There are two major elements to the writing course I’m taking though the community college. The first, obviously, is writing. The second is reading.

One of our texts is the marvelous Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American Short Stories Since 1970. Of the many short story collections I’ve read in my life, this is probably my favorite. The quality of the stories collected here is uniformly excellent.

Many short story anthologies are uneven. End-of-year compilations tend to feature a lot of weaker stories, included only to fill the volume; there are really only two or three great short stories published each year, and that’s just not enough to merit an annual anthology. Most retrospective anthologies, though, include sentimental favorites, or cover too broad a time-span to be truly reflective. The Scribner anthology covers only stories of the past thirty years. Every one I’ve read is a gem. If you enjoy short stories, I encourage you to find a copy of this book.

I just finished reading Gryphon by Charles Baxter, an author with whom I am unfamiliar. “Gryphon” is a charming little tale of fourth-grade metamorphosis, more fun than most short stories. (Short stories seem to be typified by serious, somber tales of moments of crisis. Humor is an oft-missing feature in short stories, even in mine.) The full story is available on-line and worth a read if you have ten minutes to spare.

Reading great short stories from great authors is inspiring, but it’s also disheartening. When I compare my work to their work, I lose hope of ever developing the craft. Still, I’m not going to stop reading or writing. I’ll persevere, churning out my maudlin brand of fiction as best I can.


On 21 October 2003 (12:07 PM),
J.D. said:

Hm. Just for fun, here are links to other stories from this volume:

You have the time. Go read one of those.

On 21 October 2003 (02:15 PM),
Lynn said:

I haven’t read any of these and am anxious to try them out. I usually like anything Alice Walker writes. I have a book, “Ten on Ten,” or something like that, including the essays of 10 authors. Alice Walker was one of the essayists featured, as well as George Orwell. His essays are wonderful.

On 21 October 2003 (04:15 PM),
Mom (Sue) said:

I went to the site and read Gryphon, which I liked although I thought it ended abruptly (or was there a link to a second portion that I missed?). I have ordered the book of short stories, as well as a couple of books by Edith Wharton. I mentioned on the family blog the books I bought today and I had forgotten I had Under the Tuscan Sun so may read it next. I have the impression it is lighter fare and that might be nice for a change.

On 21 October 2003 (05:35 PM),
J.D. Roth said:

Hm. I don’t think the ending is abrupt, but it is pointed. I think that the point of the story is that these kids are in school, learning facts, that they’re going to be tested on their knowledge of insects the next day, but it’s not anything that they’ll ever remember. Instead, they’ll remember the “crazy” teacher who taught them that eleven times six sometimes equals sixty-eight. What she taught was of lasting importance; the insects are not.

On 21 October 2003 (08:17 PM),
Mom (Sue) said:

Going back to the story again, I can see what you’re saying. While they were going to have to work at memorizing the information about the insects, they had no trouble at all remembering what the substitute teacher had told them. Is this story in the book of short stories that I ordered?

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