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The Best American Short Stories of the Century (The Best American Short Stories)

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  1,625 ratings  ·  125 reviews
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 storie ...more
Paperback, 864 pages
Published April 20th 2000 by Mariner Books
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Apr 21, 2008 Ollie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: John Updike fans
It can't be easy to choose the best American short stories of the 20th Century. Even if you have over 700 pages to fill (like this collection) classic stories are bound to be left out. Although there are plenty of good stories here from canonical writers, I had a few problems with this anthology. First of all, some of the stories were not very good, and I can't help feeling that they were chosen because they fit some kind of needed token representation. It's a crime that Shirley Jackson's "The L ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Mar 09, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Short Literary Fiction
The title is a misnomer. Not that there aren't some wonderful stories here, but they were never really chosen because they're the best American short stories of the 20th century. Rather, these are Updike's 56 picks out of the 2,000 stories originally chosen in the 84 volumes of a yearly anthology published from 1915 through 1999. If a story was never published in Best American Stories they weren't available to be selected. Updike couldn't select "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather, "Are These Actual M ...more
Hafeez Lakhani
OK I know it's cliche to rate this five stars but for the record I normally don't rate BASS and BAE that well.. BUT here I got a chance to read writer's I've long heard so much about but hadn't really read - like Joyce Carol Oates (ridonculous, time-less story in here, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, about a pretty girl who gets lots of attention but it eventually gets her in a jam), and F. Scott Fitzgerald, because really I'd long been in the camp who'd read Gatsby and nothing else o ...more
John Wiswell
Aug 15, 2007 John Wiswell rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literary readers, short story readers, modern classics readers
Updike's The Best American Short Stories of the Century underrepresents humor and "genre" fiction, and for every drop of optimism there is a bucket of pessimism - so, it's a typical literary fiction collection. These are not the best-told stories, nor the most interesting stories. Those Updike selects are chosen for their literary value, their intellectual depth and understanding of more delicate elements of the craft, like religious allusions or flexible voice. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzge ...more
Many of my favorite authors were in here, Ernest hemingway, William Faulkner, Joyce carol Oates, Richard Wright, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Robert Penn Warren and many more I plan on reading in the future. This was a wonderful collection of short stories from crime, love, illness, death, racism, and humor.
What I learned from this book... Edward O'Brien, who started the annual Best American Short Stories, saw the virtue in our diversity as a nation being represented so well in a distinctly American literature. So from the intro I learned that the short story form is an American genre (think Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, etc) and it has been mostly dismissed by the rest of the literary world for lacking "sophistication and technique".
The introductions are given by the year's guest editor and
First you should know I've always loved short stories. The really great ones seem to have all the richness and plot and feeling of a novel, but wrapped up in a few short pages. So it's a challenging genre to do well, sort of like the famous apology from Blaise Pascal for writing a long letter because he "lacked the time to make it short." This book is specifically American stories published in the 20th century, and you can imagine the process they must have gone through to narrow down the list. ...more
Short stories! What could be better reading material for someone with a head cold, mild general malaise, and the attention span of a five-year-old?

