The OF Blog: There are many ways to eat a Reese's...and to read for excellent stories

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

There are many ways to eat a Reese's...and to read for excellent stories

Over the course of this year, I plan on writing occasional posts about my experiences helping edit the Best American Fantasy 4 anthology.  Little that I say will be directly about a particular work or author, nor will I try to claim any more credit than being a sort of glorified slushpile reader who selects interesting possibilities for the guest editors to consider.  However, I do believe that if I do post occasionally on this topic, I might find myself learning more about the process than I had consciously realized, not to mention that readers might learn more and perhaps have things to share that might make the process easier to understand for all.  Plus, it's all in the name of publicizing an anthology series that I've supported since the first volume debuted in 2007 (and now for shameless plug time:  Unreal Real:  Best American Fantasy 3 should now be in stores.  It is certainly shipping from Amazon and other online retailers).

One of the hardest parts about being an anthology reader/reprint editor I've learned so far is that with the plethora of solid to good stories out there, that it often becomes difficult to find something that is "special."  Even a good story can be overwhelmed by the mass of similar stories.  I've kept a reading log of the magazines and journals that I've read so far this year for BAF4.  The count is now 15, about to reach 16, after I finished two issues of Not One of Us, plus nearly finishing New Genre and starting Ep;phany earlier today.  I probably have read around 175-200 short stories already.  Discounting the 2/3 or more that aren't "fantasy" enough (broad as I might define the term), I still have well over 50 stories that I have not written down already for the longlist for further consideration.  Oh, and I should add that I expect to read (and re-read) about another 3-4 dozen lit journals, print magazines, and some e-zines over the next three months. 

Burnout might be a problem.  After all, there is that old saw about how familiarity breeds contempt, except I would replace "contempt" with a very blasé attitude. To combat this story fatigue, I have taken to interspersing story collections, either in Spanish, Italian, or in English translation, from some of (in my opinion, of course) the greatest short fiction writers of the past century or so.  I read Roberto Bolaño's four story collections last month and his "visceral realist" style was a welcome break from the more speculative works I had been reading.  Moreover, the mood and atmosphere evoked in several of his stories helped remind me of that certain "it" factor that can help a story rise above the solid competence to something that sticks in one's memory longer than a few minutes.  Those are the stories I've looking for, the ones that can be remembered. 

I'm currently reading Italo Calvino's t-zero, which arrived in the mail today.  There is a certain elan about his prose that enlivens even the more mundane tales.  Style isn't everything, but it certainly can be part and parcel of what constitutes a memorable, great story.  While I'm certainly not reading for stories that resemble Bolaño or Calvino's in style or form, reading such tales reminds me just what it is about reading for a "best of" series can and perhaps should be about:  finding intriguing, memorable tales that don't necessarily fit into a square or round peg hole, but which might just contain the kernel of something exciting and alluring to the reader.  Hopefully, the stories that I'm currently sifting through to forward onto BAF4 Guest Editor Minister Faust to consider will live up to the lofty ambitions I noted above.  Until then, there's always more than just one way to read for excellent stories, no?


Camilla said...

I found Calvino's t-zero to have some very nice thought experiments, so it is not just good prose.

Camilla said...

And that is the one with the wonderful Monte Cristo reference, isn't it?

Elena said...

This is tangential to this post (but on the topic of non-western fantasy that pervades much of your current mode of thought), but it's an article that might interest you, if you haven't seen it already. I'm certainly curious to know if this is something you have noticed/experienced in some of your non-US/British fantasy reading, or if you had even noticed this particular gap.

Cheers, E

Lsrry said...


Yes, that's the book. Great story, by the way.


I remember reading some discussion related to that article a few days ago, but I didn't have the time (still don't, unfortunately :() to read it. Will try to do so Monday evening.

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