Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Favorite Forty-Two Books of the Year...So Far

There are 42 short story collections on my bedside table, so to speak. That's how many entries we've had for The Story Prize so far in 2009, and that may be only half the number we're going to get by the end of the year. If the second half were to match the first half, the number of entries this year would equal the most we've had: 84 in 2005.

There are two deadlines for The Story Prize--July 15 for books published in the first half of the year and Nov. 15 for books published in the second half--to allow ourselves time to read all of the entries. If we got all of them at the end of the year, it would be overwhelming, and we think every short story collection entered deserves careful consideration. So far, I've already read about 15 of the books (so my stack is actually a mere 27 books high), and several would make excellent finalists.

The total number of stories in these 42 collections, by the way, is 610. That may sound like a lot, but it's not nearly as many as I had to read each year when I was series editor of the O. Henry Awards. My estimate back then was about 3,000 short stories a year. (Which makes me wonder how Heidi Pitlor, series editor for Best American Short Stories, is going to read that many plus work published online, which is eligible this year for the first time.)

The 42 entries we've received so far come from 33 different publishers or imprints. Of course, not every book that could be is entered for The Story Prize, so this isn't a measure of the number of publishers who publish story collections or the number published in the U.S. each year. But my guess is that we end up reading about two thirds of them.