Anthology as Disco Ball
If social media dies, turn to these books instead
I’ve been reading (and loving!) a lot of anthologies these last few years. No algorithms here, as an editor does the work of curating for the reader. Ultimately an anthology is a phenomenal way to get a bunch of different perspectives on a single topic all in one place. It’s kinda like the literary version of a disco ball, with each individual facet offering an instant of illumination.
If you’re in one of those reading slumps where you’re struggling to stick it out with a full-length narrative, anthologies can also be a great way back into a consistent reading habit. Since they collect so many voices, you’re free to hop around in the book as you please. Often I pick up an anthology because it’s focused on a topic I already love or features a writer I admire, but frequently I come away with a new author whose work I’m excited to explore.
Given that September always puts me in something of a syllabus mood, I thought I’d pass a few titles from my list onto y’all this month. So without further ado, here are eight I recommend and eight I can’t wait to read!
Recently I’ve been talking people’s ears off about Lolita in the Afterlife: On Beauty, Risk, and Reckoning with the Most Indelible and Shocking Novel of the Twentieth Century. I freakin’ LOVE this concept, where a whole bunch of writers dig into different aspects of a single book or movie. (And listen, Lolita is a book that pretty much everybody has an opinion on, so lord knows it makes perfect subject matter.) Entries explore everything from the book’s film adaptations to Lolita’s impact on fashion to a Dear Sugar letter written from Lolita’s perspective.
I also enjoyed The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys & Struggles of Being Alone. This one’s an interesting springboard to think more about how our unique experiences of solitude can vary so greatly; isolation can offer happiness or despair depending on the individual and their context. Each writer holds a magnifying glass up to a moment in their life where they were alone and everything it signified.
For readers with especially short attention spans (hey, no judgment), The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction is perfect for replacing your social media habit with a reading habit. Every bite-size essay comes in at 750 words or less and it’s honestly mind-boggling how much these writers can do in such a small space. (Just as an example, this incredible Torrey Peters essay absolutely broke my heart.)
In a similar (and seasonal!) vein, Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror contains 40+ short scary stories perfect for those who prefer their horror in small doses. It’s been a few years since I read this one, but I can still vividly recall Lena Valencia’s satisfyingly creepy “The Blue Room” — take a peek in Electric Lit!
Feminist Press published an amazing archive of zines from the ‘90s in a volume called The Riot Grrrl Collection. It’s so goshdarn cool that this slice of pre-internet DIY culture was preserved and then made available to the public, though of course it can also be frustrating to page through thirty-year-old activist writings and realize we’re still dealing with a lot of the same problems today.
For readers who are also writers, there’s Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. These essays were collected from Joe Fassler’s “By Heart” series for The Atlantic, featuring everyone from Stephen King and Neil Gaiman to Yiyun Li and Mary Gaitskill. (Dare I say this pairs well with How to Write a Novel: An Anthology of 20 Craft Essays About Writing, None of Which Ever Mention Writing?)
And how best to describe What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence? These essays are like one-on-one brunches chock-full of real talk from some of your literary faves. (Peep that contributor list — Carmen Maria Machado, Kiese Laymon, Alexander Chee, Leslie Jamison, Brandon Taylor…) I love this idea of essay as portrait, each piece depicting a different woman, all linked by a single role.
Did anybody else lose hours to the Missed Connections section of Craigslist back in its heyday, or was that just me? Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us gives sixty-five writers the opportunity to address a single question: “How can an ephemeral encounter with a stranger leave such an eternal mark?”
Also can’t wait to dive into Wanting: Women Writing About Desire. I’ll read anything about yearning and I was sold on this one from the moment I saw Larissa Pham wrote the opening essay. (Big fan of her essay collection on similar themes, Pop Song.)
Gamers out there still have time to preorder November’s Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games! As someone who grew up playing a ton of point-and-click mysteries, I’m super excited for this one. (Plus, you can’t go wrong with a Graywolf book.) Featured subjects include The Last of Us, Disco Elysium, Call of Duty, and more!
The scope of Women in Clothes is easily the broadest on this list — over 600 contributors! The project apparently began with a survey asking its participants to think deeply about their personal style, with respondents ranging from Roxane Gay to Molly Ringwald. 500+ pages and tons of pictures!
Are you a millennial scarred by your viewing of Poltergeist? You may not be entitled to compensation, but you CAN submit to a forthcoming anthology featuring writers in the same boat as you! This one comes to y’all courtesy of Jennifer Griffin Graham and Katharine Coldiron, a fellow How to Write a Novel contributor. Submissions open in October and I would LOVE to see one of my subscribers end up in this table of contents. (Let me know if you submit so I can root for you!)
Any fans of graphic novels out there? Turns out they make comic anthologies, too. Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival is a necessary read drawing awareness to a heavy topic through visual forms.
The majority of these recs are nonfiction, but Flash Fiction America: 73 Very Short Stories brings together a great group of writers working in the very short story form! (Also, if you’re someone who writes and submits short stories — take a peek at where these pieces were originally published! Anthologies are always a surefire way to discover new and exciting places to send your work.)
I’ll finish out with Peach Pit: Sixteen Stories of Unsavory Women. Personally cannot read enough stories about messy women getting into trouble, so I knew this one was going on my TBR just based on the subtitle. (Apparently one of the stories is about teenage girls competing for the title of “Worst Girl in America.” MESS. Cannot wait.) Shoutout to small press-centric BookTuber Eyes on Indie for putting this one on my radar!
VERY satisfying update to my previous writing on A Wrinkle in Time’s unknown book cover artist! This case was recently covered by one of my favorite podcasts, Endless Thread, which deep-dives internet mysteries — they identified the artist almost fifty years later! If you own that particular 1976 copy of A Wrinkle in Time, be sure to scratch out “Artist Unknown” and write “Richard Bober” in its place.
Big thanks to Jason for sharing this killer list of Gilmore Girls background posters after last month’s issue. Notables include Rory and Lane’s matching Fahrenheit 9/11 posters as well as one in Paris’ bedroom celebrating her love for Noam Chomsky.
See y’all in October! (Spoilers: I’ve got something spooky in store…)