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10 Essential Alternative Anthologies for the Modern Reader

We’ve all been exposed to the classic anthologies — your Nortons, your Oxfords, your Best American series — but sometimes we need to step out of the box a little bit and reach for the anthologies that weren’t handed out to everyone we know in Freshman Lit, whether because they’re too specific or just too out there. Here, we’ve put together a list of a few alternative anthologies that we think should be on everyone’s to-read list. They might not be quite what you’re used to, but hey, it’s always good to learn something new. And of course, these are simply the anthologies that have spoken to us — there are many more alternative collections, some more or less essential depending on your interests, so we hope that you’ll add your own favorites to our list in the comments.

My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro, ed. Jeffrey Eugenides

We think everyone needs a go-to pack of love stories for emergencies, and this is ours. Just take it from Eugenides himself, who writes in the introduction, “It is perhaps only in reading a love story (or in writing one) that we can simultaneously partake of the ecstasy and agony of being in love without paying a crippling emotional price. I offer this book, then, as a cure for lovesickness and an antidote to adultery. Read these love stories in the safety of your single bed. Let everybody else suffer.”

Sister Spit: Writings, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road, ed. Michelle Tea

The transgressive underground writers’ coalition/performance art roadshow/multi-media collective/all-around gang of awesome known as Sister Spit teamed up with City Lights this year to create a new imprint focused on publishing queer and feminist writers, starting with this new anthology, which is filled with hilarious, provocative, and counterculture art, fiction, poetry and everything in between. It’s what the cool girls are reading.

Another and Another: An Anthology From the Grind Daily Writing Series, ed. Matthew Olzmann & Ross White

This anthology is a writer’s book of writing, to be sure: a collection of poems that sprang from The Grind Daily Writing Series, a project that encourages writers to finish something — anything — every single day. And as it turns out, some very excellent poetry can be finished in a day. Not only will this anthology be delicious fodder for those interested in the state (and the future) of American poetry, the concept should be inspiring to just about anyone who has projects they keep putting off until tomorrow.

Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

In this new anthology, 20 famous writers choose the short stories that moved and thrilled them from The Paris Review‘s long history of publishing excellent fiction. But what makes this collection special is the introductions from the writers who chose the stories, which focus on craft, on the much-ignored (at least by laymen) idea of why a story works. These are sure to encourage thoughtful reading for years to come.

I Found This Funny, ed. Judd Apatow

The premise of this anthology — things that bromance comedy king Judd Apatow finds hilarious — might make it seem like a novelty item, but one look at the first story, James Agee’s incredibly sad and disturbing “A Mother’s Tale,” will have you wondering at Apatow’s sanity, and hungry for more of his twisted worldview. Plus, some of the stories are genuinely funny, which always helps.

The New Kings of Nonfiction, ed. Ira Glass

As Ira Glass writes in the introduction to this collection of creative nonfiction and journalism from some of his all-time favorites, “we’re living in an age of great nonfiction writing, in the same way that the 1920s and ’30s were a golden age for American popular song. Giants walk among us. Cole Porters and George Gershwins and Duke Ellingtons of nonfiction storytelling. They’re trying new things and doing pirouettes with the form. But nobody talks about it that way.” Well, they probably should. Plus, hey, if you love This American Life, why not keep it on your shelf all day long?

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction, ed. Brit Mandelo

Speculative fiction and stories about fluid sexualities or non-normative gender identities have always seemed to us like a natural match — after all, we hope that our future world will be welcoming to all manner of people, transgressive or nay. This collection of science fiction and fantasy will turn your mind, both on a personal scale and an universal one.

Read Hard, ed. Ed Park & Heidi Julavits

As far as we’re concerned, The Believer is one of the smartest magazines out there — funny, erudite, concerned with both the huge issues and the minuscule but endlessly fascinating ones. In this anthology, of some of the best pieces of creative nonfiction and journalism in the magazine’s history nudge each other for prominence. Don’t worry, everyone, we love you all.

30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Younger Writers, ed. Blake Butler and Lily Hoang

If you’re interested in the future of fiction, this is where to look. The anthology is filled with stories that press on the edges of form, forging the way ahead. Plus it includes some of our favorite young writers: Shane Jones, Mike Young, Mat Bell, Joshua Cohen — the list goes on (for about 26 more writers).

Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison

Okay, so if you’re a serious science fiction geek, this anthology is old hat for you. But for everyone else, this is a veritable manual to the 1960s in literary sci-fi: Asimov, Dick, Ballard, Delany, Leiber, Ellison, etc etc. Some stories hold up, some don’t, but we consider this required reading for anyone who considers themselves a sci-fi fan today.

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