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.


  1. I loved this post on the 1982 BASS ed. John Gardner. I also enjoyed your blog and its concept in general. If it's all right, I'd like to link to this post for my own blog.

  2. I'm working through BASS 1982 and have the same feeling. Carver's Cathedral would have been selected regardless, but two of the other pieces appeared in his own magazine, MSS, which seems even more wrong to me.

  3. Undoubtedly such politics, a sort of nepotism, has run, and continues to run, rampart throughout this series and life in general.
    I don't mind that JG did it, or anyone else, as long as the story _is_ worthy of inclusion. I'd have to imagine there was a larger stack of stories-to-be-considered by other friends, students, colleagues, other stories published in MSS (etc) that did _not_ make the cut.

  4. As a by-the-way, the JG "Conversations" collection is one of the worst proofread productions I've ever seen, and the problem is apparently endemic to the series: the volume of conversations with William Gass is just as bad.

    Shame that you have to turn to Inter-Library Loan to get his things -- sign of The State of Culture In Our Times and all that! -- but as suggestions for further reading I'd propose "The King's Indian," with "Jason and Medeia" on the earlier hand (an actual modern epic poem after the grand 24-book Homeric manner, an astonishing work much too little acknowledged even when it was new), and the once-celebrated "October Light" on the later. And if "The Art of Fiction" interests you, don't miss "On Becoming a Novelist," which just preceded it in publication and was the last of his own works he prepared for the press before he died.

    On the suicide speculation, it's hard to give the idea any real credence. But it's always seemed "shivery" to me that in one of his interviews, Gardner remarked on the dying Grendel's "look[ing] down past stars to a terrifying darkness" as associated with a childhood fear of his own, that if the world was round, someday he might fall off. And figuratively, as I understand the event, that's exactly what happened: there was a big curve, and he ran off the road.

    Much too early lost! Much too soon written off, neglected and forgotten! Personally, I like to believe that if he'd lived and continued, he would have been a contender for a Nobel.

    Apologies for the outpouring. Gardner's a pet subject that I don't get a chance to share about much nowadays.

    Bruce Samet