Introduction

Most years, I teach a class on the short story to undergraduates; that experience has guided my Personal Anthology. It’s in the nature of this exercise that I had to leave many worthy candidates off the list (Kafka, Bowen, Bezmozgis, Munro). But my twelve finalists are the stories I most love teaching. They are the stories I have the most questions about. Because to teach is to ask questions. But not any question will do. They have to be just right: neither vague nor leading, with tentative rather than definitive answers, asking things I too want to know. When it’s just twenty or so of us in a room with nothing more than our copies of the texts we learn more than we do when we’re reading on our own. The dynamic that arises from a particular group of people at a particular time is changeable, unpredictable, sometimes thrilling, sometimes deadening, invariably idiosyncratic. It’s as impossible to teach the same text twice as to cross the same river. Something new is created every time. In one way, writing this piece vitiates the experience of the classroom, making the mutable immutable. In another, however, this anthology is yet another creation, this time inspired by those countless fifty-minute class periods.

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