Thursday, April 22, 2010

Introduction – Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler - October 25, 1941

On my first pass of the Introduction, I found it rather...well...bland. So, what I’ll do now is sit the book beside me, and re-read it and pull out some lines which should be reconsidered as they can’t be called “bland”.

...”Why is it, then, that so many short stories lose their bloom in the time it takes me to store a magazine on my closet shelf? Why is it that some few do not? What makes those few any different?

Well, this is the year I found out, more or less.”

About Shannon Ravenel and her reading for The Best American Short Stories 1983 –

(Ravenel)...”read 1379 stories published in 502 issues of 154 different magazines.”

On her own selection of some of the stories to fill BASS 1983

“For one whole afternoon, I sat in the middle of a rug and rearranged tear sheets around me like so many parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Then I went off and left them. Some stories I noticed, hung on in my mind while I was busy with other tasks. Some evaporated. Some I returned to the following day and found, when I picked them up, that they sprang back whole into my memory, all of a piece, as if carved from a single block. Those were the real successes.”

And then this important line –

“Well, in the long run, this much emerged:

It seems to me that almost every really lasting story – almost, you notice- contains at least one moment of stillness that serves as a kind of pivot.”


“All really satisfying stories, I believe, can generally be described as spendthrift.”


“A spendthrift story has a strange way of seeming bigger than the sum of its part; it is stuffed full; it gives a sense of possessing further information that could be divulged if called for. Even the sparest in style implies a torrent of additional details barely suppressed, bursting through the seams.”

On the magazines the stories came from –

“I would have preferred for these twenty stories to represent twenty different magazines. It didn’t happen that way. The fact is that more good writers seem to be sending The New Yorker more good work than they send to other periodicals, and it would be unfair to all of us if I pretend otherwise. It does please me to see that without trying to, I have arrived at a fairly even balance between the sexes – nine selections by men, eleven by women – and at least half of the writers are relatively unknown.”

Are writers sending the New Yorker “more good work”, or are the writers sending the New Yorker the New Yorker style of an attempt to “be published”

Ahhh yes, that old question again.

So we go from Gardner in the previous collection, who pulled from obscure publications, to Tyler picking 8 stories from the New Yorker.

Finally –

“I like to imagine that if you set this book on a table, it would almost bounce; it would almost shout.”

About the stories –

“I am proud of them, and I am grateful to the writers who created them.”

-Anne Tyler won the Pulitzer Prize, 1989, for Breathing Lessons. Here is another case where Ravenel picks a great editor.

The relationship between the two seemed to have lasted.

WHILE ALGONQUIN Books' recently issued New Stories from the South marks the 10th anniversary of the series edited by Shannon Ravenel, the house is holding off its celebration until next April. That's when it publishes The Best of a Decade of Shannon Ravenel's New Stories from the South. And this time around, the editor is not editorial director Ravenel but Baltimore-based author Anne Tyler. And therein lies a tale.

The duo developed a close working relationship when Tyler was guest editor for the 1983 Best American Short Stories;, Ravenel edited the series, published by Houghton Mifflin, for 12 years. "I used to entertain myself by making a straw vote of the stories I would select if I were guest editor," Ravenel recalls. "Usually I was far off their selections. But with Anne Tyler I missed by only one story, so I just fell in love with her. And we really did enjoy working together, although I don't think we ever spoke by phone. Neither have we ever met in person. She's a very private person."

Summer, Bob. "Algonquin's short stories: guess." Publishers Weekly 2 Oct. 1995

And in closing a little bit about the personal qualities of Tyler that might give us an insight into the stories she picked.

Despite her status as a best-selling novelist, Anne Tyler remains a private person who rarely lets public demands interfere with her family life. She shuns most interviews, avoids talk show appearances, and prefers her home in Baltimore, Maryland, to New York City. As the author explained in an e-mail correspondence with Alden Mudge for BookPage online: "I'm too shy for personal appearances, and I've found out that anytime I talk about my writing, I can't do any writing for many weeks afterward." In a body of work that spans over four decades, Tyler has earned what former Detroit News reporter Bruce Cook called "a solid literary reputation ... that is based solely on the quality of her books."

