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Timeless Coffee Table Books

Sometimes words are, well, overrated. Here’s our list of favorite books we admire largely for their looks.


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Based on the ever popular blog of the same name, this is a treasure trove of the lovely, the lively and the just plain weird.

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Portraits (and drawings and sculptures) from the artist as a young man

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One of our favorite movies of the last ten years – and a book to match

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From Napoleon’s watch at Waterloo to the Dresden codex, these photos describe the world through the world of things.

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Who doesn’t love a great Vanity Fair portrait? Here are 100 years’ worth. . . .

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Work from 100 artists of all times and places

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The master at his most masterful

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Tree houses that aren’t just for kids – or amateur carpenters – anymore.

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On the (Un)Natural History of Vampires

FifthHouseVampires come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are handsome and popular, their skin sparkling beguilingly under the fluorescent lights of a crowded high school hallway. Others, hideous revenants with cauliflower ears and talon-like fingers, linger with the rats for centuries in decrepit Eastern European castles. Some are charming aristocrats, sipping the finest red from crystal, while others run wild through the streets in howling, bloodthirsty packs. And some are brooding and introspective, contemplating the depths of eternity in conversations spanning many mortal lifetimes, and some vampires just want to dance.

When you think about it, vampires are a lot like you and me.

Ben Tripp has given vampires considerable thought. His new novel, The Fifth House of the Heart, puts a twist in the vampire tale by stripping his bloodsuckers of the twists of recent bloodsucker lit, returning the myth to its roots as an actual scary monster. Here he ruminates (morbidly) on vampiric variation and his own love of the genre.

On The Nature Of Vampires

Over many centuries, vampires have held the high ground of horror in the popular imagination. They’re always with us, embodying our fears, reassuring us that death is not the worst thing. From the succubus Lilith, the first wife of Adam according to ancient legend, to the contemporary eternal teenager soaked in blood and Weltschmerz, vampires have never ceased to stalk us — a dark reflection in which we see both the perfection and terror of a human face from which mortality has been stripped.

It is suitable that our love of vampires never dies.

They change very little in the essentials. Variety is in the details. Sometimes they can exist in sunlight, and sometimes they must lurk in darkness. Some sleep in their native soil; others prefer a bed. In some tellings they can transform into other creatures, or rule the human mind from afar. Many are bound by more natural rules. But the essence of the vampire is strictly observed: They drink the blood of the living. They’re undead themselves; that is, they cannot live or die by natural means. They can persist for centuries. They have preternatural powers at least, stronger and faster and harder to kill, their senses more acute.


A vampire with cauliflower ears and talon-like fingers. Hideous. (back to top)

I’ve always loved vampire stories. When I set out to write one of my own, it was an opportunity to delve into the past and acquaint myself with the contemporary literature I’d not yet looked at. How I’d missed old Varney! And Dracula, who has been retold so many times it’s easy to forget just how perfectly evil and transgressive Bram Stoker’s creation was. But Dracula was published in 1897 — a new book, by vampire standards. More than two hundred years ago, there were Lenore and The Bride of Corinth, both poems — the latter by Goethe, no less. Lord Byron mentions vampires in one of his poems. The Vampyre, which was once attributed to him, may be the first romantic vampire story; its actual author was J. W. Polidori. It was written in 1818 — weirdly enough, on the same occasion as Frankenstein, in the same company, for the amusement of the same little group. That is a rainy week I wish I’d been around for.

The last of the old-school vampires may exist in Anne Rice’s wonderful Interview With The Vampire and its sequels. They’re old-world creatures, stately and elegant. Since then, I’ve learned, the modern vampire is a more human creature — at least emotionally. Sookie Stackhouse’s blood-drinkers, which exist in a crowded Southern Gothic universe also stuffed with other mythical beings, are an out-in-the-open phenomenon in their society, well known to mortals. The stories seem to me like a speculation on what would happen if Anne Rice’s delicious Lestat and company were to announce themselves and attempt integration. Much has been said about the other titan of the recent vampire scene, Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series. Look, I’m 48 years old. These things aren’t intended for me. I’m just happy that somebody found a way to bring the vampire myth into the 21st century in a way that young people can connect with. Meyers makes the strength of the vampire into a metaphor for the discovery of adulthood, with its powers and privileges and terrors. It’s the Faustian bargain we all make in order to leave childhood — our first mortal life — behind.

