Tuesday, August 18, 2009


-The chase is better than the catch.

We’ll see about that. I am feeling pretty good with my catch.

The final book that completes my collection arrived from Better World Books.

They had mistakenly sent an incorrect book in my last order and after notifying them of their mistake, they responded with a very funny and clever email stating that they would rush the correct book to my address. Well, they followed through and that book arrived yesterday.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Introduction - Joyce Carol Oates

It is with pause that I begin writing about the introduction of the 1979 volume of BASS. Joyce Carol Oates causes me to settle back and really consider the words I want to use to begin describing my reading of this book. Because JCO ranks so high as an author for me, the level of intimidation I feel is pretty high.

I don’t think I need to go into much of an introduction on Oates as an author. Her reputation is well known, and there are plenty of resources out there for people to discover who she really is.

I do think that it would be interesting to know a little about Oates during the year that she was selected. Oates mentions her teaching at Princeton and her work on her latest novel “Bellefleur”. She also mentions several books she is reading, poems she is working on, dinners and bike rides. Here are a few mentions of her work on BASS from her Journal.

February 6, 1979 – Reading in the evenings, for The Best American Short Stories 1979...the finest story thus far is Bellow’s “A silver Dish”, a masterpiece, so powerful it left me somewhat upset for awhile afterward. (Thinking of death. Specific deaths, that is. Inevitable, terrible. That was the way he was, Bellow says, doubtless talking about his own father.)

February 10, 1979 ...Finished my selections for The Best American Short Stories 1979. Now to let the stories settle in my mind, and write the introduction in a week or two. A most challenging and pleasant and rewarding project. The Bellow story continues to stand out, and several others. Lovely, the “short story.” As divine a form as any other.

March 13, 1979...And to offset a possible attack of melancholy I began at once to work on the introduction to the Best American Short Stories 1979.(Of which I am halfway proud. And the stories-! The stories seem to me wonderful.)

I will now pull out several passages from the introduction that really hit me. I have found it interesting that in reading the introductions to the various volumes of BASS, most authors discuss the “state of the short story”. Oates addresses this as it was fashionable at the time, and is also prophetic because several of her fellow editors choose to do the same in later editions (See Stephen King BASS 2007).

Oates writes:

“And there is the matter, too, of subjectivity in selection – Shannon Ravenel’s and my own – for which we cannot apologize but about which, a little further on I will explain.”

I like that she addresses the subjectivity of selection.

“Some are quite clearly and forthrightly modest, excellent “minor” fiction- two or three (there could not be more, probably, in a given year) strike me as small masterpieces.”

Agreed. Only 2 or 3 are stories that will burn themselves into your mind.

“An anthology of the best fiction published in North America in any given year must be a kaleidoscopic affair...”

This is in line with my philosophy of how to view the world. As through a kaleidoscope! Makes things much more interesting.

“...an anthology that sets out to reprint representative work must be as various, as democratic, even as motley as possible – within the limits set, of course, by the standard of excellence claimed by the title.”

So the “Best American” title sets a pretty high standards bar. I can agree with that. I like that she sees the need to include “motley” stories in the collection.

“So much has been said in recent years about the function of art, particularly of fiction- that it should stand apart from society as a moral force, or that it should stand apart from society as an end in itself, with no moral function whatsoever – that I would like in this preface to make a statement, necessarily abbreviated, about the writer’s freedom; and I would like to present the stories I have selected as illustrations of the essential health and sound judgment that characterize the writer’s freedom.”

Bravo! The writer’s freedom. The writer can write what they wish, and it is up to the reader to read it or not. Absolutely wonderful. The moral lessons one learns or chooses to ignore that may or may not exist in fiction are up to the individual doing the reading. I think that the short story is a wonderful medium in a form of art that can be open to various interpretations. You don’t need the depth of a novel to struggle through. You have a dense packed knowledge cake. Let you mind eat it and see what energy is produced from its consumption.

“...-it seems to me self-evident that we are living in an era of particularly well crafted creative work, whether fiction or poetry. More good work is being done by more gifted writers than ever before.”