"Anne Tyler." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Apr. 2010.

I am really looking forward to these stories. Once again, the wonderful thing about these collections is that every year, the reader is treated to a new guiding hand. Someone to lead you down the paths created by the best writers our country has to offer.

The Best American Short Stories 1983 Anne Tyler & Shannon Ravenel

There really isn’t too much to say about the physical make-up of this book so I’ll just combine the Contents post with the Description post.

I can’t recall where exactly this edition of the BASS came from. I could very well be from Better World Books but I’m not 100% sure.

This was not a former library book but there are some small clues as to who the previous own was. I’m almost certain that this book belonged to an individual.

A short story writer.

If you look at this photo, you will see some marks next to some addresses of literary magazines.

I can only suppose that the previous owner of this book intended to contact these magazines.

Of course, there are many other possibilities, but this seems to me to be the most obvious.

The book physically:

The book spent a good amount of time on a bookshelf. The cover is pink, but the spine is gray – obvious sun bleaching.

This is the first paperback BASS that I will be reading in this project. I have some more further down the road.

The glue has failed in some areas, and a few pages are coming loose. I suspect that I I read, and flip through the pages, more will come unglued making for a mess book in the end.

I think that covers everything. Onto the reading!

Contents -

xi Introduction - Anne Tyler

1 Hard to Be Good - Bill Barich - New Yorker Dec 20 ’82
25 The Dignity of Life - Carol Bly - Ploughshares, 1982
48 A Change of Season - James Bond - Epoch, 1982
68 Where I’m Calling From - Raymond Carver - New Yorker Mar 15 ’82
84 “Ollie, Oh...” - Carolyn Chute - Ploughshares, 1982
99 My Mistress - Laurie Colwin - Playboy Mar ’82
117 The Count and the Princess - Joseph Epstein - The
Hudson Review Spr ’82
141 Scales - Louise Erdrich - North American Review, 1982
155 The Professor’s Houses - Ursula K. Le Guin - New Yorker Nov 1 ’82
161 Sur - Ursula K. Le Guin - New Yorker Feb 1 ’82
178 Graveyard Day - Bobbie Ann Mason - Ascent, 1982
191 Victrola - Wright Morris - New Yorker Apr 12 ’82
201 Reunion - Julie Schumacher -
California Quarterly, 1982
210 Best Quality Glass Company,
New York - Sharon Sheehe Stark Prairie Schooner, 1982
Colorado - Robert Taylor, Jr. - The Ohio Review, 1982
236 Starlight - Marian Thurm - New Yorker May 10 ’82
249 Deaths of Distant Friends - John Updike - New Yorker Jun 7 ’82
Reunion - Guy Vanderhaeghe - Saturday Night, 1982
269 Beebee - Diane Vreuls - Shenandoah, 1982
285 Firstborn - Larry Woiwode - New Yorker Nov 22 ’82

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Best American Short Stories 1982 - Completed!

I've been waiting a long time to write this.

I have had a real strange relationship with “The Best American Short Stories” 1982.

First, I should start of and admit that I had more than just a casual interest in John Gardner.

Before I even picked up 1982, Gardner interested me.

His introduction pulled me in. The fact that he was going to exclude “New Yorker” type of stories and give me some real meat – excited me.

What caused me some worry was his admission that the selection was made by several people – not just him, and that he had done it in haste. I was worried because sometimes when people are on a deadline, they get sloppy...or lazy.

Well, I think there was some sloppiness here. There were 20 stories in this anthology. Five of those stories were “Gardner People” – and I think that Oates could be considered number 6 because of their friendship.

Here is where he stacked them – and if you are interested in seeing the relationship the author and Gardner shared, I invite you to read the posts I made on each.

