that the readers are the writers who want to be read - by other writers.

There were some highlights in the volume -

My Brother Eli by Joseph Epstein - Eli was a famous writer, a self-centered wrecking ball who destroyed lives. His older brother recounts Eli's life and contemplates the question, do artists have special license for bad behavior.

L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story by Lauren Groff - this story was truly beautiful. A polio victim falls in love with her swimming instructor, a former Olympic medalist. It's set among the class disparity and political turmoil of 1918.

Wait by Roy Kesey - this is a fantastical story of the terrors of humanity brought to the microcosm of a group waiting for a much delayed plane flight out of a war-torn country. The satire makes it fun.

The Boy in Zaquitos by Bruce McAllister - my favorite story of the book and not surprisingly it was originally published in the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This story is told about a boy who was used by the government to spread a deadly disease through other countries.

Sans Farine by Jim Shepard - A crushingly emotional story about the man who was the executioner during the French Revolution. The ending wasn't a surprise but the journey was wrenching nonetheless.

Most people's favorite seems to be T.C. Boyle's Balto. It's a very good story but seemed mechanical to me.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction by Stephen King
Louis Auchincloss - Pa's Darling
John Barth - Toga Party
Ann Beattie - Solid Wood
T.C. Boyle - Balto
Randy DeVita - Riding the Doghouse
Joseph Epstein - My Brother Eli
William Gay - Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?
Mary Gordon - Eleanor's Music
Lauren Groff - L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story
Beverly Jensen - Wake
Roy Kesey - Wait
Stellar Kim - Findings & Impressions
Aryn Kyle - Allegiance
Bruce McAllister - The Boy in Zaquitos
Alice Munro - Dimension
Eileen Pollack - The Bris
Karen Russell - St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Richard Russo - Horseman
Jim Shepard - Sans Farine
Kate Walbert - Do Something

- CV Rick, July 2008
45 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Overhyped 19 Nov 2007
By Anita Gelbart - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the introduction to this book Stephen King writes that every story makes him want to crow: "Oh man, you've got to read this." He sets the bar too high. I only found four stories that I would describe as "Oh man you've got to read this." In addition there were nine worth reading (some barely so), and six that just wasted my time. All of the writing was good though I discovered questionable punctuation, overused similes, similes that didn't make a bit of sense, and even some bad grammar. Reportedly, editors of literary magazines are super picky and use the slightest excuse to reject a manuscript. Obviously, established well known writers get a pass.

Here's my report card for every single story in the book rated from best to worst. The A's can be described as "Oh man, you've got to read this." The B's are worth reading. The C's and below were a waste of my time.

"L. Debard and Aliette: A Love Story" by Lauren Groff. Grade-A A bizarre love story circa the flu epidemic of 1918. It's enjoyably twisted and includes a castration scene.

"The Bris" by Eileen Pollack Grade-A A dying man wants to be circumcised on his death bed so he can be buried next to his wife. A realistic look at how anal some orthodox rabbis can be. Also, the story has some depth.

"Findings and Impressions" by Stellar Kim Grade-A Strong story about a dying woman and a radiologist who can't endure losing another loved one.

"Balto" by T.C. Boyle Grade-A A drunk fails as a parent. The final courtroom scene is the perfect ending.

"Sans Farin" by Jim Shepherd Grade-A An executioner during the French Revolution can't escape his profession.

"Allegiance" by Aryn Kyle Grade-B+ An interesting tale about a child choosing sides both on the playground and between parents suffering marital difficulties.

"The Boy in Zaquitos" by Bruce McCallister Grade-B+ This is all about the moral dilemma of collateral damage. Should be a must read for strategic bomber pilots.

"Where Will You Go When Your Skin Can Not Contain You" by William Gay Grade-B Interesting writing style used to reveal a man's feelings over the tragic murder of a loved one.

"Riding the Doghouse" by Randy Devita Grade-B A boy recounts dealing with his father's mortality.

"St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" by Karen Russell Grade-B As the title indicates, it's a convent where werewolves are trained to be human.

"Toga Party" by John Barth Grade-B- Imagine a toga party in a retirement community. The ending fit the story but I still didn't like it.

"Pa's Darling" by Louis Auchingloss Grade-B- A woman hated her dead overbearing father. Big deal.

"Do Something" by Kate Walbert Grade-B- I liked the story and the message, but it was too vague and was plagued with poorly constructed sentences.

"Horseman" by Richard Russo Grade-B- Good character development but I don't think the emotional handwringing of an academic over whether her work is inspired enough makes for a compelling story.

"Eleanor's Music" by Mary Gordon Grade-C The reader could skip long passages of this story and not miss anything.

"Wake" by Beverly Jensen Grade-C A brother and sister lose their father's coffin on a train in a blizzard. It's good honest writing but a bore nonetheless.

"Dimension" by Alice Munro Grade-C A woman copes with life after her husband murders their children. I don't understand why Alice Munro is so popular with literary magazine editors. She's long-winded, rambling, predictable, and has a penchant for too much telling rather than showing. She's wildly overrated.

"My Brother Eli" by Joseph Eptstein Grade-F The story is nothing more than a character sketch and everything the reader knows about Eli is evident after five pages. Unfortunately, the sketch drones on for twenty-eight pages.

"Solid Wood" by Anne Beattie Grade-F A pointless vignette. I wouldn't even classify it as a story.

"Wait" by Roy Kesey Grade F I'll just say it wasn't my cup of tea.

This year's best probably didn't include the best short stories published, but it is representative of what a reader will find in the average literary magazine these days: the excellent, the good, and the terrible meandering drivel.

For readers who buy anything with Stephen King's name slapped on the cover there are stories here that clearly have his fingerprints on the selection: "Riding the Doghouse," "L. Debard and Aliette," "Sans Farin," "The Boy in Zaquitos,"and "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves."

I am Mark Gelbart, author of Talk Radio, the book feared by radio talk show hosts, and author of the amazon short, "The Executioner's Store."

Both available here.
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