Reviewing Collections and Anthologies – Guest Post by Andrea Johnson

December 27, 2018

Hi!  My name is Andrea Johnson, and I’ve been running the book review site Little Red Reviewer since 2010. I review books, interview authors, talk about books I’m excited about, and more!  My work has never existed outside of a computer screen.  Until now!  In January, I’ll be kickstarting The Best of Little Red Reviewer,  a print book of my best book reviews – science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction, novels, short stories, everything in between.  Can a book review blog exist outside of the internet?  Let’s find out!  In the meantime, you can learn more here.

Reviewing a novel is fairly straight forward right?  It’s pretty easy to talk about the characters, and the plot, and what your favorite scene was, and if you were satisfied with the ending, and if you thought it was a thrilling page turner, etc. Not too hard, right?

Ok, but how do you review an anthology? The art of the limitation of short stories is that there might not be a ton of characterization, there might not be a ton of world building, and what if the entire story is only one scene or one conversation? And even scarier, if you’re planning to review an anthology that contains twelve stories, does that mean you need to write twelve reviews?

The good news is that no, you do not have to write a review for every single story in the collection (but you can if you want to!). While the “rules” for reviewing an anthology or single author short story collection might be different, that doesn’t mean writing the review will be any harder.

I used to be afraid of anthologies. I felt like I just didn’t get it. I’d get themed anthologies out of the library, read a few stories, get bored, and never go back to it. I thought maybe anthologies just weren’t for me? Maybe I was just reading ones that didn’t do it for me. I was also under the impression that there was some requirement to read the stories in order. Yes, yes, I know editors spend hours (Days? Weeks?) trying to determine the best order for the Table of Contents.  The thing that got me over my mental mind block around anthologies? Skipping around the Table of Contents. Once I realized I could read my favorite authors first, or read the shortest stories first, or read the one with the silly title first, a whole new world of reading enjoyment opened up to me!

When I’m reading an anthology for review, I do my best to take notes on each story while reading. Once I’m done reading, it’s pretty easy to look at my handwritten notes page and see which stories I have a lot to say about. And it isn’t always my favorites that I want to talk about – sometimes it is a story that made me angry, or made me curious, or took a boring subject matter and make it interesting, or it was a story that I just plain didn’t understand. If you’re going to review an anthology, don’t just talk about your favorite stories. Talk about the ones you liked, the ones that made you think, the ones that make you google the author to learn more about them.  Use an anthology to grow your curiosity.

Many of today’s best authors write primarily short stories. If you’re only reading novels you might never find these folks. A few who come to mind right away include Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Ted Chiang, C.S.E. Cooney, Ken Liu, and Carlos Hernandez.

On the flip side, some of your favorite novel writing authors also write short fiction, much of which you’ll never find in their novels. I’m talking people like George R. R. Martin, Catherynne Valente, Neal Asher, Peter Watts, and Yoon Ha Lee, just to name a few.

Not sure where to start with anthologies or short story collections?  Here are my favorites:

Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney

Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santaria by Carlos Hernandez

The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne Valente

Clockwork Phoenix Volume 5 edited by Mike Allen

If you’ve not had good luck with anthologies or short stories, you’re not alone. Sometimes it takes a while to find anthology editors that speak your language. And that’s ok!

Happy reading!

If you like what you read in this blog post, check out my blog, Little Red Reviewer and my twitter feed, where I’m @redhead5318.

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