Monday, December 29, 2008

Getting Less of Moore

Here's a book you won't see in U.S. bookstores: The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore. The hardcover volume, published by Faber and Faber in the U.K. in early 2008, includes all of Moore's previously published stories, plus three that haven't appeared in any collection: "Paper Losses," "The Juniper Tree," and "Debarking." (U.S.) lists the book, but the only available copies are from a third party for the hefty price of $129.77. In the U.K., it lists for £20 (about $29 at current exchange rates) and on Amazon there it sells for £12 ($17.50).

I had an e-mail exchange with Lorrie Moore earlier in the year, and she told me about The Collected Stories, which, alas, isn't eligible for The Story Prize because it's not published in the U.S. It came to my attention again when I saw that British short story writer Helen Simpson had named it in The Independent's yearend survey of 2008's best books.
I'm not sure why Moore's U.S. publisher, Knopf, didn't put out The Collected Stories here--I imagine a lot of readers would love to replace their tattered copies of Self-Help, Anagrams (published as a novel but now out of the closet as a book of connected stories), Like Life, and Birds of America with a single volume. It's been ten years since Moore's last book. I guess we'll just have to be patient and wait.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Story Prize Event. March 4. Circle It on Your 2009 Calendar

We know how fast your calendars fill up, so be sure to mark this date when you plan ahead for 2009:

The Story Prize event will be on March 4 at the New School's Tishman auditorium in New York City, starting at 7:30 p.m.

That night, each of the three authors chosen as finalists will read from his or her work, followed by an onstage interview. At the end of the evening we'll present this year's winner with The Story Prize. More details will follow when we announce the finalists in a couple of weeks. Resolve to be there if you can.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Video from the National Book Award's 5 Under 35 Reading

The National Book Awards has posted video from their 5 Under 35 reading on Nov. 17.

Francine Prose introduces Sana Krasikov, author of the story collection One More Year, and tells of meeting Krasikov and short story writer Yiyun Li at the Iowa Writers Workshop a few years back. Then Krasikov reads from her story, "The Alternate."

Sana Krasikov and Francine Prose @ 2008 5 Under 35 Celebration from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

A typically intense Mary Gaitskill introduces Nam Le, author of the story collection The Boat, and offers strong praise for the title story of the collection before Le takes the stage and reads from a different story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice."

Nam Le and Mary Gaitskill @ 2008 5 Under 35 Celebration from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Both of these stories, as it happens, were first published in Zoetrope: All-Story, and both authors studied at Iowa. Unfortunately, Jim Shepard, winner of The Story Prize earlier this year, was not on hand to introduce his choice, Fiona Maazel's novel Last Chance. Just her luck.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Remembrance and Results

- Rick Bass has written a nice remembrance of Carol Houck Smith, who (as previously mentioned) was the editor of his first short story collection, The Watch.

- The results, not necessarily final, of our Nov. 20 poll (How do you feel about short story collections that have introductions?) are:
43% take it on a case by case basis.
22% like introductions.
19% don't approve of them.
11% voted for Barack Obama (even though he has nothing to do with the question).
5% are indifferent.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Best Books: Adding It All Up (But Not Making Book)

If British bookmakers were to take notice of The Story Prize and lay odds on our finalists (as they do for the Booker prize), I'm sure the three short story collections that most frequently appear on 2008 best books lists would have the best odds. Going by the final tally of several lists, those would be: Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, and Nam Le's The Boat.

The Story Prize, however, doesn't choose its top three books by critical consensus. Rather, we read every one of the 73 books entered for The Story Prize and choose based on our own reading of those books. I get the sense that a lot of commentators, columnists, writers, and reviewers didn't read all that many story collections. And I'm sure some excellent collections probably didn't get a very wide reading.

In any event, we won't even know which three short story collections we're picking as Story Prize finalists until Julie and I meet to hash it out in early January. Soon after that, we'll also announce our list of other notable collections. So hold your bets.

For the tally below, I consulted 18 sources that named a total of 22 books. I counted inclusion in both the New York Times Sunday Book Review 100 notable books list and their five best books list because those appeared in separate issues. And I stopped counting as of Dec. 14. No doubt there will be more best of 2008 lists, but this isn't exactly scientific anyway; it just gives a sense of the critical consensus based on this sampling. The numbers on the left below represent how many mentions each book received. Here's the complete tally:

12 - Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
10 - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
9 - The Boat by Nam Le
4 - Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
4 - Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
3 - Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
3 - Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser
3 - Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
3 - Fine Just the Way It Is by Annie Proulx
3 - Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
2 - Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
2 - Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
1 - A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
1 - The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier
1 - Lost in Uttar Pradesh by Evan Connell
1 - The Deportees by Roddy Doyle
1 - The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
1 - I See You Everywhere By Julia Glass
1 - Foreigners by Caryl Phillips
1 - The Size of the World by Joan Silber
1 - Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
1 - Farewell Navigator by Leni Zumas

Sources (with links to the original TSP posts):, The Atlantic, Barnes & Noble Review, Bloomsbury Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Library Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Millions (and here), New York magazine, The New York Times Sunday Book Review (100 notable books and top ten books), NPR, Publishers Weekly, Salon, Shelf Awareness, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Time magazine, the Village Voice, and The Washington Post.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More Best Books, No More Best Books

The best of 2008 lists keep coming. Among the Villiage Voice's picks for best books of 2008 is reviewer Lenora Todaro's choice of Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.

