The Best American Short Stories of the Century

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The Best American Short Stories of the Century [Paperback]

John Updike , Katrina Kenison
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 20, 2000 0395843677 978-0395843673 Expanded
Since the series' inception in 1915, the annual volumes of The Best American Short Stories have launched literary careers, showcased the most compelling stories of each year, and confirmed for all time the significance of the short story in our national literature. Now THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE CENTURY brings together the best -- fifty-six extraordinary stories that represent a century's worth of unsurpassed achievements in this quintessentially American literary genre. This expanded edition includes a new story from The Best American Short Stories 1999 to round out the century, as well as an index including every story published in the series.
Of all the writers whose work has appeared in the series, only John Updike has been represented in each of the last five decades, from his first appearance, in 1959, to his most recent, in 1998. Updike worked with coeditor Katrina Kenison to choose the finest stories from the years since 1915. The result is "extraordinary . . . A one-volume literary history of this country's immeasurable pains and near-infinite hopes" (Boston Globe).

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Editorial Reviews Review

At age 67, the perennially youthful John Updike may at last qualify as something of an elder statesman. But the Best American Short Stories annual--whose greatest hits package Updike has now assembled--is almost a generation older, having commenced publication in 1915. This staying power allows the hefty Best American Short Stories of the Century to perform double duty. It is, on the one hand, a priceless compendium of American manners and morals--a decade-by-decade survey of how we lived then, and how we live now. Yet Updike very consciously avoided the sociological angle in making his selection. "I tried not to select stories because they illustrated a theme or portion of the national experience," he writes in his introduction, "but because they struck me as lively, beautiful, believable, and, in the human news they brought, important." In this he succeeded: the 55 fictions that made the grade are most notable for their human (rather than merely historical) interest.

So who got in? There are a good number of cut-and-dried classics here, including Hemingway's "The Killers," Faulkner's "That Evening Sun Go Down," and Philip Roth's acidic spin on religious connivance, "Defender of the Faith." In other cases, major authors are represented by relatively minor works. Yet it's hard to quibble with the inclusion of Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, J.F. Powers, Eudora Welty--particularly when you take into account that their second-tier creations are fully the equal of anybody else's masterpieces. And the final third of the book really does constitute an honor roll of contemporary American fiction, with brilliant entries by Saul Bellow, Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, Tim O'Brien, Bernard Malamud, Cynthia Ozick, John Cheever, and Vladimir Nabokov. (For the latter, Updike actually succumbed to his own idolatry and bent the rules for admission--but nobody who reads the hallucinatory "That in Aleppo Once..." will regret it.) It goes without saying that fiction fans will be complaining about the editor's sins of omission well into the next century. But no matter how you slice it, this remains an elegant and essential advertisement for the short form. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Updike narrowed down his collection of short stories from 55 to 21 to present this rich, warm voicing of some of the best writing of the 20th century. Whenever possible, it seems, Updike has enlisted living writers to read their own works. It's a pleasure to hear Updike soothe his way through his own "Gesturing" and Gish Jen whir her "Birthmates." Others contributor/readers include Thom Jones, Cynthia Ozick, Lorrie Moore and Tim O'Brien. For writers such as Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren and Raymond Carver, Updike has cleverly paired appropriate readers. He lends his own voice to Sherwood Anderson's "The Other Woman," George Plimpton deftly breathes F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Crazy Sunday" and Jill McCorckle's sharp twang lends a wry rhythm to Eudora Welty's "The Hitchhikers." Each story, sometimes snug with a second, fits neatly on one side of a cassette. Brief interludes of music, when the readers introduce themselves, the stories and the places of original publication, thankfully fade away, leaving the listener with crisp, fresh recordings of these excellent tales. Based on the Houghton Mifflin paperback. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Best American
  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Expanded edition (April 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395843677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395843673
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many happy hours of reading January 23, 2000
One of the things I have always liked about Updike is that he is willing to undertake something like this--even though it will inevitably make him vulnerable to criticisms like the ones raised in other reviews here. I can see why some omissions rankle: but, but BUT! Look at what's here! Almost all of the stories are nothing short of brilliant. Yes, "The Lottery" was probably amongst the best of the century, but it is anthologized everywhere in the universe: many of these are not. Many are not-so-well-known works by the best writers the 20th century had. I could quibble about many of the selections. For instance, I wouldn't have chose "Greenleaf" to represent one my favorites, Flannery O'Connor, or "The Killers" to represent Ernest Hemingway. But they're still great stories, worth including and worth reading.
The best I think are those from the early part of the century, but that's probably my own bias talking. I'm not a fan of many of the representatives chosen for the latter half of the century, and the selection for 1999--yuck! But I'm willing to trust Updike's judgment over my own for a little while, and if he thinks Annie Proulx is worth reading...ok: It's worth a few pages of my time to find out.
The anthology also does a good job of tracing in fiction the transformations of American culture: the first are immigrant stories, the next are primarily rural-based farming stories (A Jury of Her Peers--great story), and then the last are urban, ex-urban, and suburban stories.
Read and enjoy.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of pleasant surprises July 13, 1999
By A Customer
When I bought this book, I first checked to see if my favorite contemporary authors were represented: the impossibly great Alice Munro, Thom Jones, Lorrie Moore ... and they indeed are in there. I'm intrigued by Updike's choices for those authors, because they weren't the choices I would have made. I enjoyed thinking about why he made those choices; I wish I could join Updike for lunch and debate him. What I most enjoy about this collection is the surprises. I had always thought Hemingway was overrated, but his tale here, "The Killers," is a hair-raising gem. And I had never heard of J.F. Powers, who has a wonderful shaggy-dog story in this collection that made me laugh out loud. You can see that Joyce Carol Oates was writing about the same subject matter in 1962 that she writes about now, but the telling is fresh in her 37-year-old story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?". Yes, I quibble with the exclusion of Shirley Jackson and J.D. Salinger, but not too much. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "The Lottery" would have been predictable and boring selections (actually, I like "Seymour: An Introduction" better). This is not a boring collection.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Review July 3, 2002
I used to go to the library and read the old annual Best American Short Story collections. There was something almost religious about picking up a copy from 1927 and reading a story by a then unknown kid named Ernest Hemingway in that old type-face, or the Faulkner stories in just about every annual volume during the 1930s. The bios of these writers at the back of the old copies when they were unknown writers was so innocent and naive. Modern critical theory has influenced my perception of so many of these writers, and that is shame.

