Anthologies — Mixed signals aren’t just a social issue.

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Welcome to my unedited thoughts for today.

Let me begin by saying that I love anthologies. Short story and/or novella collections give readers a fantastic opportunity to discover new authors (oh, the joy of finding a previously unknown gem!), or to re-discover forgotten ones. Well-written shorts give series writers an opportunity to tell stories outside their established story arc, the chance to share the stories of secondary or background characters, and the chance to just have fun with some characters and a world they have grown to love without having to fit the story in a timeline, or to keep up with a relentless pace and ever-darkening long-term story arc. For example: Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files stories vs. the novels – tell me he’s not relaxing and having a good time with those short stories, in addition to expanding the characters and universe of Harry Dresden! I know I am as a reader!!

Anthologies are a great way to find a new author, sure, but they are also a fantastic way to revisit your favorite characters from a series (example: Thea Harrison’s awesome novellas!) in between novels, or to enjoy a bite-sized story while you eat lunch. Of course, not all short stories are created equal, but when they are good… mmmmm….what a treat. A perfect guilty pleasure. Perhaps I just want to read a bunch of stories collected around a theme. But I’m wandering from my main point (shocking, I know) – I love anthologies.

However.

Anthologies are often “controversial” for reviewers. Well, for some reviewers. Ok, I’ll be honest. For me. For this reviewer, anthologies are frequently rather stressful. Why, you ask? Well, the review is for the book as a whole, but each story is individual. What if I absolutely love-with-unholy-passion four stories, loathe three stories, and feel varying degrees of ambivalence toward six stories? How do I rate that? Do the loves and hates cancel out, leaving me with a lukewarm 2.5 or 3 star rating (or a C- if you prefer grades to stars)? Do I love my preferred stories so much that I ignore the others and go for broke with 5 stars (an A+)? The actual written review gives me the chance to explain my mixed feelings, to rave about favored stories and explain my thoughts/reasons for disliking (or ignoring) the others, but we all know that frequently people are just quick-scanning reviews for something of interest. Are they going to bother reading the review if they see 2.5 stars at the top? Am I giving my favorite stories the shaft with a low-star rating for the whole book? Even if the rest of the book sucks?

Is there a good solution to this dilemma out there? I’d love to hear what you think! What are your favorite story collections? Why do you read them? Why do you love them? Hate them? Avoid them???

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