A friend recently asked me to review a short story anthology. Never having done this before, I didn’t know how to start. So I got pen and paper ready, took notes.
Having now read four anthologies back-to-back, I’ve discovered something about the way I read and enjoy them… For some reason, I add up the number of stories in the anthology I enjoyed, then calculate what percentage that is of the whole. If I enjoyed the majority, it’s a good anthology. The higher that majority, the more I enjoyed that collection.
Here are my marks for those four anthologies:
- Eighty-Nine (Literary Mix Tapes, 2011) – I liked 14/26 stories (54%). Read my full review here.
- Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman (Pantheon, 2009) – I liked 29/40 stories (72%). Read my full review here.
- A Visit from the Duchess (Stringybark Publishing, 2011) – I liked 16/28 stories (57%). Read my full review here.
- Winds of Change (Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, 2011) – I liked 20/24 stories (83%). Read my full review here.
All were in the majority – yay! I love short stories!! Just think of the combined imagination that goes into just one collection… *sigh*
However, discovering this reading habit has left me with a quandary – why do I judge anthologies so methodically? I don’t read novels like that. I don’t add up how many chapters I enjoyed before deciding whether or not I liked it. So long as I enjoy a novel overall, I recommend it. Why then the mathematical approach for anthologies?
At first I thought it was because a novel is (generally) written by one author – giving the work a single voice you either like or dislike. Whereas in multiple-author anthologies there are as many voices as there are stories. Then again, one of the anthologies I just read was a single-author anthology and I still applied the same methodology. Plus, the stories in multiple-author anthologies are usually guided into place by editors with preferences and dislikes for certain voices, themes, etc. So those editors would give their anthologies a distinctive feel, if not voice…
Hmm, I wondered, how do editors read and enjoy anthologies?
With all the fiction they have to read, surely they must value those anthologies that offer the most variety, surely that’s how they rate their favourite stories? Or perhaps they savour quality of writing, or being transported into a different world? What is it they enjoy best?
Perhaps if I asked them, their answers might help me resolve my quandary?
So I did, and I’ll tell you what eight extraordinary accomplished editors and judges of anthologies said next week in ‘Part 2 – how do they read theirs?’.
Until then, have a guess – what is most important to editors when they’re reading an anthology:
(a) quality of writing
(b) variety, or
(c) being transported into a different world
While you’re at it, what’s most important to you – (a), (b) or (c)? Vote using the comments section below. And do any of you add up the number of stories you enjoy in anthologies, like I do? How do you read yours?
Meanwhile, I’m going to start reading my next anthology, Anywhere But Earth (Coeur de Lion Publishing, 2011), which I saw launched last month at the NSW Writers’ Centre Speculative Fiction Festival. If the anthology is anything like the day I had that day, it’s bound to score high