Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Alive and... Well, Alive

by Hannah

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!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hannah, as you know, I'm a huge Stephen King fan. When I learned at the release party for BASS 2006 that King would be editing, I couldn't imagine what he'd choose. Apparently, he chose well. BASS 2007 is on the NYT's bestseller list. As a short story reader, this is huge!


Lisa said...

Short stories are becoming a bigger and bigger part of my reading fare. But how to know which to read? Ha! This recommendation will help a lot. I'm a big SK fan too. I'm hoping to take a short story class sometime after the new year. The form intrigues me so much, but I've never quite understood it very well.

Therese said...

I love SK--was just telling Amy that I feel I'm a kindred spirit (but perhaps not quite as fond of the bodily function humor).

A friend alerted me to King's BASS-related essay in the NYT and I predicted King would single-handedly elevate this edition to the List!

As a writer who places high value on emotional responses to stories, I can't wait to see what this edition has in store for me.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I don't usually read these collections (which is odd, as I prefer writing short stories at the moment)--but this one sounds WONDERFUL and I am off to the NYT website to find SK's essay. I really like him (and his writing book is on my closest stack).

Thanks for writing about this!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I posted yesterday, but it didn't stick... love technology! Anyway, based on the next couple of selections I read, this book is a definite buy and keeper. Not enough time in the day for the writing energy it gives me to read these stories!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...
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