The Library Journal site lists three story collections--Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, The Boat by Nam Le, and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout--among its 37 picks, fic and non.

Shelf Awareness asked five people (so far) for their top 10 books and one of them, Harvey Freedenberg, named Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.

In the Readerville forum discussing yearend best books lists, Richard posts that Bloomsbury Review contributing editor Jeff Biggers has named Annie Proulx’s Fine Just the Way It Is as an honorable mention for his book of the year choice.

In The Millions, fiction writer Brian Evenson lists Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters among his choices.

The Barnes & Noble Review (which I confess I didn't know existed) lists Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout as a best book choice of contributor and reviewer David Abrams.

There may be more to come, but that's it for me. I'm all best booked out. I'll post a tally soon of short story collections that appeared on these lists, and we'll see which short story collections got the most mentions.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Carol Houck Smith, We'll Miss You

One of the nicest people in publishing and a truly great editor, Carol Houck Smith, died on Nov. 29 in her Manhattan apartment at the age of 85. She worked at W.W. Norton, where her authors included Andrea Barrett, Ron Carlson, Joan Silber, and many others.

The picture to the right is from the reception following The Story Prize event in February 2007.
Carol had particularly wanted to be there that year because one of the finalists was Rick Bass, whose first short story collection, The Watch, she had edited.

Carol was a supporter of The Story Prize from the start, responding with warm encouragement to the announcement of the launch in January 2004, attending a small cocktail party for editors and publishers that spring, and coming to the first event in 2005, in support of her author, Joan Silber, who was a finalist for Ideas of Heaven--a great book made better through Carol's taste and wisdom, as everything she edited was.

I had first spoken with Carol several times in early 2001, when I was putting together Prize Stories 2001: The O. Henry Awards. I had decided to include three novellas* in that volume, one of which was Andrea Barrett's "Servants of the Map," the title story of a collection set for publication in 2002--several months after the O. Henry Awards volume would be out. To my surprise, Andrea Barrett informed me, a few days after I called to tell her that I'd chosen her story for the O. Henry Awards, that her publisher, W.W. Norton, did not want to give permission to publish "Servants of the Map" because they were concerned that it would cannibalize sales of Barrett's collection. In four previous years, I had never had an author or publisher turn down a chance to be in the anthology.

Andrea suggested I speak with her editor. So I called Carol Houck Smith and had a long conversation in which I did my best to persuade her that inclusion in the O. Henry Awards would likely help Servants of the Map reach an even larger audience (a somewhat shaky argument because after winning the National Book Award for her story collection Ship Fever in 1996, Barrett's books no doubt outsold the O. Henry Awards by a wide margin). Carol explained Norton's position, but she also listened with an open mind--something rare in my experience. In the end, Carol convinced Norton to allow us to include the story. I think what may have persuaded her wasn't my arguments but my passion for that particular story, which matched her own.

What I didn't know until later, was that Carol had "retired" several years before this. That didn't stop her from going to work every day and continuing to edit and nurture writers' careers. She was, throughout her career, a tireless advocate for poetry and fiction, a frequent presence at writing conferences, someone who constantly sought out and nurtured new talent, and a trusted editor and friend to many writers. Carol, we're going to miss you--the literary world is going to miss you.

* The other two novellas/long stories that year were Mary Swan's "The Deep" and the full version of George Saunders' "Pastoralia," both of which also ended up being the title stories of collections.

Addendum: Here's more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Few Among the Millions

Culture blog The Millions is running a month-long series of posts by writers who select their 2008 reading highlights, which don't necessarily have to be books published during the year.

Las Vegas novelist Charles Bock cites 2007 finalist for The Story Prize Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam and this year's Farewell Navigator by Leni Zumas. Math professor and novelist Manil Suri mentions a highly touted 2009 short story collection (due out in February) that he received an advanced copy of (for blurbing purposes), Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, as well as Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridege. And story writer Charles D'Ambrosio names Nam Le's The Boat.

More to come.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Short Story Collections Build Strong Bones

Salon asked a dozen writers to name their favorite books of 2008 and two have chosen short story collections. Curtis Sittenfeld has picked Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's Ms. Hempel Chronicles and Meg Wolitzer has selected Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge (which is moving up along the outside post as a dark horse contender in my overall tally of yearend best mentions).

In the case of both of these books, by the way, the publishers are rather cagey, identifying them on the cover as neither novels nor short story collections--which is what they are in my estimation. But this is nothing new. In the first year of The Story Prize, all three of our finalists (The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat, The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day, and Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber) fell into the category of connected stories or novels in stories and only one (Silber's) had the word stories on the cover. Why fudge it? Because novels supposedly sell better than story collections. It's kind of like those vitamins for kids--if they think it's a gummy bear, maybe they'll eat it.