Yes, and I think that this is the same today.

“I now it is fashionable to lament the passing of a literate order...the malefic effect of the media and “eroding standards” in public schools...”

I think the “fashion” has worn off, and the reality is that there have been eroding standards in our society...our reality.

“Yet it has always seemed to me that such observations fail to take into consideration that the audience for serious literature at any given time has been fairly limited, and the audience for difficult literature has always been extremely limited.”

Today, (2009) the audience for difficult literature must be minuscule.

“Short fiction, in my opinion, can aspire to any condition whatsoever: as an editor of this volume, and as a chronic reader, I have no prejudices except that a story, as a construct of words, make some claim for uniqueness.”

I think that’s all we all want.

“When asked to speak in public about the short story, or about fiction in general, I often hear myself saying- if I have been unable to avoid the vaporous topic- that fiction, the story, all of art itself cannot be determined.”

“ Art is an expression of imaginative freedom, Not all artists, of course, enjoy freedom – not all artist are worthy of their art, in fact.”

“The short story, as it is one of the many manifestations of the human spirit, simply cannot be defined. Art is: it springs forth from the soul, usually in mysterious ways; and it addresses itself to an audience, sometimes in humility, very often in arrogance. Anyone who attempts to define art reveals himself first of all as lamentably conservative, and secondly as a critic or commentator rather than as an artist.”

My father would love the above statement. I have this thought that he has even said it before.

“Though I have set forth with apparent confidence and, I hope, with reasonable clarity, my standards in choosing these stories, I want to say too that I found the task challenging; it was no at all an easy one.”

“Ours is, doomsayers to the contrary, not only a highly literate age: it is also a highly literary age. More people are writing, and writing well, than ever before in our history, and there are simply not enough channels of publication open to them. When critics say smugly that the state of contemporary prose or poetry is poor, one really should challenge them to list the books and periodicals they have recently read.”

I must remember to do this – to think it – when I hear it.

“It is hoped that the reader, approaching this anthology, will honor the important differences between the writers by not reading the stories one after another as if the book were a novel. Run hurriedly together, the voices of Bellow and O’Connor and Virgo and Hurlbut and the rest will lose their distinctiveness, and consequently their art; and the reader will be cheated of the revelation each story offers. Properly executed, the act of reading is not only a creative act; it aspires to the condition of what might be called a mystic communion.”

What a wonderful instruction to give the reader. I’m so happy to see it written so early into my reading of the series. I wish that it could be printed in the introduction of each volume – to stress the importance of the differences.

Finally, the best quote from JCO that I have run across to address some of her writing. It is a quote that I will memorize for future use in defending her as well as defending some of my reading and writing. I will though ALWAYS credit her for the statement.

"When people say there is too much violence in Oates," she says, "what they are saying is there is too much reality in life."

From an Interview in 1980 published in the New York Times.


The Best American Short Stories 1979 ed. Joyce Carol Oates & Shannon Ravenel (Houghton Mifflin, 1979)