The more I explored the recent history of vampires, especially the many variations on “urban fantasy”, the more I felt like the genre was wandering. The urban fantasies are a popular paperback genre, half Harlequin Romance and half Blade without Wesley Snipes. In these books, vampires and their ilk are sexy, profane, tattooed, ride motorcycles, hang around in decaying industrial buildings, and generally act like they’re in a Billy Idol video from the 1980s. It seemed to me like a time to get back to origins, and maybe even go farther than that, to strip the vampire down to its absolute essentials. So for my upcoming novel The Fifth House of the Heart, I introduced not something new, but a return to Vampire 1.0. The creature medieval peasants were afraid of. The creature who haunts Sumerian mythology as a god. The proto-monster, the beautiful shark with porcelain skin that lives alongside us, preying upon opportune targets without remorse — or any feelings at all, but hunger. These vampires are utterly selfish, vain, and cruel. If they’re sexy, it’s a conjuring trick to bend mortals to their will. If they’re persuasive, it’s because they can’t get what they want by killing. They can live forever, if somebody doesn’t find a way to destroy them.


 Aristocratic, brooding, and introspective (back to top)

This leads to the flipside of the vampire myth: There is always a mortal who wants to kill the fiend at any cost. Dracula’s Van Helsing has devoted himself to the destruction of vampires. Robert Neville of I Am Legend seeks to cure the vampire infection and hand-kills legions of the things. Even the early Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu has its General Spielsdorf, who is handy with an axe — the idea of the stake through the heart hadn’t gained its current popularity yet. In recent vampire stories, the enemy is often other supernatural creatures — werewolves, fairies, adversaries whose own powers make the contest less asymmetrical.

But isn’t that the fun of the thing? To me, the most frightening thing about vampires is that we have no more strength against them than rats have against ourselves. That’s the kind of challenge I like to see: a weak mortal adversary taking on an ancient and powerful monster, and the best of luck with it. In fact I took this idea of the weak protagonist as far as it was possible — my vampire-hunter is frail, in his seventies, he’s an abject coward, and he hires mercenaries to do the dirty work. Naturally, it must come down to a confrontation between him and the monster, one-on-one. When it comes to vampire-hunters, the more mortal the better, it seems to me.

There are always other aspects of the legend to play with. What are vampires? Stephen King went with the classic Dracula type for his 'Salem’s Lot (which scared me half to death when I read it far too young); this is the vampire which can channel evil into physical energy, which plots and looms and spreads his infection. Anne Rice’s vampires were once living people, and their characters are founded in that long-ago time when they were mortal, although they have grown into their strength and become more like gods than men. In my own story, the vampires are unknowable, alien things, incredibly old and cunning. They have a little power over human minds, but most of what they do is within the realm of ordinary physics — if outside our own limited scope. They gradually change shape to resemble whatever they kill. I have always thought that vampires might be like living clay, modeling themselves on their prey to make the hunt easier, the way neolithic hunters clad themselves in skins to get close to the herds.


Some vampires just want to dance (back to top)

Reinventing the vampire legend, in fact, seems to be one of the attractions to the genre. Every author throws some new twist on the idea. Sometimes a notion sticks — the stake through the heart or the aversion to sunlight, for example. This, of course, is handy when it comes time to shake things up in a new tale. We think we know what to do about vampires. We think we know how they behave, what their weaknesses are, even how we might possibly survive a personal relationship with them. So those are all elements to be turned inside out, if it will frighten the daylights (so to speak) out of the reader.

Ultimately, the vampire is The Other, the most fundamental of all monsters. Sometimes is it the shape-shifter as well. It is the devil, death incarnate. It may be the dangerous lover, seduction personified. It may simply be a ruthless, foul killer without any other qualities or qualifications except hunger and violence. Few products of human imagination are as versatile as the vampire, and none are more frightening, in the right hands.

