Every year, The Best American Writing series releases several anthologies of top-notch writing in fiction and nonfiction. Here are the 2013 anthologies; note that while there isn’t space to list the complete contents of each book here, all have the Look Inside! feature enabled on the Amazon site so you can click through on the links and view the full table of contents for each book that way if you like.
“As our vision becomes more global, our storytelling is stretching in many ways. Stories increasingly change point of view, switch location, and sometimes pack as much material as a short novel might,” writes guest editor Elizabeth Strout. “It’s the variety of voices that most indicates the increasing confluence of cultures involved in making us who we are.” The Best American Short Stories 2013 presents an impressive diversity of writers who dexterously lead us into their corners of the world.
In “Miss Lora,” Junot Díaz masterfully puts us in the mind of a teenage boy who throws aside his better sense and pursues an intimate affair with a high school teacher. Sheila Kohler tackles innocence and abuse as a child wanders away from her mother, in thrall to a stranger she believes is the “Magic Man.” Kirstin Valdez Quade’s “Nemecia” depicts the after-effects of a secret, violent family trauma. Joan Wickersham’s “The Tunnel” is a tragic love story about a mother’s declining health and her daughter’s helplessness as she struggles to balance her responsibility to her mother and her own desires. New author Callan Wink’s “Breatharians” unsettles the reader as a farm boy shoulders a grim chore in the wake of his parents’ estrangement.
“Elizabeth Strout was a wonderful reader, an author who knows well that the sound of one’s writing is just as important as and indivisible from the content,” writes series editor Heidi Pitlor. “Here are twenty compellingly told, powerfully felt stories about urgent matters with profound consequences.”
Selected and introduced by Cheryl Strayed, the New York Times best-selling author of Wild and the writer of the celebrated column “Dear Sugar,” this collection is a treasure trove of fine writing and thought-provoking essays.
Strayed, whose best-selling memoir, Wild (2011), was the inaugural title for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, and whose popular “Dear Sugar” advice columns have been collected in Tiny Beautiful Things (2012), takes the helm of this vibrant annual. In her introduction, she attests to the power source of this flexible literary form: “Behind every good essay there’s an author with a savage desire to know more about what is already known.”
Her 26 engrossing selections begin with Poe Ballantine’s potent “Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel,” a tale about his struggles to get by in California during the 1987 stock market crash. In “The Exhibit Will Be So Marked,” Ander Monson comes to some surprising conclusions as he considers mixtapes versus mix CDs, the lives and deaths of trees, and the mysterious Paulding Light in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Charles Baxter recounts a harrowing limo accident, and Megan Stielstra evokes a blizzard of emotions in her distilled drama of postpartum depression. Also including essays by Alice Munro, Walter Kirn, Zadie Smith, and Dagoberto Gilb, Strayed does this sterling series proud. –Donna Seaman
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee, a leading cancer physician and researcher, selects the year’s top science and nature writing from journalists who dive into their fields with curiosity and passion, delivering must-read articles from a wide array of fields. This volume collects 27 science and nature articles, including:
DAVID DEUTSCH and ARTUR EKERT. Beyond the Quantum Horizon, From Scientific American
BRETT FORREST. Shattered Genius, From Playboy
JEROME GROOPMAN. The T-Cell Army, From The New Yorker
MICHAEL SPECTER. The Deadliest Virus, From The New Yorker
ALAN LIGHTMAN. Our Place in the Universe, From Harper’s Magazine
DAVID QUAMMEN. Out of the Wild, From Popular Science
OLIVER SACKS. Altered States, From The New Yorker
STEVEN WEINBERG. The Crisis of Big Science, From The New York Review of Books
GARETH COOK. Autism Inc., From The New York Times
NATALIE ANGIER. The Life of Pi and Other Infinities, From The New York Times
ROBERT SAPOLSKY. Super Humanity, From Scientific American
KATHERINE HARMON. The Patient Scientist, From Scientific American
STEPHEN MARCHE. Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?, From The Atlantic
KEVIN DUTTON. The Wisdom of Psychopaths, From Scientific American
Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love, 2006), guest editor of the latest volume in this always rich yearly anthology, boldly avers that she chose travel stories that “were told the most marvelously in 2012.” To her, each piece “contains awe in strong enough doses to render the reader enchanted, delighted, compelled, or forever unsettled.”
