The best of damn near everythingSometimes it's nice to have someone else do the work for you. You can't read everything. Various yearly anthologies try to save readers the trouble of filtering out the lesser nominees for our disposable income and spare time. Prominent among them are Houghton Mifflin's Best Of series.
The Best American Essays 1998, edited this time by acclaimed practitioner Cynthia Ozick, is the feast of fine writing we've come to expect from this series. The 25 contributors range from the venerable William Maxwell on Nearing Ninety to John Updike's lovely meditation on the art of cartooning. The Best American Short Stories 1998 ($27.50, 0395875153), guest-edited by Garrison Keillor, includes 20 stories by authors such as Meg Wolitzer, Carol Anshaw, and, inevitably, John Updike. Each of these stories surprised and delighted me, Keillor writes. He isn't alone.
A newer series, The Best American Mystery Stories 1998 ($27.50, 0395835860), edited by the alphabetical Sue Grafton, offers 20 forays into crime and punishment. The authors range from old standbys like Edward D. Hoch, John Lutz, and Donald Westlake, to surprising additions, such as Jay McInerney.