Is that why we continue to read and watch vampire stories so avidly, never tiring of them? Or does it have something to do with ourselves? Do we wish for that power? Do we wish to die such a rare and exquisite death? Or is it that we’d bargain away our souls to be undead and haunt the living, rather than face the empty eternity of death alone? I explored this fascination with vampires in my own way, and ended up writing over a hundred thousand words of fiction on the subject. I still don’t have the answers. But my own love of vampires — and my terrible fear of them — is as strong as ever. Have I learned anything, though? Yes, I have. Garlic is an excellent vampire repellent. But that whole thing about sleeping in coffins is nonsense. So bear that in mind the next time you’re out looking for vampires — and good luck, of course.

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"This Is Not Wonderland": Christina Henry on Her New, Original Take on Alice

AliceFew stories are as beloved as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and it takes a brave writer to remake such an iconic character and give her a brand-new and very scary reality. Christina Henry pulls off this amazing feat with her dark, fantastical thriller, Alice:

Below, Henry describes the genesis of Alice:


It’s always a tricky thing, walking in another story’s footsteps. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is a tale beloved by millions, so embedded in our cultural memory that nearly everyone can conjure up an image of Alice—from the original story, a film remake, a video game or one of many re-imaginings done by assorted authors through the years.

Alices AdventuresAlice has taken on the quality of myth, a character no longer bound to her creator or origin story but a modern-day legend open to interpretation like those other contemporary fairy-tale figures from Neverland and Oz.

I wanted to write my own story of Alice, but I wasn’t certain where to begin. When I wrote my first book, Black Wings, I heard the characters speaking before I saw them, before I had an inkling of a story. That series is really driven by sound in my mind—the sound of the dialogue going rat-a-tat-tat. Because of that I never really thought of myself as a visual writer—a writer who saw things in her mind before she wrote them—until I wrote Alice.

I played around with a few different story ideas, but nothing really stuck. Then I woke up one morning with an image in my head—a girl under glass, a girl with sad, terrified eyes and wings like a butterfly. That girl wasn’t Alice, but she stayed with me.

Then one day I saw Alice. She was covered in blood, wearing a torn dress, somehow magically reappearing from a place where she was supposed to be lost forever.

Now I had Alice and my butterfly girl and I needed to draw a line between the two of them. That was where the story was. I had that line in the Old City. In the original story Alice follows a muttering white rabbit with a waistcoat and watch. In my story the Rabbit is not Alice’s unwitting guide but the very heart of her nightmares, though she does not remember exactly why. I constructed the geography of the Old City like a rabbit’s warren on steroids, full of twists and turns and terrors unforeseen.

I populated that city with pimps and killers and crime bosses, the kind of people a nice girl from the New City should never know, but Alice wasn’t a nice girl anymore. She’d come out of the Old City broken, and how would my damaged Alice survive in a place like this?

She needed a guide, a helper, someone more dangerous than the dangers around her. Again, I saw him—gray eyes and a red-stained axe in red-stained hands. Carroll’s Mad Hatter became my mad Hatcher, a murderer who loves Alice and killing things, not necessarily in that order.

Hatcher has visions of monsters, too—one monster in particular. Alice doesn’t believe that monster is real but she’ll find out soon enough.

This is not Wonderland, but I hope you’ll take this journey with Alice and Hatcher.

—Christina Henry



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Best Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense of July

Here on the editorial team, we tend to read a couple of months ahead (we're reading September and October titles right now). So for us, summer is over--if not literally, then at least literarily.

(I don't think that's a real word, but it seems like it should be. I'm not even going to Google it.)