Raymond Carver – First position

Joanna Higgins – Third position

Charles Johnson – Sixth position

Joyce Renwick – Eighth position

Roberta Gupta – Tenth position

Oates??? – Twentith position

So, we see that the first half of the book – ½ of the ten stories – have a pretty clear connection to Gardner. Not one of the authors (excluding Oates) after Gupta had any relationship with Gardner that I could discover.

I’d also like to point out again that the order of the stories is not alphabetical. I would assume that Gardner “requested” that the stories be placed in this order. Perhaps he felt that readers would at least make it through the first half of the book before abandoning it therefore guaranteeing that his people would be read.

So – is there something “wrong” with a literary heavyweight like Gardner stacking his “people” towards the front of the book?

The casual reader in 1982 would have no idea of the relationship that Gardner had with these 6 authors. It is only now, today, that I was able to draw the connections that I did.

I wouldn’t doubt that there were others in the American/New York literary community that knew of the relationships. I’m sure Ravenel knew of the relationships.

Did Ravenel abandon any sort of conflict with Gardner due to deadline? Did she not fight him because she knew that engaging him would be a bloody battle?

I do wish to find out the answer to this...someday.

Personally, I get a dirty feeling knowing that Gardner put his people up front.

If I were an author and I had a relationship with another author who had the reputation and influence as Gardner had, would I want him to place my work just as he did for these authors?


-Simple enough.

So, why do I feel bad about what he did?

Well, I fall back again on that feeling of sloppiness and laziness that I mentioned above.

I just wish that he invested the time and energy that he put into his other efforts – into this book.

Gardner was always looking to help out his friends.

It looks like he did just that before he died.

I have no doubt the authors that were “Gardner People” included in this anthology would have been successful without being included here.

At least that what I tell myself. At least that’s what I hope.

It would be giving Gardner a bit too much power.

Gardener died in September of 1982. He laid his Harley down on a familiar road in Pennsylvania.

The first reviews of “The Best American Short Stories” 1982 were published in November and October of that same year. It was said that the selections he made was one of the last literary works he “produced”.

I like Gardner – but I don’t like what he did in BASS 1982. I do like the stories he picked...but I don’t like knowing the back story behind the authors.

Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology. If you look at the time I have spent with it, it is clear that I don’t want to part with him.

I won’t have the same relationship I’ve had with him over these weeks.

Here are some numbers.

I posted my first entry about the collection on February 25.

I am post my last on April 16.

That works out to the following:

1 month 22 days


7 weeks 1 day


50 days


1,200 hours.

There were 20 stories and that works out to one story every 2.5 days.

Gender split was 10 male and 10 female – hummm...suspicious.

Magazine representation – completely opposite from the last BASS – Only one story from The New Yorker - Two selections from MSS (Gardner’s Magazine) and the rest of the stories are from a nice wide variety of little magazines.

My favorite – “Dancing Ducks”

Least Favorite – tough because I really liked them all - but if forced to choose, “Exchange Value”.

I’ll hold on to John Gardner a little longer.

I borrowed the book “The Art of Fiction” and am currently reading “Conversations with John Gardner” (yea!!! Inter-library loan).

Well- so long – I'll miss you.

Theft – Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates - June 16, 1938

Oates delivers once again. From my online searching, it seems that this particular story is pretty popular with educators.

So, knowing that – if you are a student looking for an essay discussing “Theft”, I’m sorry, I can’t help you here.

I’d like to comment on the photo I decided to include with this post. The photos I like to include on my posts tend to be in black and white. When I find an image of an author, and I decide to include it and it’s in color, I will purposely change it to black and white. I don’t like the distraction that the color photo has at the beginning of the entry. There are only a few color photos, and of course, the whole entry I devoted to JCO, had a color photo of her.

I decided on the above photo for several reasons.

I think that this photo is about as close as I can get to the age that JCO was as the main character in “Theft”. I also notice a few things that seem to me uncharacteristic of Oates in the photo.

Her hair has obviously been colored. If not, that is the shiniest natural black hair I have ever seen.

She has paid close attention to the tweezing of her eyebrows – her already large eyes are even more accentuated – she appears to have even applied eyeliner to her top lid.

