Lately I’ve really enjoy reading collections of stories, I love being exposed to different writers and most importantly I can typically get through at least one story before falling asleep. I say typically because a few nights ago as I was reading a Sherlock Holmes story on my Nook I actually did doze off, and my device slipped from my hands smacking me in the face – a fun night to be sure. But I digress, in general, collections make solid pre-bedtime reading.
For the last week or so I’ve been reading The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013 (on honest to goodness paper, so no technology induced injuries here. ) I was given the opportunity to review the book, which is available today, in advance and encouraged to share my thoughts. Well, my thoughts are mixed – there are good and bad things about this particular collection, and despite my enthusiasm for collections for me it highlghted a general downside.
One of the most valuable things about collections is that they presumably do a lot of work for you. The BEST implies that some authoratative figure has done the druggery of sorting through the entire body of work in a field, in this case science writing, for you. For this collection these authoratative figures are series editor Tim Folger and edition editor Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee is author of the pulitzer prize winning The Emperor of All Maladies – A Biography of Cancer, which I read and think is deserving of all the praise it has garnered.
I was so optimistic about this collection upon seeing that the edition editor was Mukherjee because I admire his work quite a bit. His own writing certainly doesn’t disappoint – I honestly think checking out the collection is worth your time just to read his introduction. It is a lovely description of science writing painted against the background of the “father of genetics” Gregor Mendel. The book includes writing that I think is terrific, and I have no problem with it being held up as exemplary of the best science writers among us – I was happy to see names like Michael Moyer, John Pavlus, Michelle Nijhuis, David Quammen and Katherine Harmon. As it seems with all good things though, there is always a “but” and I do have an issue with this collection.
You enter into a bit of a contract with the authority figures who determine what is featured in a collection when you purchase a book like this. The relationship brings with it the promise that the stories have all been vetted and are the BESTof what is out there. You trust that you are in for a good show, a quality show. However, the collection of what is the best is merely an opinion. We all have opinions, and my opinion isn’t always going to match your opinion, or Mukherjee’s opinion, or anyone else’s opinion.