There actually is an answer to this question, and it's "comic books." But I'm fresh out, so Updike's favorites will have to tide me over.
Lesson learned: when choosing a compilation of stories, take into account the editor as much as the authors.
I eagerly looked forward to this collection of American short stories, chronicled by year. Some were the works of obscure authors, selected by what truly stood out to the editors.
Unfortunately, if a particular writer is prone to darkness, that's what draws him as an editor, as I discovered in the dozen or so shorts I read before I finally gave up in disgust. I guess I didn't have in mind
This book has been my occasional bedtime reading material since the middle of September (OK, there was a while when I wasn’t reading before going to sleep). The Best American Short Story volumes have been publishing the best American short stories for each year since 1915; and this volume contains the editors’ opinion of the best fifty-five stories, from “Zelig” by Benjamin Rosenblatt in 1915 to “The Half-Skinned Steer” by Annie Proulx in 1998. Some of these stories I have encountered before in ...more
This is a truly amazing collection! My mom and I each had a copy and read it at roughly the same time. (My mom, of course, finished first!) I eagerly await each yearly edition of the Best American Short Stories, so this volume was a special treat for me. One of the things that surprised me about this book was just how 'American' it is. John Updike notes in his introduction that he tried not just to choose stories written in America, but stories that truly tell us something ABOUT America. I think ...more
Nick Black
Jun 08, 2013 Nick Black rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nick by: Doug Davis
This ought have been called the "Best American Short Stories About New York WASPs, Jewish Males and the Dark South." From Flannery O' Connor we get "Greenleaf", a questionable and surely non-representative selection; from Hemingway "The Killers", probably among the lesser third from The Snows of Kilmanjaro. Also, I'm pretty sure Alice Munro is Canadian, yet John O' Hara finds no place here (both are semi-explained in Updike's introduction--the former hailing from "Anglophone Canada" (how does th ...more
I would be hard-pressed to say anything negative about a collection of short stories selected by John Updike. This collection of stories are character and era-defining, stunning classics of American short story literature. With pieces from classic American authors like Faulkner, O'Brian, and Lardner, it does not disappoint. I was excited to read and reread each story to pick up differnt details and subtlities; each author had his/her own way of expressing the period sentiment.

My opinion of this
So hard to review a collection as a whole when it's made up entirely of conspicuously individual parts and third party opinion...some stories get 5 stars easily, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, is one such example...also possibly, Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver.

Others sit comfortably in the 3 star range, like The German Refugee by Bernard Malamud, The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick, I Want to Live by Thom Jones, Birthmates by Gish Jen, Here We Are by Dorothy Parker, and Wild Plums by Gr
The Best American Short Stories of The Century

These wonderful short stories have helped me re-discover the magic of a fabulous if short story. After finishing them I have started reading short tales…again.
They are different in subject and manner but they share something: Their outstanding value.
From the very famous Scott F. Fitzgerald lo the lesser known (at least for this reviewer) Raymond Carver, the authors have made me a happier man, and, from what Aristotle says- that’s the whole point in l
Mar 24, 2014 Richard is currently reading it
You don't need me to review such a big collection(although I will point out the fact that these are John Updike's selections is not insignificant, as they will conform to one man's personal preferences). Still, I'm going to do a kind of running review to keep track of my opinions of the stories, as many of these authors are new to me.

"The German Refugee," Bernard Malamud: I listened to this on audio, and the reader did a really great job, especially with the dialogue. It may be a bit overlong, b
Richard Jespers
Stories that stood out:

1923 Jean Toomer - “Blood Burning Moon”

1929 Grace Stone Coates - “Wild Plums” (Set in Kansas, captures my grand-
mother’s era, the same language, its idioms.)

1955 John Cheever - “The Country Husband” (Excellent portrayal of suburban

1960 Lawrence Sargent Hall - “The Ledge” (Harrowing tale of man and boys who
go out hunting and don’t return.)

1987 Tim O’Brian - “The Things They Carried” (Worthy of the hoopla. So very
well crafted, perfect. The objects soldiers carry, s
I can't believe I read the whole thing, basically. What a journey. I highly recommend doing what I did, and just kind of leaving this book lying around for a month or two but actually reading *every* story, in order, to experience the Progress of the American Century. (Ahem.) Highlights include:

