Pushcart 2013: Begin Here

It’s the most ghastly of times and the most glorious of times.

First the ghastly: politicians; lifestyle; consumers; a culture of celebrity glitter; and Internet tsunami of instant facts, factoids, and nonsense that obviates knowledge and wisdom; a ‘greed is good’ oligarchy; vanity publishers taking over the commercial publishing empire; legitimate and terrified publishers in a race to the best seller bottom; bookstores collapsing; Kindle in charge; profiteers cashing in on wannabe authors with zero talent – the result? A new censorship of clutter. Everybody into the pool and you don’t have to know how to swim. A cacophony of drowning shouts.

Yet it is also the most glorious of times: of course there are thousands of examples – or instance, the authors of the stories, essays, memoirs and problems reprinted and mentioned in this PPXXXII.… I’ve never been so happy with our literature. There is simply too much talent, insight, wisdom, empathy, and skill out there in small press land to be included even in a volume of this heft – the largest ever. The Word survives indeed thrives in the ruins.

— Bill Henderson, Introduction

Yes, it’s another Bill Henderson rant but at least he’s diluted the usual blame placed on online literary magazines with other ills, the result being a more balanced view of the decline of civilization. And there’s something very special about this year’s anthology:

Wigleaf is in the TOC.

That might not sound like much to cheer about, but Wigleaf is a 100% online literary magazine devoted to flash. They also compile the Wigleaf Top 50, a highly-anticipated yearly list of the best online flash (and you can imagine the time it takes to compile that). They’re not just online flash, they’re fiercely in-your-face online flash.

With those two strikes against them – one for medium, one for length – it’s really pretty amazing they ended up in this year’s volume. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of the print/online sensitivity, so for all I know, it isn’t really that big a deal. But it seems like it to me. It isn’t as though online litmags are unheard of in the Pushcart volume – just in the couple of volumes I’ve read cover-to-cover, there’ve been offerings from Narrative (which used to offer all issues as print-on-demand) and Kenyon Review Online (which is an offshoot of the print magazine). But Wigleaf is this little tiny labor of love, without a print base to work from. And did I mention they just do flash?

The most glorious of times, indeed.

My usual quick look through the TOC yielded other pleasant surprises. Some stories I’ve already read and am thrilled to see rewarded (Seth Fried’s “Animacula” from his collection The Great Frustration and “Tiger” by Nalini Jones, from One Story). I also see several familiar authors I’m looking forward to reading again, Anthony Doerr in particular.

I was a bit dismayed to see Walter Berry’s “Nothing Living Lives Alone” which might be this year’s “Phantoms”; much like Millhauser’s story from last year, a lot of people I know and respect love the Berry piece, and I’m pretty much in agreement with the theme of the story, but it annoys me (“Phantoms” didn’t annoy me, I just didn’t “get” the greatness of it). I won’t be re-reading it, not yet. Maybe some day. But as I think of it, I recognize a similarity between Berry and Henderson.

The Special Mention list also contains a number of wonderful stories – I do wish the One Story offering “Summer, Boys” by Ethan Rutherford had made the final cut, and I’m baffled that not only is Taiye Selasi’s “The Sex Lives of African Girls” merely a Special Mention (not that this is a slight, but it’s not the ultimate nod), but is in the nonfiction Special Mention list.

I expect to spend about six months with this volume, aiming for one story a week. Yes, that’s a slow pace, but in addition to 20 stories, I’ll be reading the poetry and nonfiction as well (not to mention other stories and books and – gasp – television). I very much enjoyed reading the poetry last year, far more than I expected, and while I’m just as intimidated by the essays, I hope they’ll be equally as rewarding. A single post for those two categories will show up at some point late in the process.

As always, I welcome comments, corrections, agreements and dis-; all opinions matter to me as I continue to learn to read.

Ready? Go…

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