Stephen King's forward to The Best American Short Stories, as reprinted in this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review is indeed worth reading all on its own. It is a mini State-of-the-Craft, and not just short stories. Talk about getting the juices flowing: the man flings a large gauntlet in the best possible way.
How did short stories end up on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack, way in the back of the store? And for whom, exactly, are short stories written? (Aha, say those of you who have been to this blog of late -- our very question, turned on its head!)
A small percentage, it turns out, are still written for the reader -- not editors or teachers -- which is, of course, the whole point of this series. This year's edition, again, takes the best of the best from their dimly lit, far-too-neat racks and sets them on the big shelf , front and center.
Series editor Heidi Pitlor does an unbelievable job culling down the thousands -- up to four thousand a year! -- to find 120 or so for the guest editor. Unable to neatly categorize what she finds worthy, she can only say in her own wonderful introduction that she is "drawn to stories that transcended something." You know it when you see it.
This year, guest editor Stephen King read along with her from start to finish, and twenty stories made him "want to crow 'Oh man, you gotta read this!'" When Stephen King says that, watch out. I started with one by Jim Shepard described as "all-out emotionally assaultive," and let me tell you, you do know it when you see it.
I will not presume to say it better than King, so I won't: "Talent can't help itself; it roars along in fair weather or foul, not sparing the fireworks. It gets emotional. It struts its stuff. In fact, that's its job." Run, now, to your local bookstore, then get back to that typewriter and roll!