Right now we are wading into the gravitas that is Fall Reading--which means we are each likely grappling with some massive Fall tome, some literary contribution to the greater betterment of letters and humanity. For us, summer reading is already faint as a whisper; but for you, dear reader, who are living and reading in the present, here's a list of mysteries and thrillers to enjoy this summer:

SilvaThe English Spy by Daniel Silva

Gabriel Allon, one of the great characters in modern day thrillers, is back and as good as ever in the fifteenth book of Silva’s best-selling series. As Gabriel prepares for the transition from his role as an active agent to taking over as leader of “the office,” Israel’s intelligence organization, he is confronted with a crime with causes and motives that stretch much further than they initially appear. If you're new to the series, you can pick this one up without having read the others. But you'll want to read the rest of the series once you're finished.


 Armada Armada by Ernest Cline

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make his debut Ready Player One a phenomenon.


ThorCode of Conduct by Brad Thor

Hidden deep within one of the world’s most powerful organizations is a secret committee with a devastating agenda. Its members are afforded incredible protections—considered elites, untouchables. But when four seconds of video is captured halfway around the world and anonymously transmitted to D.C., covert wheels are set in motion, and counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath is tapped to undertake the deadliest assignment of his career. What begins as a favor will evolve into a globe-spanning drama of highly personal stakes played out against a backdrop of stunning international intrigue, duplicitous political gamesmanship, and the darkest, most clandestine fears of the espionage world.


ReichsSpeaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

Professionally, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan knows exactly what to do—test, analyze, identify. Her personal life is another story. She’s at a loss, wondering how to answer police detective Andrew Ryan’s marriage proposal. But the matter of matrimony takes a backseat when murder rears its head. Hazel “Lucky” Strike—a strident amateur detective who mines the Internet for cold cases—comes to Brennan with a tape recording of an unknown girl being held prisoner and terrorized. Strike is convinced the voice is that of eighteen-year-old Cora Teague, who went missing more than three years earlier. Strike is also certain that the teenager’s remains are gathering dust in Temperance Brennan’s lab.


RichThe Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich

From celebrated authors Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment writing as A.J. Rich, a smart, thrilling, sexy, and emotionally riveting novel of psychological suspense about an accomplished woman involved with a man who proves to be an imposter.



DexterDexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

After seven national bestsellers and eight seasons as one of the most successful shows on television, New York Times bestselling author Jeff Lindsay bids a thrilling farewell to his uniquely twisted and beloved serial killer, Dexter Morgan. 



LoveseyDown Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey

In a Sussex town on the south coast of England, a widely disliked art teacher at a posh private girls’ school disappears without explanation. None of her students miss her boring lessons, especially since her replacement is a devilishly hunky male teacher with a fancy car. But then her name shows up on a police missing persons list. What happened to Miss Gibbon, and why does no one seem to care?


BradstreetBradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher's once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven.


StrossThe Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

Dominique O’Brien—her friends call her Mo—lives a curious double life with her husband, Bob Howard. To the average civilian, they’re boring middle-aged civil servants. But within the labyrinthian secret circles of Her Majesty’s government, they’re operatives working for the nation’s occult security service known as the Laundry, charged with defending Britain against dark supernatural forces threatening humanity.


BruenGreen Hell by Ken Bruen

Called “the best-kept literary secret in Ireland” by the Independent, author Ken Bruen is as joyously unapologetic in his writing as he is wickedly poetic, mixing high and low with hypnotic mastery. In the previous book in the series, Purgatory, ex-cop Jack Taylor had finally turned his life around, only to be taunted back into fighting Galway’s corruption by a twisted serial killer named C33. In the new novel Green Hell, he has again hit rock bottom. But Jack isn’t about to embark on a self-improvement plan. Instead, he has taken up a vigilante case against a respected professor of literature at the University of Galway who has a violent habit his friends in high places are only too happy to ignore.

BlackFast Shuffle by David Black

An old-school PI mystery from TV screenwriter and producer David Black. Harry Dickinson is a used car salesman living in Springdale, Massachusetts, who believes he is a private detective. His girlfriend finds this charming, though she warns him not to get carried away. The local cops are becoming fed up with him. When Harry stumbles upon the case of a missing woman, he decides to investigate. However, the situation is far more complex-and more dangerous-than he imagines.

You can see all of our Best Books of July here.

