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Anthologies, A Love Affair

Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

I don’t really love short stories, so it surprises me when I really like anthologies. Anthologies can be hit or miss, and of course, the content depends largely on the editor. My TBR pile is neverending quite large, and many times, I’ll pass over anthologies in favor of something I am more familiar with. Except for one series: the Best American series, especially Best American Essays. It all started during my first year of the MFA program. I was in the bookstore, and the 2011 edition had just been published (edited by Edwidge Danticat). I needed a book for the plane ride back to NYC, and so I picked it up. Not only did that installment have several alumni of my program, but it was the best one I’ve read to date. I set off to read all of the previous editions, and worked my way through. Ever since then, I haven’t missed a collection.

The Best American series also has yearly collections like Best American Sports Writing, Best American Short Stories, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Science and Nature Writing, among others. In 2009, I did find a copy of The Best American Medical Writing, which seems to have been a one-time deal, to my ongoing dismay. I’ve tried some of the others, but none have grabbed my attention like the Essays collections. I tried really hard to like the Best American Non-Required Reading series, and every other year or so, I’ll pick it up, hoping this year’s the year it grabs me…and it always falls flat for me.

best american travel writing

When the publisher sent me an advance copy of Best American Essays (BAE…coincidence? I think not), I paused for the briefest of moments when I saw the editor – Jonathan Franzen. The essays chosen tend to reflect back on the editor, and my favorite collections have always been with editors whose books I’ve enjoyed – Danticat, Lauren Slater, and Cheryl Strayed, for instance. I’ve read Franzen, and he’s not one of my favorites. So far, the essays are mixed for me, as they are most times. As a new mom, I appreciate that I can read one essay and then put the book aside, and start all over again with a new essay. It makes me feel productive. Will this collection be a favorite? I’m not sure yet. Will I read next year’s? Undoubtedly.


What anthologies do you love?