BookBin2011: The Best American Short Stories 2001

Before you even ask, yes, I received this short story collection the year it came out. And, yes, it’s been sitting, untouched and unloved, on my shelf ever since. It’s been on my shelf so long, in fact, that the spine’s bright yellow coloring has actually faded.

I see this particular series of books all the time in bookstores—there are several different variations, in fact—but I’ve never bought or borrowed one before. This one came to me as a gift from a friend whose daughter received it as part of her orientation from my college alma mater.

[Loba Tangent 1: I always found this strange and slightly amusing. They gave a group of science major-y nerds a collection of short stories but didn’t extend a similar courtesy to us English major dorks. Maybe they figured we were already in it to win it, so they didn’t need to make sure we were getting our fill of “pleasure” reading?]

It’s not that the stories in this collection were terrible. It’s just that they were…well, kind of like a random group of people whom you’re certain are quite lovely in their own rights but share absolutely nothing in common with you and simply aren’t the types of people you’d choose to be your friends. I’m sure you all know people like that. They’re usually called coworkers.

[Loba Tangent 2: Oh, Loba just stuck her paw in it with that one, didn’t she? Loba would like to state here that she does, in fact, work with lovely people, several of whom she considers to be very close friends (including the one who gave her this collection). Honest. Now, as to whether or not they consider her a friend is a completely different question…]

[Loba Tangent 3: I have no idea why I wrote about myself in the third person on that last tangent.]

I think the main problem with these short stories is that they are the “best” as filtered through the subjective eyes of the guest editor—in this case, Barbara Kingsolver. I’m familiar only with Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which I thought was remarkable when I read it many, many moons ago. She showed quite a fascination with, among other things, the collision of Western culture with foreign ones. This fact is reflected many times over in several of the selections she made for this collection. However, what worked so well in her narrative oftentimes left me feeling disinterested when from these other writers. I feel I should confess to you now, denizens, that there were a couple of short stories that I simply gave up on because they threatened to bore me into a state of literary catatonia.

For what it’s worth, here is a list of the stories included in this collection:

  • “Servants of the Map” by Andrea Barrett
  • “The Fireman” by Rick Bass
  • “Think of England” by Peter Ho Davies
  • “Labors of the Heart” by Claire Davis
  • “The Mourning Door” by Elizabeth Graver
  • “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town” by Ha Jin
  • “Brothers and Sisters Around the World” by Andrea Lee
  • “Boys” by Rick Moody
  • “Rug Weaver” by Barbara Klein Moss
  • “Post and Beam” by Alice Munro
  • “The Raft” by Peter Orner
  • “Betty Hutton” by Roy Parvin
  • “Illumination” by Nancy Reisman
  • “The Secrets of Bats” by Jess Row
  • “Nobody Listens When I Talk” by Annette Sanford
  • “My Mother’s Garden” by Katherine Shonk
  • “What I Saw From Where I Stood” by Marisa Silver
  • “The Apple Tree” by Trevanian
  • “Personal Archeology” by John Updike
  • “My Baby…” by Dorothy West

Sadly, there are several stories on this list that made such little impact on me that I can’t even remember what they were about based solely on their titles. I really hate that I’m writing this, because I am an avid supporter of the short story as a literary form. This is simply the wrong collection of short stories for me, based on my literary preferences. I will say, however, that the standouts from this list were Rick Moody’s “Boys,” Nancy Reisman’s “Illumination,” Jess Row’s “The Secrets of Bats,” Katherine Shonk’s “My Mother’s Garden,” and Marisa Silver’s “What I Saw From Where I Stood.”

Final Verdict: I must release this collection. It deserves to find a home with someone who will appreciate it in its entirety, and that someone is apparently not me. I may, however, give one of the other collections from this series a try. I understand that Stephen King was a guest editor on one collection.