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"Fiction at its Finest": The 2015 Man Booker Prize Longlist

ManBookerThe longlist for the 2015 Man Book Prize has been announced. This "Man Booker dozen" of 13 books is the first step in selecting the prestigious award for literary fiction; the shortlist will be announced September 15, and the winner of the £50,000 prize will follow on October 13. This is the second year in which all English-language writers (published in the UK) have been considered, regardless of nationality. Previous winners include Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, A.S Byatt, Kingsley Amis, and Salman Rushdie.

The 2015 longlist:

Bill Clegg (US), Did You Ever Have a Family          
Anne Enright (Ireland), The Green Road
Marlon James (Jamaica), A Brief History of Seven Killings
Laila Lalami (US), The Moor's Account
Tom McCarthy (UK), Satin Island
Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria), The Fishermen
Andrew O’Hagan (UK), The Illuminations
Marilynne Robinson (US), Lila            
Anuradha Roy (India), Sleeping on Jupiter ( link)
Sunjeev Sahota (UK), The Year of the Runaways ( link)
Anna Smaill (New Zealand), The Chimes ( link)
Anne Tyler (US), A Spool of Blue Thread
Hanya Yanagihara (US), A Little Life

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The End. Or Is It?

WhatPetShouldGet200After months of waiting and speculation readers have been weighing in on Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, and now we've finally cracked another much-discussed manuscript curiosity, Dr. Seuss' What Pet Should I Get? The story itself doesn't have the sing-song rhythm many of us would expect, but it's still great fun to pick out the various creatures and characters we recognize from other Seuss books.

It feels kind of weird to say, but my favorite part of What Pet Should I Get? is tucked in the extra pages of back matter. Photos of Seuss with his own pets over the years (he seemed to be a dog person), the name of his first dog, the story of the manuscript's discovery, and more, all contribute to a fascinating and informative glimpse of his life and career. Cathy Goldsmith is the art director at Random House who worked with Dr. Seuss for many years, and she handled the colorizing of What Pet Should I Get? using the  palettes specific to different time periods in his career. Her insider perspective and accompanying photos are highlights, but really, the back matter has had me spouting Dr. Seuss trivia all day.

All done? No more? If there's one thing we've learned from Theodore Seuss Geisel, it's that pleasant surprises come in all shapes and sizes. Here's hoping the man was also a pack rat...

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Paula McLain on the Much Anticipated Follow-Up to "The Paris Wife"

Circling the Sun is the story of Beryl Markham, one of the first female aviators and a compelling Circling the Suncharacter long before she had wings. I recently caught up with author Paula McLain, who channeled Markham for her much anticipated follow up to the beloved The Paris Wife.

Why/how did you choose Beryl Markham as your next historical heroine?

The runaway success of The Paris Wife changed my life in all sorts of wonderful ways, but definitely threw me for a loop creatively. I had a hard time even imagining finding a subject that captured my imagination as fiercely as Hadley did. My connection to her was something super special for sure—so how to repeat that? I struggled for several years with multiple ideas before my brother in law, a doctor and pilot, gave me a copy of Beryl’s memoir, West With the Night. Before I’d finished reading a single page, I was instantly captivated by her voice and point of view. All my nerves stood up. She had me totally hooked—a version of love at first sight, I suppose. But then, when I began researching and writing in earnest, and learned Beryl and I had a lot of surprising things in common, and many points of deep connection, I began to feel it was inevitable that she come into my life, and that I was meant to write this book.

While she's best known as an aviator very little about her flying is in the book. Why did you choose to concentrate on her earlier life?

Beryl writes so beautifully about flying herself, I’m not sure I could begin to compete with her—nor did I really want to. I felt from the outset that I wanted to be in conversation with West With the Night, pushing into the shadowy areas of Beryl’s life and experience, and dramatizing events she herself didn’t write or even talk about much. The cataclysmic loss of her mother in her early years, and the way she reinvented herself to survive that loss had everything to do with the kind of woman Beryl became, that fearless adventurer ready to take on danger and the world. Ultimately it was her personal story that interested me the most, and made me feel most connected to her.

The Paris Wife was not your first book but it is the one that made you famous. What is it about historicals that resonates with so many?

