So the other day I was in the bookstore flipping through the new Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold—and notice I said flipping, not buying, a distinction which will become clear in a moment—only to discover the stories were from the usual suspects. You know, The New Yorker, The New England Review, The New Yorker again, The Southern Review, and again and again with The New Yorker.
Detecting a pattern?
None of the stories interested me, so I didn't buy the edition. However, more surprising than the low quality of the stories is that the selections were only from well-known literary magazines. No genre or online magazines were represented (except for Narrative Magazine, which is fully embraced by the old-guard literati as the only online journal worth including with the usual suspects). Still, these selections didn't bother me too much until I looked at the list of the "100 Other Distinguished Stories of 2008." Once again, no genre magazines listed. Almost no online magazines.
Guess these places didn't publish any stories last year which were worth noting.
This is shocking because in recent years the BASS series had been much improved by its guest editors widening the net, so to speak, to include stories from outside the usual suspects. Michael Chabon began this process with his brilliant 2005 edition of BASS, and the trend continued with guest editors Ann Patchett, Stephen King, and Salman Rushdie. By widening the net, these editors once again made BASS both relevant to the discussion of short fiction in this country, and fun to read.
Thanks to the 2009 edition of BASS, the series is back to being the laughing stock of anthologies.