xi Introduction - Joyce Carol Oates - introduction

1 - A Silver Dish - Saul Bellow - New Yorker Sep 25 ’78

28 - An Exile in the East - Flannery O’Connor - South Carolina Review Nov ’78

39 - Home and Native Land - Seán Virgo - Malahat Review, 1978

44 - A Short Walk into Afternoon - Kaatje Hurlbut- The Southwest Review, 1978

56 - Shadrach - William Styron - Esquire Nov 21 ’78

79 - The Wedding Week - Rosellen Brown - Boston University Journal, 1978

84 - A Party in Miami Beach - Isaac Bashevis Singer - Playboy Jun ’78

97 - The Quail - Rolf Yngve - Quarterly West, 1978

102 - Some Manhattan in New England - Peter LaSalle - Georgia Review, 1978

115- Plaisir d’Amour - Lynne Sharon Schwartz - The Ontario Review, 1978

131 - Falling Off the Scaffold - Lyn Coffin - Michigan Quarterly Review Win ’78

150 - Spelling - Alice Munro - Weekend Magazine, 1978

157 - Seasons - Ruth McLaughlin - California Quarterly, 1978

167 - Living Alone - Robley Wilson, Jr. - Fiction International, 1978

172 - The Middle Place - Mary Hedin - The Southwest Review, 1978

184 - The Quarterback Speaks to His God Herbert Wilner · Esquire, 1978

206 - Trip in a Summer Dress - Annette Sanford - Prairie Schooner, 1978

214 - The Eye - Paul Bowles - The Missouri Review, 1978

222 - Paper Covers Rock - Jean Thompson - Mademoiselle, 1978

234 - The Missing Person - Maxine Kumin - TriQuarterly, 1978

243 - Finisterre - Louis D. Rubin, Jr. - The Southern Review, 1978

270 - A Lingering Death - Silvia Tennenbaum - Massachusetts Review, 1978

284 - Home Is the Hero - Bernard Malamud - Atlantic Monthly, 1978

312 - The New Music - Donald Barthelme - New Yorker, 1978

324 - Something That Happened Jayne Anne Phillips Gallimaufry, 1978

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Best American Short Story anthology of 1979.

Just as with the last volume, I’ll give you a little description of the book. It seems that I purchased this volume sometime in 2008. Probably around the same time as the 1978 volume. Most likely from Amazon. I don’t think I was ordering directly from the company ( Better World Books). The book is hardcover and a former library book. This gives further weight to the thought that it is from Better World.

It is in O.K. shape with a plastic dust cover. Opening it, there is the check-out card pocket with dates ranging from Jan 11, 1980 – the first check-out through July of 1990. There is also a UPC sticker attached above this pocket so it is impossible to know the circulation history past 1990...assuming that the UPC checkout system was implemented then.

Between the card and the UPC sticker is the black DISCARD stamp. And above and to the left of that is a green RETURN TO S.L.O. CITY LIBRARY which looks to cover a blue sticker of some sort...but the same shape and size as the green sticker.

S.L.O. Library - San Luis Obispo Library. San Luis Obispo is in California. Looks even distances between San Jose and L.A. This particular book, according to the stamps on the pocket circulated through several branches of the library.

It appears that the book started off at Cayucos Library in 1980 which is north of San Luis Obispo along the California coast.

It appears that the library sits about one block east of the Pacific Ocean.

From there it moves to San Miguel in 1982.

Makes its way over to the Simmler branch in 1983.

Takes a trip on the BookMobile in November of 1983.

Not sure where it lands then but the stamp has now turned green and circulates somewhere from Dec. 1983 – Nov. 1984.

Looks like it was moved to the Shell Beach branch in Dec. of 1984.

There is another stamp color change in ’85 and ’86 with no branch identified.

There is a South Bay branch stamp but it is unclear if the date is 1987 or 1990.

The final stamp does read CITY JUL 90. I take this to mean that it may have reached the main branch and this happens to be where the UPC may have been applied.

After that...circulation unknown. The book appears to be heavily circulated in 1980 with what looks to be 8 checkouts. Curiously there are 10 checkouts in 1984. Where was the book returned after it was taken from the Book Mobile in Nov. of ’83 and then checked out in Dec. of ’83.

Wherever it landed, the book became very active for a solid year.

It’s absolutely wonderful to think about where this book traveled and who read it. Couches, beds, desks and toilets. This book has seen it all. In circulation at least until the creation of Better World Books. I can’t thank enough the librarian that had the thought to donate this book to Better World Books.

So, here we are. The novel has finally ended up with me. I’ll have it for some time. I can’t imagine ever selling it or giving it away. Perhaps it’ll stay with me my entire life. Because it is now part of a collection, that collection secures it’s home with me for an extended period of time.

I look forward to reading it. Joyce Carol Oates is the volume editor and I because she is one of my favorite (out of only a few), I can’t imagine that she would or evn could pick a story that I won’t like. Pretty prejudiced already huh?

