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Best American Short Stories: By the Numbers

By posted at 6:36 am on November 10, 2009 14

coverThe Best American Short Stories, of all the annual story anthologies, seems to have the biggest following among readers. The series has been around in one form or another since 1915 and has published short fiction by pretty much all of America’s best-known (and many more lesser known) practitioners of the form.

The series’ long history and comprehensive reach makes it a unique chronicle of the form. With that in mind, when I got a note from a reader about a collection of BASS data he had put together, I was very intrigued. Jake has spent the last year or so reading his way through the last 30 years of BASS collections and writing about it at a site called Years of BASS. As part of this project, he put together a spreadsheet of all the 639 stories that appeared in the collection from 1978 to 2008.

Folks who want to dig into the info can find it as a Google Spreadsheet here, but I went ahead and pulled some numbers from the aggregated data.

Interestingly, Alice Munro, though Canadian, has made the most BASS appearances over the last 30 years by a wide margin with 18 appearances. After her come some more of the leading lights of short fiction: Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike with nine stories each; Mavis Gallant (another Canadian) with eight; Joy Williams and Tobias Wolff with seven stories a piece; Lorrie Moore and Rick Bass with six stories each; and Charles Baxter, Raymond Carver, and Tim Gautreaux with five stories each.

All told, these writers have accounted for about 13%. Writers with four or more stories have accounted for 21% of all the stories in the series; writers with three or more, 31% of the stories; and writers with two or more, for 52% of the series. This means that writers who had only one BASS story during the 30-year span accounted for about 48% of the stories in the series during that time.

The gender split, meanwhile, turns out to be quite equal: 47% female and 53% male.

If you dig into the spreadsheet and uncover anything else interesting, let us know. And as a point of comparison, check out New Yorker Fiction by the Numbers.





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14 Responses to “Best American Short Stories: By the Numbers”

  1. The Second Pass
    at 10:38 am on November 10, 2009

    […] now, but I used to be a strict collector of the Best American Short Stories series. C. Max Magee draws out some notable statistics about the series from “a spreadsheet of all the 639 stories that appeared in the collection from […]

  2. Links: Yan Martel, short story stats, blowing up arts journalists, etc. | books@torontoist
    at 11:17 am on November 10, 2009

    […] For all you short story writers out there who love to analyze exactly who gets into the Best American Short Stories, a blog called Years of BASS has put together a spreadsheet that reveals who gets into the collection. (download it as a google document) The answer: Alice Munro. Our pride and joy has had twice as many stories in the collection over the years as anyone else, including heavywights Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike. Mavis Gallant is also near the head of the pack. A similar breakdown of stories that have appeared in the New Yorker since 2003 revealed that Munro also lead that list. (via The Millions) […]

  3. otto
    at 8:20 pm on November 10, 2009

    I’m a fan of the Best American Essays series, and the first bit of information that i digest about each essay is which publication it was plucked from. Shame that he did not include this data on the spreadsheet.

  4. Tom
    at 8:29 pm on November 10, 2009

    The last couple have been bang-head-against-wall bad. However, I noticed in the 2009 table of contents “Hurricanes Anonymous” by Adam Johnson and almost cheered. It’s a tremendous story with a real, beating heart that I found in last summer’s Tin House. It’s also a lot longer than something Best American would usually publish; pushing thirty-five pages if I remember correctly.

  5. The Bastions of the Short Story By the Numbers
    at 9:14 pm on November 10, 2009

    […] out this cool little article over at The Millions that talks about the newest issue of the Best American Short Story Series. I’ve read this […]

  6. Chris Kubica
    at 7:59 am on November 11, 2009

    It would have been neat to know what the gender split each year is as compared to the gender of that year’s editor.

  7. Petra
    at 10:43 am on November 11, 2009

    As a reader, I guess I’m interested in other aspects of story selection for BASS.

    In the 2007 BASS, the Stephen King one, Heidi Pitlor, the series editor, talked in the intro about how her selection process, too vaguely I’m afraid, but still intriguing.

    For that year’s BASS she had to read 3000 stories in order to whittle it down to 100 for Stephen King, who’d then choose the 20 that would make it into the anthology.

    The clincher was that besides going through 3000 stories, Pitlor also wrote a novel and gave birth to twins. I’d like to see the spreadsheet for her reading process. Or for that matter, for her life.

    After I read Pitlor’s intro and did the math, I wondered if a casual reader of short stories like myself could even make it through the 2007 BASS, let alone read anything approaching a whole bunch more in a given time period.

    I did manage to read 500 stories in 6 months, which I thought was pushing it. And I wasn’t concurrently working on a novel or having any babies, so I shouldn’t complain.

  8. Books & Authors » Daily Lit Links for 11/11
    at 10:55 am on November 11, 2009

    […] and literary short fiction don’t usually go together, but one enterprising follower of the Millions has read his way through the last 30 volumes of Best American Short Stories and made a […]

  9. Tom B.
    at 11:26 am on November 11, 2009

    If I remember correctly — I don’t have the 2007 volume at hand — King wasn’t satisfied with the 100 Pitlor gave him, and sought out additional stories.
    He didn’t use the word “satisfied,” but that was the gist.

  10. Alice Munro Is the BASSiest « christopher cocca
    at 2:46 am on November 12, 2009

    […] last 30 years, Alice Munro has appeared more than anyone else in Best American Short Stories. See here. She’s been included 18 times (Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike are tied for second at 9 […]

  11. Literature news | Dark Sky Magazine
    at 4:03 am on November 18, 2009

    […] – The Best American Short Stories, of all the annual story anthologies, seems to have the biggest following among readers. The series has been around in one form or another since 1915 and has published short fiction by pretty much all of America’s best-known (and many more lesser known) practitioners of the form. — Short Stories in the Millions […]

  12. Best American Short Stories in Titles | Fiction
    at 4:25 pm on December 22, 2009

    […] Millions dug through the data when they first posted it. They found a pretty even gender balance (53% male to 47% female) and that 48% of writers appeared […]

  13. shana, stanwood
    at 6:59 pm on December 23, 2009

    It took me awhile but I finally got a copy of Summer 2008 Tin House with the astonishing short story by Adam Johnson. I have access to 3 libraries but of the two that carry Tin House, only one allows it off the premises. Wow wow wow. The end of the story, the last line actually, reminds me of a line in Gatsby when Gatsby talks about crossing a bridge and the heart pumping feeling of limitless possibilities. Since reading that line decades ago, I never cross a big bridge in my car w/o thinking of Gatsby. Now I wil think of Nonc as well. Thank you.

  14. shana, stanwood
    at 11:04 pm on December 23, 2009

    P.S. It wasn’t Jay Gatsby who thought it, it was the narrator of the novel.

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