The stories collected in this Best American Short Stories of the Century are taken from the the annual volumes. There are stories representing each decade from the teens to the 90s. There are classics, and there are surprises. My favorite is Ann Beattie's "Janus." It is subtle and masterfully written.

I've owned this book for two years, and I read it from time-to-time. Some stories I've read four or five times. Some I haven't read at all. And it's a book that it's okay to do that with, I think. The Fitzgerald story "Crazy Sunday" was something of a nice surprise, and indeed, that kind of surprise seems at the heart of what Updike and Kenison were aiming to realize. How to make a Best of the 20th Century anotholgy exciting, you know? Considering they could only take stories from the annual Best of American Short Story anothologies, they did that well, I think. Martha Gellhorn's "Miami--New York" was insightful. The John Cheever, Raymond Carver, and Joyce Carol Oates stories are great classics. I enjoyed Donald Barthelme's "A City of Churches" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" -- stories ranging from the humorous, to the heartrending.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stories July 4, 2000
I believe that most writers or short story readers will agree that these are not the "best" stories of the 20th century. Such a collection would include better known masterpieces like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Instead, this a collection of brilliant, but lesser known stories by accomplished writers.
I think Updike makes it clear that his goal was to assemble great stories from all decades, but not necessarily the best stories. I believe there was a pointed effort made, in assembling these stories, not to include the well-known American standards that most college educated people have read. The New York Times sums up the result : "Finding wonderful stories that you don't already know is one of this collection's greatest pleasures . . Updike has made some surprising, even striking selections."
Most of Updike's surprising selections are very enjoyable. My only disappointment was the 1999 story by Pam Houston. There are too many great writers these days to include this contemporary mediocrity. What about Rick Bass, Charles Baxter, Mark Richard? Just my opinion.
Overall, I recommend this book without reservation.
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