A Beginner’s Guide To Reading Anthologies

I have a thing for anthologies. Firstly, you should know that I also have a thing for soundtracks. I am not sure where this fascination came from, but I do know it started in high school, and led to me buying more soundtracks than any one person needs and from movies I hadn’t even seen. (Seriously, it’s a problem.)

I’m not sure when I started looking for anthologies in stores, but somehow I did, and it has been wonderful. It seems to me that when you buy a soundtrack you get a mix of genres, styles, artists, and rhythms. The same can be said for anthologies. That is an exciting way to read. Every story you change characters, settings, even time periods. Sometimes you change the story and the author stays the same, and you get a glimpse into another life. Isn’t that what all reading is for? To see other people’s lives and experience their story?

Sometimes the anthology is a book of stories by the same author, sometimes they are authors from the same country, or from a time in history. I think most of my exposure to anthologies came in college. When you are an English major you spend a great deal of your money buying textbooks, and our textbooks fall to the wonderful Norton Anthologies in all their glory. Months and years spent reading stories and excerpts from cultures and eras. It was exciting and exposed me to so many authors, countries, and cultures that I would not have experienced otherwise. To this day one of my favorite books bought for class is the “Lais of Marie de France.” For an author to be widely taught as the first female poet we don’t actually know anything about her life, not even her given name. My favorite lais is “Bisclavret,” the story of a man trapped in werewolf form because of the treachery of his wife. I know that medieval poetry isn’t for everyone, so just give me a chance to tell you about some more anthologies.

In between my many Nortons I found other types of anthologies. Collections of supernatural prom stories, dystopian and apocalyptic stories, Fitzgerald’s short stories, holiday love stories, and recently a book of alternate-reality Sherlock stories. Sometimes they contain excerpts from longer stories, like in the case of the Nortons, and sometimes they are just short stories that inevitably always leave me wanting more.

That is the catch-22 of anthologies and short stories. I tend to get through them so quickly, and it generally leaves me wanting more with these characters in this setting. For me I tend to read books quickly, and when it comes to anthologies or short stories I find that it takes a powerful story with compelling characters to make me remember the plot. When you read book after book of short stories it can get confusing about what characters exist where.

I like to think of anthologies and books of short stories as palate cleansers. They still satisfy you, they don’t take as long, and they can be just as delicious as an entree. Their purpose is to get you ready for the big courses. The ones that need a steak knife.

If you are looking for something to get in between the release of the next book in a series or looking for a present for a bookworm here are some of my favorite collections: “Norton Anthology of English Literature” (Norton 5EVER), “Mythology” by Edith Hamilton,”20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker,” “The Best American NonRequired Reading 2014,” and “Shards and Ashes.”

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