Brought to Book:
The Anthology and Its Uses
One of the recurring impressions from the preceding chapter was that while readers were content to read individual short stories, they were less inclined to read several. Single-author collections tend to sell or to be borrowed from public libraries if the writer's name is already familiar, usually if s/he is a popular novelist. This gap has been partially filled by the use of anthologies, which present in book-form the work of various writers, conferring upon them the visual and cultural presence that the ephemeral form of a magazine or newspaper lacks. Anthologies are, therefore, one of the gateways that readers have into the history and sub-genres of the short story. Yet, the role of the anthology is fraught with problems. Edited collections presuppose issues surrounding the selection of writers and texts, the extent to which anthologies set the agenda for the making of literary canons, and the degree to which anthologies publicise the work of individual writers, or groups of writers, within the marketplace. Then, there is also an aesthetic concern: the extent to which reading several short stories together violates Poe's contention that a short story is to be read as a single and self-sufficient unit. (The degree to which a themed collection extends formal unity across the whole work, such as a cycle or sequence, is the subject of a later chapter.) This chapter explores the various uses made of the anthology – artistic, entertaining, instructive – before concluding with a trio of case studies: Mirrorshades (1986) edited by Bruce Sterling, Disco Biscuits (1997) edited by Sarah Champion, and All Hail the New Puritans (2000) edited by Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thorne.
The modern anthology has its roots in the annual gift-books which were published during the nineteenth century. Before then, shorter