October 2, 2009

Best Is Best, Right?


I finished the 2005 Best American Short Stories, as selected by Michael Chabon. A lot of the stories sucked. Not as bad as the Salman Rushdie edition, but I had a bit of a problem with the selection of stories seemed to be more about this genre-fiction chip Chabon has on his shoulder than picking the best ones. No way in hell that any of the 100 Distinguished stories in the back was less accomplished than that Cory Doctorow thing included in there. Shameful selection right there. I'll grant you, it was different with it's whole World of Warcraft kind of thing, but it was obvious and empty. Then again, published and prestigiously to wit, so, you know, I should take my unacademic complaints and shove off. There was a lot of good stories in there, too. Like that George Saunders one. That was a lot of fun.

Anyway, to make sure that I'll never get done reading, I bought the 2009 Best American today. I look inside and, surprise, no Alice Munro.

She's listed in the 100 distinguished stories, 3 times, but she's not in the stories. That's quite a surprise to me. Actually, there's not a lot of heavy hitters in the story selections at all this time. But, the first story is called "The Idiot President" and that damn well better have not been selected because of some simple anti-Bush feelings. I haven't read it yet, but I would just hate it if some other story that could have been there wasn't picked because Alice Sebold saw the title and thought, "Oh, Bush is stupid! Hooray!" and kept it in there. I'll report back after I read it and see what's really going on.

I know that there's probably all kinds of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing and worries over cost or whatever that goes into the final wheedling down of the yearly BASSes, but it's called the "best" stories. I hope hard-ons to prove something about genre worth or political "me-too"isms or whatever crap that has nothing to do with the actual quality or beauty of the fiction doesn't cloud the honoring of honestly brilliant work.

viva el mustache


Philly Baby said...

I've always wondered how wide the reading list is for the BASS. I understanf the Georgia Review and New Yorker and Ploughshares publish only foot-long-dicked writing and whatnot, but it seems hard to believe that these are the only places to find the best of the best. Double check the notes about where the stories were printed, I'm willing to bet 60% are from the New Yorker and GR. It seems hard to reason that other lit journals don't get consideration or if they do then nothing they print is as good as the heavy hitters.

Bryan said...

There's a big cross section of the kind of magazines they pluck from. A lot of them are from The New Yorker, Harpers, Atlantic Monthly (well, the fiction supplement they do twice a year), Paris Review. The big dicks, like you say.

But there's smaller mags, some that are mostly online (like Narrative Magazine). If you ever look in the back of the BASS, they list all the mags who send in stories to be included in the BASS search.

The way it works (from what I've read), Heidi Pitlior (I'm spelling her name wrong, but she's the series editor) skims through all of the stories published in those magazines. Probably reads just a paragraph, if that much, and weeds down from there.

She narrows the massive field down to 120 and passes them off to the guest editor, which was Alice Sebold this time. And then the 20 best are picked and reprinted, the other 100 get put into the "honor roll" in the back.