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Best American short stories

Zenas Crane testing the waters of the Housatonic River.

Zenas Crane testing the waters of the Housatonic River.

Best American short stories

Is the short story in ascendance? Derided in some quarters as “training wheels” for writing a novel, the short story gained a new measure of respect when earlier this month the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Alice Munro. In announcing the award, the Swedish Academy described the Canadian writer as “master of the contemporary short story.”

If the award attracts more readers to the newly released edition of “Best American Short Stories” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), so much the better. Massachusetts makes an outsized showing, with five of the 20 contributors claiming this state as home.

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Their stories encompass young love, the fraught relationship between parent and child, and the lives of immigrant families. “Miss Lora” by Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, who teaches writing at MIT, is included in his 2012 collection “This Is How You Lose Her” (Riverhead). The story by Cambridge resident Joan Wickersham appears in her 2012 collection, “The News from Spain” (Random House). Another Cambridge resident, Gish Jen contributed “The Third Dumpster” — the origin of which she details in her new book, “Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self” (Harvard University). The other Massachusetts contributors are Bret Anthony Johnston, director of creative writing at Harvard University (“Encounters with Unexpected Animals’’), and Jim Shepard, who teaches writing at Williams College (“The World To Come’’).

More of the ‘Best’

The charm of Maine crops up in other of this year’s “Best” anthologies. John Bunker, Maine’s “Apple Whisperer,” lies at the heart of Rowan Jacobsen’s “Forgotten Fruits” in “Best Food Writing” (Da Capo). Bunker estimates that he has saved between 80 and 100 varieties of apple from oblivion over the past 30 years. His mail-order company Fedco Trees, specializes in rare heirloom fruits and vegetables, “the goal being,” as Jacobsen writes, “to make them less rare.”

Peter Jon Lindberg’s “Summerland” in “Best American Travel Writing” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a valentine to Pine Point, Maine. “Constancy,” he writes “is the most underrated of virtues, in people but also in places.” There may be prettier beaches elsewhere in Maine, but Pine Point is the one he dreams about. He used to be flummoxed by people who returned to the same place every year. Now he understands: “A ritual is not a rut.”

Paper trail

Bibliophile Nicholas A. Basbanes traveled to China and Japan to research his new book “On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History” (Knopf), but he also visited sites much closer to his home in North Grafton. He devotes a chapter called “The Sound of Money” to the Dalton-based Crane and Co., “[b]est known,” he writes, “for the currency notes it has produced exclusively for the United States Treasury Department since 1879,” and another chapter, “One and Done,” to Kimberly-Clark in New Milford, Conn., maker of Kleenex tissue and Scott paper towels.

Coming out

 “Chasing Utopia”by Nikki Giovanni (Morrow)

 “Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey: The Official Backstage Pass to the Set, the Actors and the Drama”by Emma Rowley (St. Martin’s)

 “Dark Witch”by Nora Roberts (Berkley)


Pick of the Week

Carole Horne of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge recommends “The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible” by Simon Winchester (Harper): “The always amazing Winchester turns his storytelling talent to America for the first time. As usual, he gives the reader interesting and often obscure facts, this time about the uniting of the separate states into a nation. Did it work? Are we ‘one nation, indivisible’? These are questions to ponder as you read this fascinating story.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at
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