She has decided on a vivid red color of lipstick which really draws out her lips against what has to be a solid cover of foundation over her entire face. We know the underlying reasons why bright RED, WET, SHINY lips look good to men.

*(side note – I’m married, my wife uses cosmetics and as a man, I was curious as to what each did for the wearer and what sort of usefulness they have in accentuating the beauty of a woman – this is the only explanation I can offer as to why I know about the makeup.)

A silver bracelet on her left wrist, silver and pearl (rather large) earrings and finally a gold ring with what appears to be a red stone.

A rather bland yellowish sweater is the only piece of clothing visible and does a fine job of not being too distracting.

I wonder how she felt for this photo shoot. I wonder how she felt about her beauty. She was educated enough to know the power she had as a woman, and I wonder how well she chose to use it navigating though the landscape she was on- in her life.

As a young woman, I think Oates was rather pretty. She really must have turned some heads in the literary world – her looks, her genius.

She married young and was off the market. – Did she have affairs? Did she secretly long for another man? I think she must have. It’s only natural as a human. I know she was fond of Updike...

If any other author had been included in this edition of BASS with a story as long as “Theft”, I think I would have absolutely lost my mind. Oates is the only one that could have, and did hold my interest throughout this entire story. Of course, it didn’t hurt to see parallels between the main character and the author herself.

Gardner was a fan of Oates from the beginning. He recognized her talent early. The two had a friendship and it extended to her having him over for meals on a couple of occasions.

She had the same reaction towards Gardner’s “Moral Fiction” book, and was sad to see him say such things about her friends and fellow authors.

I think Gardner’s inclusion of her in this collection was to honor her. He wanted her and others to know how high he held her.

Gardner placed her story in the last position in the collection. As far as I can tell, he stacked those authors that he wished to promote at the front of the book – in a place I would assume most readers would find them – and then the other authors followed. He knew that readers would seek out Oates and in placing her in the last position, he wasn’t hurting her exposure.


Upon finishing this story, I had reached the end of the BASS 1982. My next post will cover my opinion of this collection.

-So, “Theft” –

Again, the rawness and reality of Oates shines through. You have two young college aged girls sitting in a room at one point with one of them discussing the graphic details of her sexual life. Oates is great at presenting this scene – frank and explicit enough to make you feel mildly uncomfortable but at the same time allowing you, pushing you- no pulling you into a position to peek behind the curtain a little more.

The psychological study Oates presents keeps you captivated and also questions your past and any sort of similarities you may have with the characters.

It’s a long story but reads fast. Details, details, details – pull you through the pages.

Oates rounds out this collection and I’m pleased Gardner fished off with her. It made the conclusion of the anthology much more pleasant.

Lamb Says - Roseanne Coggeshall

Roseanne Coggeshall - ????

I really enjoyed this story.

The thought of a young boy reading all of the great authors and really not finding the point to speak because there really isn’t anything important enough in this world to cause him to waste his time on speaking...until he feels the need to utter the word “No”.

“No” is such a powerful word.

I have felt at times, in my life, that there have been too many people speaking too much, and now, in this day and age, more than ever.

There is so much noise in this world, everyone feels that they have something to say, and about 90% of it is crap!

Look at what I’m doing.

None of this really can benefit you the reader in any way.

I’m reading some of America’s greatest authors, and they have a lot to say, a lot to teach, and I at times have something to say about it.

From the start, I stated that this whole exercise is for me – a way to get my feelings in order also I’d like to give myself an education through these stories. These authors have a lot to offer, and I would like to learn from them.

Why do I have it here on this public platform rather than in a journal?

Well, I have both.

Here is a shot of my journal.

I’d also like to leave something behind that is secure for my children to read someday. Leaving this digital trail for them will do just that. I’ll do my best to preserve the paper and ink...but I’d like to offer them this as well.

So, here I am spouting off a bunch of crap, pushing out a bunch of letters into the electronic world, adding to the noise.

And to those who know me... лучше молчать !!