Crystal's Reviews > The Best American Short Stories of the Century

The Best American Short Stories of the Century by John Updike
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Aug 23, 09

Read in August, 2009

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 this one is John Updike. Choosing from 200, he picked 56 stories that he felt best mirror the realities of American life. I never (ever) thought of short stories as a news medium, another thing I learned. I liked that Updike took each decade and reminded the reader to keep in mind what was going on in society and the world because these influences do bleed through. So, many stories that I wanted to dismiss as just stupid or self indulgent, now I thought more about understanding.
My favorites: Willa Cather's Double Birthday (1929)
Death of a Favorite, JF Powers (1951)
Defender of the Faith, Philip Roth (1960)
Roses, Rhododendron by Alice Adams (1976)
Alice Munro's Meneseteung (1989)
and In the Gloaming from 1994 by Alice Elliott Dark
From the 1915 to 1999 stories here that I liked least I guess are the ones that are more extreme in language, violence and creepiness. Updike wrote in the intro, "The American experience, story after story insisted, has been brutal and hard." Ugh - 1923's Blood-Burning Moon by Jean Toomer & 1994's Public Library by Carolyn Ferrell are proofs to this point.
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