In my previous post, I spoke of Stephen King’s editorial intro to the 2007 edition of Best American Short Stories. Today, while excavating (cleaning is too mild a word) the junk in the back room, I found three volumes I had picked up last fall from the used bookstore up the street. These were Best American Short Stories from 1999 and 2005 as well as Best Mystery Stories of 2002. I flipped through the three, looked at the intros, titles of stories, and a a few first pages, and then sat down with a cup of coffee and the 1999 stories, which were edited by Amy Tan. She truly seems like someone you’d like to have coffee with.
Tan’s introduction reveals the depth of her love of stories, and she gets very personal about early events that made them as important to her as air. She had lots of things to worry about as a child, events like seeing a playmate in a coffin and hearing her mother say that is what happens to children who disregard their mothers. Small wonder that Tan was attracted to fairy tales and Bible stories, which she found very similar: both had “gory images, gut-clenching danger, magical places, and a sense that things are never as they first appear.” Straw-into-gold sounded very much like turning three loaves into a thousand, she says. Amy Tan gives us these personal memories after saying she always wants to know personal details about people who presume to act as critics or decide which stories are good and which are bad:
“What are their tastes based on? What are their biases?…What movies would they watch twice? Do they make clever and snide remarks , mostly about people who are doing better than they?…What are their most frequent complaints in life? What do they tend to exaggerate?…Do they think little dogs are adorable or appetizers for big dogs?…In other words, if you ran into this person at a party, would you even like him or her?”
I had been feeling like taking a break or simply doing a post or two here just for fun, and Amy Tan’s comments gave me an excuse; they sent me daydreaming about some of the stories that fascinated me as a kid, ones I still think about now. I never felt quite as shell-shocked during my first decade as Amy Tan, though we moved a lot too, and one of my childhood playmates died. The stories and ballads that captured my attention as a young reader were like koans, or life itself – you could chew on them for decades and still not understand all that is going on.
This will be the subject for my next post – stories and ballads I have never forgotten. It will have to be another post, since one of the stories is from Wales and I need to go dig up the spellings. Stay tuned!
Now I’m interested and already have a full shelf of unopened books to read. I’m not sure if I love the post, or hate you for writing it. And, with no sarcasm, I thank you. Well written.
I love Amy Tan. When I read The Joy Luck Club, I was transported. She made everything so real it was like being a part of her life. I laughed with her and cried with her and felt all the hurt and all the love. I didn’t see so much of the fairy tale influence in that book, but I’ve not read her other books. Something to look forward to. If you haven’t read Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, you might give that a read. It’s full of the fairy tales of her childhood and culture. I like it as much as The Joy Luck Club.
I did not mean to imply she talked of writing fairy tales, so much as cited that as a way stories nourished her when she was young. She outlines a number of points in her evolution, like studying English in college and reading few novels in the decade following that. She continues:
“I did not return to my habit of reading a story a day until 1985. By then I had become a successful but unhappy person, with work that was lucrative but meaningless. This was one of those moments that cause people to either join a religious cult, spend a lot of money on psychotherapy, or take up the less drastic and more economical practice of writing fiction.”
I really like Amy Tan. I remember loving the Anderson version of the little mermaid as a kid.