No summer reading is complete without imbibing the variegated prose of an anthology. The following are the literary equivalents of skillfully-detailed mixtapes, made by a friend who wishes to communicate only that he or she has your best interest at heart.
The 2008 O. Henry Prize Stories anthology is a great way to play catch up on all of the reading you missed last year. Culled from publications like Zoetrope, Harper’s, Granta, and Tin House, this anthology features established masters like William Gass and Alice Munro along with newer voices. There are plenty of highlights and no duds. Sharon Cain’s “The Necessities of Certain Behaviors” explores an amorphous world of gender-bending, while Stephen Millhauser’s “A Change in Fashion” imagines a new mode where women cover every inch of their flesh from the gaze of men. Lore Segal’s “Other People’s Deaths” perfectly captures the painful awkwardness and shame we experience when encountering, um, other people’s deaths. Similarly, the title of Tony Tulathimutte’s “Scenes from the Life of the Only Girl in Water Shield, Alaska” is spot-on, and Gass’s contribution, “A Little History of Modern Music,” is the funniest monologue we’ve read all year. But our favorite in the collection has to be Edward P. Jones’s “Bad Neighbors,” which examines the changing fortunes of an African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C. A great collection, and if a story disappoints you, there’ll be three to make up for it.
In the ultimate in lazy reviewing, we will let the title of McSweeney’s kids anthology Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out stand as its own summary. However, this is a beautiful book with lots of lovely pictures, and the collection is worth it for Nick Hornby’s story alone. Good stuff.
Edited by superstar Chris Ware, The Best American Comics 2007 serves as a delicious tasting menu of some of the best comix published in the past few years. Although hardcore comix fans will no doubt have already read the selections from Charles Burns’s Black Hole and Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, there’s plenty here for aficionados and newbies alike.
Chances are you’ve read a number of the canonical texts in 50 Great Short Stories, but it’s also likely you haven’t read them in years. We’ve had this book for years, and have revisited often to indulge in old favorites for new inspiration. Classics like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Hemingway’s “The Three-Day Blow” nestle up against lesser-reads like Edmund Wilson’s “The Man Who Shot Snapping Turtles” and Francis Steegmuller’s “The Foreigner.” And have you read Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” since high school? No? Shame on you! What about Carson McCuller’s “The Jockey”? Dorothy Parker? Kipling? Consider it a light crash course in great literature.