Anthologies VS Collections
Readers have asked me about this a number of times, so here’s an answer to a recurring question:
Anthologies are not collections. The former are compilations from a variety of authors under the aegis of an editor who (hopefully) makes an intelligent selection, and the latter stem from a single writer. Collections are less popular than anthologies, because anthologies can be themed more easily around a single subject.
Anthologies were once hugely popular in the UK and provided an inexpensive way of discovering new writers; a task now largely performed by e-readers. Many anthologies are now very collectable.
In 1937 Fifty Strangest Stories Ever Told was published and became an instant classic that stayed on household shelves for decades. The 700-page volume introduced readers to stories and authors they had never read before.
The field became more specific over time; Isaac Asimov collected together apocalyptic tales under the title Catastrophe!, with an all-star cast tackling worst-case scenarios.
One of the oddest anthologies is Poolside, which unusually doesnâ€™t credit its editor. The stories all involve swimming pools. John Cheeverâ€™s classic â€˜The Swimmerâ€™ is here, along with Edna Oâ€™Brienâ€™s â€˜Paradiseâ€™. Poolside looks like a normal book but is printed with waterproof paper so that it can be read in a swimming pool.
Black Humor excerpted examples of this particularly hard-to-define literary technique from Edward Albee, John Rechy, Thomas Pynchon and Terry Southern, edited by Bruce Jay Friedman. Playboy magazine had a long and illustrious history of publishing original short stories, from writers like Ray Bradbury, Jack Finney and Robert Bloch, and the best ones were published in their own anthology.
Itâ€™s not unusual for anthologies to feature excerpts from novels that can stand alone as examples of good fiction. Famously, a late chapter from Evelyn Waughâ€™s A Handful of Dust is collected as â€˜The Man Who Liked Dickensâ€™.
For over forty years, John Julius Norwich has been sending friends Christmas Crackers instead of a Christmas cards. These were quirky literary oddments that simply struck his fancy, and the best were collected in a number of anthologies.
Car Sinister explored the more alarming aspects of our driving obsession and is not for â€˜Top Gearâ€™ addicts. Legendary agent Kirby McCauley put together one of the best-ever collections of intelligent stories of suspense and the supernatural in Dark Forces and its sequel.
Too many of these volumes under-represent female authors, but a volume called Alfred Hitchcock Presents sparked off a two-decade long set of anthologies from the Master of Suspense that proved massively influential, and rebalanced the field by featuring a great many female authors whoâ€™d had little previous exposure in the UK.