As I have discussed on this blog many a time, the backlist is what we libraries have that the book store does not. We have old, out of print books that may be hard to find for purchase, but with the public library card each and every person here in America is entitled to (citizen or not), you can read just about anything.
Again, click here for all of my posts that specifically ponder the backlist. But, today, I want to consider reading the backlist of short stories.
When I first started at the BPL, almost 13 years ago, we had a HUGE backlist collection of short stories. We had every single copy of The Best American Short Stories from the 1930s to the present taking up rows upon rows on our shelves. Now that was a bit extreme for a public library in a community of about 55,000 people.
But books of short stories are relatively popular at the BPL. We made a collection development decision to continue buying most of the titles in The Best American series for the library, but to only keep the current 3-5 years (depending on demand and which piece in the series it was; for example, general short stories we keep longer than genre editions).
So we got rid of all of those old collections, but we did replace them with The Best American Stories of the Century, a collection that included the very best of the stories which appeared in the original annual collections. This item still circulates regularly.
So in general, the BPL has a pretty solid Best American Stories backlist collection to choose from. But it is by no means comprehensive in any way.
It is hard to know which stories are worth keeping once we get past the 5 year self-life. Or, what backlist stories from years gone by are worth your time as a reader?
Well, I have found a place where you can hear some of the best short stories ever written as judged by the best practitioners of the form today. The New Yorker is best place to find the most interesting short fiction today and you get a story a week. Since May of 2007 though, they have expanded their short story reach by having a monthly FREE podcast in which a short story writer (quite often someone whose current work was featured in the print magazine that month) read one of their favorite short stories.
Click here to access the archive and listen for yourself.
Not only are are these stories hand picked and read by great writers of today, but the authors also take time to comment on the writer whose story they chose and the work itself. It puts it all in a historical perspective that increases my enjoyment of the stories I have encountered there. And did I mention, in the spirit of the pubic library, these stories are FREE.
This month's offering is Richard Ford reading and discussing Harold Brodkey's "The State of Grace."
As the summer begins and we all spend more time outside and on the go, consider downloading some classic short stories to take with you. You can have the best of the backlist at your command.
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