Prose choice

As this book’s editor says in his introduction, quoting Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The purpose of literature is to entertain and to instruct.” This collection does both. Richard Russo’s selections of short-fiction writers run the gamut from well-known author to unknown first-timer. The result is an entertaining (and informative) hodgepodge of stories on topics ranging from the circus to psychology and cowboys. It’s no surprise that this annual collection of stories is again of great quality. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been publishing this yearly treat since 1978. With past editors like Raymond Carver, John Updike and Margaret Atwood, this is the definitive annual collection of America’s best short stories. Because nearly every story has incredibly nuanced character development, it would be difficult to choose one favorite, but Maggie Shipstead’s “The Cowboy Tango” is a standout in this collection. Shipstead masterfully conveys the agony of 20 years’ worth of unrequited love.