No, I’m not naïve enough to think that there wouldn’t be a few in there that just wouldn’t measure up...I just feel that she will do a better job than Solotaroff (had to get one last jab in there).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Done – Finally!

15 months...or close to it. That’s how long it took me to get through this single volume.

Reading and posting. How am do I expect myself to get through 30 more years (volumes)?

Time for some math.

Let’s say that there is an average of 17 stories per volume.

17 times 30 equal 510.

510 more stories...today.

Now, let’s say it took me 450 days (15 months) to read one volume.

That is an average of one story every 26.4 days.

So, if we apply my reading habits to future readings, that means it will take me 13,464 days or 36 years to finish just the volumes up to 2009.

Now, if we add 36 years to 2009 (to determine the year that I would finish) that would be 2045.

That means I would be 73 years old when I finish the series up to 2009.

Now, this does not include the years that will arrive while I am reading.

Those would be the years 2010 – 2045.

Another 35 volumes.

Another 595 stories...another 15,708 days or 43 years just to get me to 2045...when I am 73.

I suppose I had better get my ass in gear and read more than one story every 26.4 days. It’s going to be a marathon. I’m up for it. Reading forever!

Weird coincidence I noticed.

I was in my 36th year of life as I read the BASS for 1978. The same number of years it would take me to finish all the volumes up to 2009. –Huh-

That kinda freaks me out.

I think it means something.

Overall impressions of Best American Short Stories 1978.

I entered into this first volume with such excitement. I saw unknown authors and a couple that were familiar. I was ready to tackle this volume and blast through it while making updates to this journal.

My expectations were shot down early. They began with my problems with Solotaroff. The degree of the problem is evident in the number of times I mentioned his name...and not in praise. Through the whole reading, I just couldn’t get away from him. He left too much of an imprint on the volume rather than the authors contained. It’s their volume not his. Did he ruin it for me?


The experience is what I treasured. What the stories allowed me to discover and think about. So, in a way, they accomplished their objective. They gave me something. Maybe not what they intended...but something.

Time to put 1978 to bed. He will line up to the rest of the volumes and be pulled from time to time as reference. It was a tough 15 months.

I can only hope and work hard to get through 1979.

Please Joyce Carol Oates...give me something to fly through...I trust your judgment!

Staus – Mary Ann Malinchak Rishel

Mary Ann Malinchak Rishel – 1940 –

Researching Mary Ann, and I have found once again how the past is drawing a dotted line to the present. It’s a faint dotted line and one that I really can’t describe.

Mary Ann is a writing teacher in Qatar. She teaches for the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. The photo above shows her has a happy rather youthful looking woman. I’m glad to see that. When I think back to 1978, I sometimes feel as if that time existed in another life. I was 6, and she was probably in her mid 20’s. Seeing where she is now and knowing what she is doing and apparently enjoying herself gives me fresh fuel to add to the fire of the possibilities that still exist in my own life.

The story Staus was one story of 12 that Mary Ann composed as her MFA thesis at Cornell. It was published in The Hudson Review, and pick up by Solotaroff. Further research also states that the story was made into a 10 part television mini-series...this according to the Slovak Studies Newsletter of June 1983.

It was an entertaining story...long, and a struggle for me to get through only because I had to read it in several sittings due to my inability to settle into a time slot for completing it in one session. I don’t think though that splitting the reading had any effect on what I thought of the story/writing.

I am too easily moved by stories and passages about elderly people who are left alone by the death of their spouse. I often place myself into their character and wonder about my future and if it will hold similar situations for me or mine. Do I want to be the one doing the grieving or the one that is grieved over?

I find myself thinking of this rather often.

Overall, I enjoyed the writing and the story of Staus. I read it as it being the future of “everyman”. Tending the grave of the deceased wife, living on, dealing with relatives and the internal conversations one has with oneself after the loss of your external ear (wife). The cultural atmosphere of the story should not be overlooked. I enjoyed seeing some parallels between the story’s and where I have lived.

Score 8 out of 10.