Mix Books Redux: March of the Penguin

Harking back to a September TSP post and a guest post from writer and one-time music industry executive Paul Vidich, the subject of assembling digital custom anthologies has once again come up. As Leon Neyfach reports on the New York Oberver's Web site, as part of Penguin Group USA's Penguin 2.0 initiative, in 2009 customers will be able to choose from stories, essays, poems, and other "standalone texts" to create custom-made collections, then print them on demand. The article goes on to say:

"Taking sites like and iTunes as inspiration, Mr. Gomez said, Penguin hopes the 'Custom' program will tap into people's desire 'to remix a little and to shuffle their playlists.' He cautioned, however, that he 'would never want to break apart an entire book' and thereby render the full-length volume obsolete the way iTunes has done to the 74-minute LP."

Surely, he must know that if this catches on, it could well deconstruct short story collections. As I said in September:
"Getting back to the iTunes analogy, I was recently thinking it would be great if you could make your own anthology of your favorite stories, poems, essays, etc., and give it to friends in the form of a bound volume, the way you make a mix tape or mix CD. Call it a mix book (a term already taken)."
Could this be the tipping point? seems to offer mostly science fiction stories written by little known authors. Penguin Classics has an enormous backlist, including a lot of short fiction by authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, O. Henry, Washington Irving, Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Rudyard Kipling, Ring Lardner, D. H. Lawrence, Jack London, Somerset Maugham, Herman Mellville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, and collections by more contemporary writers including Dorothy Allison, Donald Barthelme, Saul Bellow, and Stephen King. Now that's a list worth reintermediating.

The Atlantic's Best Books List Sets Sail

The Atlantic has posted it's list of books of the year, which includes two short story collections out of six books:

Nadine Gordimer's Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black (which was actually published late last year and didn't make our short list)
Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge

The only other fiction title on the list was Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. I'm sure Senior Editor C. Michael Curtis, who has long edited fiction at The Atlantic and is a member of The Story Prize Advisory Board, had a significant hand in these choices.

(Thanks again to the good folks at Readerville, which seems to be as abuzz with excitement about yearend best books lists as I am.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Twenty-Seventh City Weighs in

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch lists 32 notable 2008 works of fiction including a mere three short story collections:

Kevin Brockmeier's The View from the Seventh Layer (I knew this would make some of the lists)
Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth (again)
Cynthia Ozick'z Dictation

And St. Louis area booksellers that the Post-Dispatch polled list one collection:

Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters (which Subterranean Books chose)

Salon lists zero short story collections among it's five fiction choices.

New York magazine lists Nam Le's The Boat as its Best Debut book of the year, but story collections are a no show in it's top five fiction books.

(Thanks to Publishers Lunch for the links.)

Addendum (with a nod to Readerville): Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth is No. 5 on Time's top ten fiction list.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Story Collections Keep Popping Up On 2008 Best Books Lists

It's been a good year for short story collections, which continue to appear on year-end lists of best books. So say hello to some little bests.

The Los Angeles Times list includes six story collections out of 25 fiction and poetry books (only two of which are the latter). They are:

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Boat by Nam Le
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff

None of The Washington Post's top five fiction books are short story collections, but to their credit, the longer best books list includes a short story category with nine seclections:

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser
Foreigners by Caryl Phillips
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
The Size of the World by Joan Silber
Poe's Children an anthology edited by Peter Straub
Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff
plus: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (which they wrongly list as a novel)

The Christian Science Monitor (now Web only) also has a Best Short Stories of 2008 list, bless their hearts:

The Deportees by Roddy Doyle
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Boat by Nam Le
Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
(They also list another book that could be read as a story collection:
I See You Everywhere By Julia Glass)

One story collection makes Alan Cheuse's idiosyncratic list of the six best fiction books on the NPR Web site:
Lost in Uttar Pradesh
by Evan Connell

Some of my favorites aren't on any of these lists. Sometime soon, I'll do a tally and ranking of all the short story collections that made end of year lists. Could that possibly predict the finalists for The Story Prize? Stay tuned, we'll be announcing those three books in early January, along with several other collections we liked.

In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me with any lists I may have missed at

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Unaccustomed Laughter

The New York Times Sunday Book Review has announced it's top ten books of 2008, culled from it's larger list of 100 books, as previously mentioned here. Five of the books are nonfiction and five fiction, including two short story collections: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser. Represent!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief Makes off with the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize

Congratulations to Hannah Tinti for winning the Mercantile Library's John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize* for The Good Thief (a result I learned on GalleyCat). As previously noted, Hannah is one of the three judges for The Story Prize this year, the editor of One-Story, and the author of a story collection, Animal Crackers. It's an accomplished book, well deserving of the honor.

*Hopefully, the Mercantile Library's Web site will soon reflect this outcome. As of the time this was posted (10:30 on Dec. 2), it hadn't. Speaking of which, the Rea Award for the Short Story still hasn't posted its latest winner--Amy Hempel--(announced Oct. 8!) on its site. Get on the stick, literary awards! We do our best to post The Story Prize winner within an hour or two of the announcement, and that involves changes throughout our site. We operate on a shoe-string budget, so I know it can be done.