Booking Through Thursday: Collections
Today’s Booking Through Thursday is a good one:
Do you prefer to read collections that are all of works by the same author? Or collections by different writers? Consistency or variety?
Good question. For me, the type or overarching theme of the collection and what I’m in the mood to read are going to be more of the deciding factors in what anthology or literary magazine I decide to pick up, rather than the authorship of the collection. If I’m in the mood for spooky short stories, I’ll pick up an anthology by Neil Gaiman, for example. And I’ll probably be equally happy reading Fragile Things (all Gaiman stories) or Unnatural Creatures, an anthology he recently edited. Same is true when I’m in the mood for essays: It will usually be about the thematic topic, whether one author or many. I need to seek out more collections of foodie memoir/essay, because my appetite for them (yes, yes I did) is basically insatiable. I can’t possibly have read all of what’s out there. For science fiction and fantasy, I know I enjoy both multi-author collections and single author collections of stories. I have a couple of short story collections by Connie Willis that I really like, though I don’t consider her a good idea to read all at one sitting because her screwball whimsy gets a little similar after one or two stories in a row.
I always feel like I should read, and ideally like The Best American anthologies of whatever topic. I think various well-meaning people have given me The Best American Poetry and I tend to find the poetry alienating and no fun. Prickly and depressing. The fiction too. I don’t like the way the New Yorker does fiction either. A lot of people drinking wine and talking about people and writers like them and affairs and hating each other in beautiful apartments.
I haven’t decided where poetry fits in this categorization. I hadn’t thought of a book by just one poet, like, say Billy Collins, in the same mindset as a collection of stories or essays. but I guess it is a collection, and sometimes an entire collection, selected from various works over the course of the poet’s life, to mark how their craft has transformed and evolved. Whether I read a collection of poems by one author, or an anthology of different poets, I’m going to dip in and out and browse out of sequence. Any anthology is more going to be something that I read in a browsing mode, rather than reading sequentially. That’s why reading poetry on the Kindle really bugs me. Lack of ability to browse. There’s also the fact that the formatting and line breaks seem to get weird, inevitably and the formatting gets all strange.
But not all anthologies of multiple authors or poets are created equal. I’m definitely not a fan of the Best American anthologies in any form. My very favorite anthology series is Poetry 180, edited by Billy Collins. Any time I browse through the pages, I find a poet I already know and like, such as Ted Kooser, Carol Ann Duffy, Stephen Dobyns, or Thomas Lux, or make a new discovery to pursue, like Naomi Shihab Nye, or Charles Simic. Not altogether sure what I’m reacting to when I like those anthologies and like others less so. The sensibility of the poetry that unifies both Billy Collins’s own, concrete language, warmth in the writing style? Who knows? I wish there were more anthologies in the 180 series. In the hopes of finding a similar collection, I picked up Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, but I think my sense of his personality has fed what I think about his poetry choices. It’s all very Lake Woebegone, where the hoary, homey, vaguely plaid wool upholstery and doilies go, hearing Keillor’s voice in my head as I read. The poetry winds up feeling fusty and not so modern. I strongly suspect I’m selling it short, and should revisit Keillor’s picks.
All of this leads me to daydream: what would I put in a collection, if I were editing? I’m ashamed to admit, I’m probably not widely read enough to do it justice.