At the end of the calendar year, bookstores are swamped with anthologies proclaiming the "best of" writing of the year. There is, apparently, a lot of really good writing: above is just a sample of the galleys and paperbacks that came to the office. We sorted through the stacks to come up with the definitive list: the 10 Best "Best of" books of 2010.
The Best American Short Stories 2010 (Mariner Books), edited by Richard Russo. Russo writes of the pleasure and pain of his task: “Narrowing the roughly 250 stories I read to the final 20 felt like some sort of literary waterboarding.” The big names -- The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, the Atlantic, Tin House -- supply the writers who make the cut: Charles Baxter, Jennifer Egan, Ron Rash, Kevin Moffett, Steve Almond, Joshua Ferris, Lauren Groff, Wells Tower, Tea Obreht and Jim Shepherd and more.
Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive), edited by Aleksander Hemon. Now in its second year, this anthology is a bigger challenge than the others: the pieces, excerpts and complete stories are selected because they’ve never before appeared in America; most have to be translated. “Europe” is defined broadly, to include England -- and Booker-prize winning Hilary Mantel -- and reaches as far as Turkey. There are stories from Poland, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Ireland, Begium (both French and Flemish) Latvia, Serbo-Croatia, Albania, Austria, Belarus and more.
Best Food Writing 2010 (Da Capo Press), edited by Holly Hughes. Includes paeans to sardines, high-end restaurants in Los Angeles, New York’s Russ & Daughters deli, homemade bread, ramen, pit-barbecued pig, locavorism. There is a short piece from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book about his choice to eat vegetarian after the birth of his son. L.A. foodies should be especially pleased; our city is a bit overrepresented. And, yes, Jonathan Gold, writing about Antojitos Carmen, the delicious East L.A. eatery that inverted the trend and went from foodcart to storefront.
The Best American Comics 2010 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), edited by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman lays bare the difficulties in choosing the best, his troubles with the way the year is defined and his frustration at things that have been left out of previous editions -- and then delivers a tremendous selection of graphic novel excerpts and comics. This anthology includes work by Chris Ware, Theo Ellsworth, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Peter Bagge, R. Crumb, Lilli Carre, David Mazzucchelli and Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel, and comes in a substantial, oversized hardcover.
The Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press), edited by Julian Dibble. Includes Evan Ratliff’s “Vanish,” his chronicle of trying to go off the grid and travel stay unfindable for Wired; Clay Shirkey on the future (or not) of newspapers; a New Yorker piece on making cheap, functional, clean-burning stoves for the developing world; Kevin Kelly on technophilia and a tweet from an astronaut orbiting in the space station.
The Best American Poetry 2010 (Scribner Poetry), edited by Amy Gerstler. Gerstler, who has contributed to The Times, writes in her introduction, “I badly want this anthology to be read not only by poetry fans, but also by famished souls who never dreamed they’d admire any text that called itself a poem.” There are poems from U.S. poet laureate W. S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, John Ashberry, Louise Gluck, John Updike, Dennis Cooper, Charles Simic, Derek Walcott, Adrienne Rich, J.E. Wei, Lynn Emanuel, Billy Collins and Terrance Hayes.
The Best Music Writing 2010 (Da Capo Press), edited by The Times’ Ann Powers. Includes John Kun on Mexican regional bands and the cellphone economy; Lola Ogunnaike on MC Dizzy Drake for Vibe; Timothy Quirk, from the defunct band Too Much Joy, writing on his website “My Hilarious Warner Bros. Royalty Statement”; Alex Ross on Marian Anderson; Greg Tate on Michael Jackson; and, ironically, Christopher Weingarten’s brilliant, profane presentation on the death of music criticism.
The Best of the Web 2010 (Dzanc Books), edited by Kathy Fish. “A man with such loneliness repels even the moon’s face in water,” from a story by Terese Svoboda, is a sentence Fish cites to show that beautiful and arresting writing can appear anywhere. This anthology celebrates the fiction and nonfiction which appears online, in smaller, adventurous publications like failbetter, >killauthor, Juked, storySouth, the Rumpus and Everyday Genius, with a healthy helping from the online outlets of literary journals.
The Best American Travel Writing 2010 (Mariner Books), edited by Bill Buford. This is travel writing imbued with a sense of the personal: Henry Alford’s failed pickup in Istanbul; Ted Genoways’ bat-seeking expedition in Surinam with his naturalist father. From National Geographic, the New Yorker, Outside, plus the unexpected (the Believer, Lapham’s Quarterly). Notable contributors include Susan Orlean, David Sedaris, Christopher Hitchens, Tom Bissell, George Packer and Ian Frazier.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 (Mariner Press), edited by Dave Eggers with a student committee from the 826 centers. The anthology includes stories from major, often funny writers -- Sherman Alexie, Etgar Keret, George Saunders -- and also lists, which are non-narrative but tell a kind of story. Best American Gun Magazine Headlines, Best American Sentences on Page 50 of Books Published in 2009, Best New Patents, Best Farm Names -- they point to the silliness of best-of list-making while showing how much fun the process can be.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
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Photo credit: Carolyn Kellogg