Such strong billing is not misleading, as readers will learn when they step into the pages of such delights as John Jeremiah Sullivan’s beautifully eloquent “A Prison, a Paradise” (from the New York Times Magazine), about travel to Cuba (“I’ve never stood on a piece of ground as throbbingly, even pornographically, generative”); Colleen Kinder’s “Blot Out” (from Creative Nonfiction), a punchy, even scary, account of a Western woman trying to pass as Muslim on the streets of Cairo; David Sedaris’ hilarious account of dentistry in Paris, “Dentists without Borders” (from the New Yorker); and Marie Arana’s gripping and sobering report on gold mining in Peru, “Dreaming of El Dorado” (from Virginia Quarterly Review). All the pieces included here are treasures of excellent writing, regardless of genre. –Brad Hooper
A perennial hit, our Best American Magazine Writing chooses from the nominees and winners of the coveted National Magazine Awards. Selections belong to the categories of public interest reporting, features, criticism, commentary, and fiction. This year’s selections include Iraqi War veteran Brian Mockenhaupt ( Byliner) on modern combat in Afghanistan and its ability to both forge and challenge friendships; Mac McClelland’s ( GQ) on his nightmarish stint picking and packing at an online shipping warehouse; Daniel Alarcón ( Harper’s Magazine) on the strange social and political dynamics of Peru’s most infamous prison; Melissadel Bosque March ( Texas Observer) on the secret dealings of Mexico’s deadliest smuggling corridor; Ta-Nehisi Coates ( The Atlantic) on the complex racial terrain traversed by African American politicans; and Frank Rich ( New York) on the late Nora Ephron and her invaluable contribution to American culture.
Moehringer—a self-described “generalist” whose Los Angeles Times feature story on a homeless man became the Samuel L. Jackson movie Resurrecting the Champ—handles his guest-editing duties with care in this twenty-third volume of the excellent series. The 26 pieces here skew toward football—what doesn’t these days?—but there are big dollops of baseball and running, along with coverage of sports as wide ranging as bowling, weight lifting, surfing, and the Special Olympics.
There’s a very strong piece on bullfighter Juan Jose Padilla, making a triumphant comeback from an astonishing goring, the bull’s horn entering beneath Padilla’s jaw and exiting his left eye socket. And a bittersweet account of amateur bowler Bill Fong, who rolled 35 straight strikes before succumbing to a nine on the first ball of his final frame, coming up just short of bowling’s holy grail: a perfect 900 score for three games. A profile of Curt Schilling shows the retired pitcher carrying the same confidence and competitiveness in forming a video-game company that he once took to the mound, with different results. A no-brainer pickup for the sports collection. –Alan Moores
Here’s another strong entry, the seventeenth in the series, in our preeminent mystery story anthology. As always, series editor Penzler makes the initial selection, turning over his 50 favorites to a guest editor—this time it’s Scottoline—to make the final choices.
She has done her work well, coming up with a nice mix of big names (Connelly, Oates, Pronzini) and lesser-knowns, who, judging by their contributions here, won’t be lesser known all that much longer. Connelly fans will be thrilled to find a Harry Bosch story, “A Fine Mist of Blood,” in which the LAPD detective tracks a cold case to a very warm conclusion. Best in show this time, though, goes to Eileen Dreyer’s “The Soldier in the Picture,” which takes as its starting point the iconic Eisenstadt photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. It turns out there was something else going on in Times Square that day, just out of range of Eisenstadt’s camera, another sailor meeting his wife, but the occasion was not nearly as happy. It’s a nearly perfect crime story: shocking, resonant, and beautifully crafted. –Bill Ott