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Junot Díaz’s diversity in best short story picks and the lessons of ‘Firing Line’

William F. Buckley, Jr., (center) with Doug Simmons and Tipper Gore in an episode of “Firing Line.”globe file photo/HANDOUT

The short list

With Junot Díaz the guest editor of this year’s “The Best American Short Stories” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), plenty of readers and writers will be especially eager to see who the contributors are. Díaz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who teaches writing at MIT, was a boy when his family immigrated to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic. He has criticized what he has termed the “unbearable whiteness” of American literature. In his introduction, Díaz notes that he has been reading and writing short stories for about 20 years.

Among the contributors to the 2016 anthology being published Tuesday are familiar names such as Andrea Barrett, Karen Russell, and John Edgar Wideman. Among the newer writers in the collection are Lisa Ko, Yalitza Ferreras, Daniel J. O’Malley, Yuko Sakata, and Sharon Solwitz. Díaz praises Caille Millner’s depiction of an academic meltdown in her first published short story, “The Politics of the Quotidian.” He also highlights in his introduction “The Suitcase” by Meron Hadero, who was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States as a child. Her story, he writes, “dramatizes perfectly the politics of immigrant luggage and how the smallest of gifts crammed inside a suitcase helps hold diasporas together.”

Heidi Pitlor, the series editor for the past 10 years, in her foreword describes her collaboration with Díaz: “This year, the best stories presented themselves clearly. Some years there is much back-and-forthing between me and my guest editor, but Mr. Díaz presented me with his list and I saw that it nearly matched my own. We talked through a couple of stories. He introduced me to a few that I hadn’t found myself, and that was that.”


On the ‘Firing Line’

The level of discourse in this year’s presidential election season has some observers longing for more civil times. MIT film and media professor Heather Hendershot examines such an era in “Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line” (Broadside). On his pioneering TV program “Firing Line,” the pioneering TV program which aired from 1966 to 1999, Buckley debated his opponents with respect and a sharp tongue.


“In our splintered American mediascape, conservatives tend to seek out news media they agree with, and liberals do the same,” Hendershot writes in the introduction. “There seems to be very little space for political opponents to sit down and talk, without interrupting, shouting insults, or hurling chairs at each other. Restoring genteel notions of civility to TV will not provide a magic cure for all that ails us politically today. But ‘Firing Line’ offers a model for what smart political TV once was. And could be again?”

Coming out

“Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome” by Shawn Levy (Norton)

“Among the Living” by Jonathan Rabb (Other)

“Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)

Pick of the week

Mary Cotton of Newtonville Books in Newton recommends “Mercury” by Margot Livesey (Harper): “This riveting psychological novel delves into the lives of Donald and Vivian, a married couple whose stability is threatened and ultimately undermined when Vivian, whose former life as an aspiring equestrian was cut short, meets Mercury, a magnificent horse with a tragic history. What unfolds may seem like destiny to Vivian, but to Donald, a staid and deliberate ophthalmologist still mourning the death of his beloved father, it tests everything he’s ever known, including his faculty for navigating the world.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.