*Famous authors! Wheee!! All the cool kids are here, from Hemingway & Faulkner to Cather & Fitzgerald. You got your Welty, your Porter, your Roth, plus your Houston/Proulx/McPherson/Carver/Beatti
Just not a fan of short stories, but I did catch an interesting one or two.
Linda Canup
If you only read one of these stories, read "I Want to Live!" By Thom Jones.
A wonderful collection. We really lost a jewel when Updike died.
Mar 04, 2014 Shelly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
First off, I feel a sense of accomplishment in completing this tome. It was a fascinating journey via literature through the last century. Some stories were mediocre, but many were captivating and haunting and harrowing. I can see what it was included in the Reading List for the Reading for Preaching book--you can't walk away from the book without at least a better appreciation of the evolution of culture. I personally found reading short stories, which I've not done a lot of, to be a much diffe ...more
Lori Walsh
So many good stories in here!
I'm almost done with this wonderful collection. A few stories have stood out, most recently "In The Gloaming" by Alice Elliott Dark. An absolute heart wrenching account of a mother's last days with her son, who is dying of aids. Beautiful, touching, sweet, well crafted. Worth a read on its own. On a similar subject, Susan Sontag's "The Way We Live Now" is written in a manner that I'v never seen before. It's all a bunch of run-on sentences, but it jumps from person to person mid-stream, linking s ...more
Yes, I finished the last four stories of this fifty-six story volume during the week that little Nico decided to arrive in this world. I found it useful to have this book at the hospital as I read outloud a few of the stories I most appreciated to Jessica and Nico during labor (yes, there are some calmer moments before the dilation and the "big push"). I noted about 20 stories for a re-read due to story construction, writing technique, or overall likability of the story, which of course, is trul ...more
November 2010
Just re-listened to this collection, and once again, thoroughly enjoyed it.Great collection. This is one I could listen to many, many times.
Some favorites:
"Wild Plums" by Grace Stone Coates
"Here We Are" Dorothy Parker
"The German Refuge" Bernard Malamud

Listened on audio. Some of my favorite authors (Mary Gordon, Charles Baxter, Lorrie Moore)are featured as readers here.
One big disappointment:
The short story "The Shawl" is one I read years ago and it hit me hard. It is read here by t
Linda S.
They should call this American Short Stories from the dark side of life. Every story in here was about the worst in human nature. Yes they were well written but most of them were not enjoyable. And some of the narrators were very difficult to understand and did not have good speaking voices. (Read by the authors perhaps?) Maybe I would have enjoyed this more if I read it instead of listening to it.
Annie Martens
I think in an attempt to avoid including stories that everyone has already read that are truly great and indicative of American short story writing of the century, Updike and Kenison chose less-popular stories from great authors of the century that represented the thematic and cultural shifts of the century. There were some genuinely great stories, but overall, this was disappointing.
Jason Palmer
There were a few really good ones hidden among the pages. As a writer, it gave me hope that this is the best America can do. It's saying I got a chance. Either that or it was a really slow century. Its kind of funny because at the beginning John Updike explains how he tried to get a sampling across all walks of American life, yet the majority of the stories are about Jews or the Jim Crow south. The rest of them are about New York. I am quite sick of hearing about New York. Only a few stories des ...more
John Bruni
For a book with such an august title, there were very few stories that impressed me in here. I would say that Hemingway had the best tale, and I'm not a big fan of his work. Faulkner and Fitzgerald also had some decent outings, but it wasn't their finest. Joyce Carol Oates also does fairly well. Just about everything else in here did not impress me at all. These writers are very good at description and characterization, but they neglect everything else. The conflict of a story is supposed to dri ...more
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New Short Story Collection from Updike's Son 1 17 Jul 21, 2009 11:51AM  
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John Hoyer Updike (born March 18, 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania) was an American writer. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for hi ...more
More about John Updike...

Other Books in the Series

The Best American Short Stories (1 - 10 of 74 books)
  • The Best American Short Stories 1943
  • The Best American Short Stories 1945
  • The Best American Short Stories 1946 (The Best American Short Stories)
  • The Best American Short Stories 1947
  • The Best American Short Stories 1948
  • The Best American Short Stories 1949
  • The Best of Best American Short Stories 1915-1950
  • The Best American Short Stories 1951
  • The Best American Short Stories 1952
  • The Best American Short Stories 1953
Rabbit, Run (Rabbit Angstrom, #1) Rabbit at Rest (Rabbit Angstrom, #4) Rabbit Is Rich (Rabbit Angstrom, #3) Rabbit Redux (Rabbit Angstrom, #2) The Witches of Eastwick (Eastwick, #1)

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