Anthologies VS Collections

Reading & Writing


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 doesn’t credit its editor. The stories all involve swimming pools. John Cheever’s classic ‘The Swimmer’ is here, along with Edna O’Brien’s ‘Paradise’. 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.

It’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 Waugh’s A Handful of Dust is collected as ‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’.

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 ‘Top Gear’ 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 who’d had little previous exposure in the UK.

3 comments on “Anthologies VS Collections”

  1. chris hughes says:

    I used to love the old Pan Books of Horror Stories and many of them still stay with me (or should that be haunt?). They made very successful birthday and Christmas presents among friends and there always seemed to be a new one circulating round the class.

  2. Vivienne says:

    Like the sound of Fifty Strangest Stories Ever Told which, unfortunately, did not grace my parents’ household shelves (these were not groaning). We did have Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags and, much later, I regretted not reading this when young – I thought it was by a boring sounding woman and about a village fete.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    Sea Tales of Terror, has a splendid cover, I have J J Strating’s European Tales of Terror with a splendid Justin Todd cover.

    To be honest I have lots of collections and anthologies, I must admit I’m rather a sucker for them.


Comments are closed.