Many of my readers are smart, interesting women in book clubs. These aren’t ladies who lunch, but ladies who think, and they love learning something new! That said, a reader at an event once said to me that historical fiction is like a living wax museum, and that really struck me as profound. We like history, sure, but somehow coming to know a particular time and place intimately, through eyes of a historical figure we come to know and care about—that’s so rich, and can make us believe we’ve really been there. Hadley takes us to her Jazz Age Paris; Beryl takes us on safari, and into the glittering decadent world of the Happy Valley set, and lets us in on how all that feels.  What could be more compelling?

If you could have lunch with Markham or Hadley Hemingway or some other woman from history whom would you choose and why?

If I were spending the afternoon with Beryl, I would hope it would involve horses and gin—in that order! For lunch, I’d rather have a date with Eleanor Roosevelt. Her social activism and humanism were so inspiring, and she had a lot of power in her marriage.  She was also a wonderful writer and thinker, and one wise woman. Every time I read her words, I come away feeling galvanized and restored. One of my favorite quotes is from You Learn by Living:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

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"9 Questions for Ben Marcus" by Andrew Eisenman

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New American Stories by Ben Marcus

BenMarcus1Vintage Contemporaries this week published New American Stories, a long-awaited anthology of short fiction selected and curated like a playlist by author Ben Marcus.

The book features 32 short stories by a who’s who of contemporary American fiction, from heavy-hitters such as Anthony Doerr (author of All the Light We Cannot See), Don DeLillo and Zadie Smith, to more obscure masters and emerging stars on the literary scene.

The anthology is in many ways a successor to 2004’s The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, also edited by Marcus, which is considered one of the great anthologies of all-time for its unprecedented mixture of styles and voices and approaches to form.

Each of the stories in New American Stories provides its own unique and exciting emotional experience. From George Saunders’s “Home” to Kelly Link’s “Valley of the Girls,” Charles Yu’s “Standard Loneliness Package” to Rebecca Lee’s “Slatland,” the range and diversity in its pages makes New American Stories the kind of book that never feels fully read. And that's why you’ll want to have it around, for those moments when you just want to be barraged and overwhelmed by something terrifying and beautiful and new.

Over email, Marcus answered questions about his approach to editing the anthology, why he loves short stories and his favorite story ever.

Andrew Eisenman: Your introduction to the anthology has been getting a lot of attention on the Internet. It serves as a kind of love letter to the short story. When did you discover short fiction and what were the early stories or authors that seduced you?

Ben Marcus: I read stories in high school, I’m sure, but it probably wasn’t until college that I became obsessed. I had a few anthologies. 20 Under 30, edited by Debra Spark. Matters of Life and Death, edited by Tobias Wolff. An anthology called Anti-Story. I read Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Joy Williams. Then Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Stephen Dixon. I backed my way into Chekov and Hemingway, and then of course Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, Kaye Chopin, Lorrie Moore, Tillie Olsen. Cynthia Ozick’s “The Shawl” had a big impact on me. Mary Gaitskill — so ferociously good. I’m leaving out too many good people — just as I did with New American Stories.

AE: What was the process like for selecting the stories that did make it in?

BM: Reading and reading and reading. Making piles. Rereading. Getting recommendations from friends, writers, editors. Reading. Seeing how stories rubbed up against one another. Reading all the stories together and wondering what was missing, what was redundant, what should change. 

AE: The book features stories by some very well known writers as well as more obscure or emerging ones. In addition, more than half the stories are by women. Why was capturing the range—of voices, of styles—so important to you? 

BM: Showing the range of stories that are out there is just a better way to demonstrate how bottomlessly pliable, diverse, and fascinating an art form the short story is. It’s a pretty good argument for the vitality of the form, and I also think it shows that there is still much more to do, room for stories to grow and change.

AE: What makes the stories in this collection “new”? What makes them “American”?

BM: Imagine an anthology called Old Stories from Nowhere.

These here are called “new” because they were mostly written in the last ten years. “American” because they were written here, by people in residence. I’d love sometime to do an anthology of international stories, because there is so much great work out there. But without a time frame, and a rough geographical corset, the project would have been impossible.

