Putting together a well-made collection of short writings takes special skills. One must have an eye for meaningful groupings and provocative juxtapositions. Literary collagists must find the happy balance between too much and not enough. They must also make plain the justification for gathering already published pieces.
When I saw that half of the stories in E.L. Doctorow’s All the Time in the World had previously appeared in some of his earlier volumes, including one that came out not that long before, I was skeptical about the need for the collection. However, the book succeeds because of the way the pieces fit with and play off of each other, as I argue in my review in The Oregonian (section O, p. 10 in the April 10, 2011, edition of the paper).
Particular challenges confront editors of anthologies of works by different authors, especially if they have a very specific organizing subject. They run the risks of, on the one hand, achieving comprehensiveness at the cost of wearying repetitiveness, and, on the other, of leaving out something essential. Compliers of such books unavoidably leave themselves open to criticism for faulty choices. A Los Angeles Times reviewer, for instance, spies an East Coast bias in George Kimball and John Schulian’s selections for At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing. While I might question some of the choices, on the whole I think they do an admirable job of constructing a cohesive story, albeit a rather dispiriting one, as I discuss in an essay for May/June 2011 issue of The American Interest.