AE: It’s been 11 years since your first anthology, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories—which is widely considered one of the great short fiction anthologies of all time. Why did you decide to do another one now? Have your tastes changed over the years?

BM: Working on an anthology allows me to drown myself in new stories. I can catch up on all of the good fiction I’ve been hearing about. I hope my tastes have changed, and that they will keep changing, but that kind of thing is hard to track. I still love to read the kind of stories I’ve never seen before, and I also love to see traditional styles done beautifully. 

AE: As a writer and teacher of writing, what about the act of anthologizing appeals to you?

BM: When I was a student, certain stories blew my head off. They showed me what was possible; they inspired and provoked me. I like the idea that, as a teacher, I can think about what a student writer might most benefit from reading at any given time in their development. I like to see where students are with their own writing, along with what they are reading, and serve them up some fiction that will speak directly to them, showing them what can be done, helping them test and enlarge their own sense of what their fiction can be.

AE: Do you have a favorite short story of all time? 

BM: It might be a toss-up between any story in Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O’Connor.

AE: When I hear “anthology,” I think of those tomb-sized Norton books we were required to buy in college. Is anthology the right word to describe what New American Stories is? How would you describe it?

BM: Pharmacy?

AE: Of the stories in the collection, which to you is the most thrilling? The most surprising? The funniest? The most heartbreaking?

BM: I can’t play favorites. These thirty-two stories are included in this book because they all blow up these categories, in various ways. Pinning a single adjective to any of these stories, or even trying to isolate some specific achievement of one of them, seems unnecessarily sad.

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Romance Writers of America Name Best Romances of the Year

MontageThere’s nothing like a Romance Writers of America national conference. For four days, successful authors and industry professionals share their advice, from enhancing your writing to marketing your book, through more than 150 workshops given to fellow writers. The positive energy level is so high and the chatter in the halls so thick that this gathering often feels more like a fan convention than a professional conference—though make no mistake, every author there has his or her eyes on the prize of a thriving writing career.

Capping the weekend is the RWA’s breathtaking awards ceremony. Attendees wear their best, from sparkling Oscar-worthy gowns to sophisticated black sheath dresses. Gorgeous tattoos played peekaboo on some bared shoulders. Shoes were top-notch.

Both newcomers and veteran bestselling authors took home awards in various categories, from Inspirational Romance to Erotic Romance, Long Historical Romance to Young Adult. Winning writers thanked their readers for their support and passionately exhorted each other to never stop believing. Tessa Dare, who won Best Short Historical Romance for Romancing the Duke, told the crowd that writers should surround themselves by people who believe in them. Looking around the packed ballroom, authors could see that they were in the right place.

Perhaps the biggest proof that RWA is all about building writers’ careers is that the final, pinnacle award of the night is given to Best First Novel. The queen of romance, Nora Roberts, presented the award in her trademark husky voice to Clara Kensie for Run to You amid cheers of support from hundreds of authors who have already published their first title or are still aiming at that lofty goal.

Congratulations to all the nominees and to the winners. Thanks to you, my “To Read” pile just tripled in size!


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BEST FIRST BOOK: Run to You, by Clara Kensie

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CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (Long): Baby, It's You by Jane Graves

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CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (Mid-Length): One in a Million, by Jill Shalvis

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CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (Short): A Texas Rescue Christmas, by Caro Carson

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HISTORICAL ROMANCE (Long): Fool Me Twice, by Meredith Duran

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HISTORICAL ROMANCE (Short): Romancing the Duke, by Tessa Dare

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EROTIC ROMANCE: The Saint, by Tiffany Reisz

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INSPIRATIONAL ROMANCE: Deceived, by Irene Hannon

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PARANORMAL: Evernight, by Kristen Callihan

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ROMANTIC SUSPENSE: Concealed in Death, by J.D. Robb

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YOUNG ADULT: Boys Like You, by Julianna Stone

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ROMANCE NOVELLA: His Road Home, by Anna Richland

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