As a strong supporter of the “Best American Short Stories” collections, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of Lee Gutkind’s “The Best Creative Nonfiction.” After all, it seems like a lot of different publishers and editors are using “The Best” in their titles, even when they aren’t affiliated with “The Best American” series, in an effort to somehow associate themselves with the reputation of that long-running anthology. (I’ve seen “The Best Erotica,” and “The Best of the Web,” and “The Best New American Voices,” and a handful of others) So my immediate thought was: fraud.
But while the initial volume of this series still seems as if it is trying to find its voice, there are some great pieces of nonfiction here, representing a wide range of publications and mediums. In fact, by using blog posts and web stories, in addition to the traditional literary journal essays, this collection becomes far more inventive and far more accessible than “The Best American Essays” (which drowns in its own self-importance).
Creative Nonfiction is still such a big and all-inclusive term, though, that I’m not exactly sure what sets the material in the series apart from “The Best American Magazine Writing,” “The Best American Nature Writing,” and “The Best of the Web/Blogs,” and even “The Best American Essays,” which all seem more narrowed in focus, and thus are able to collect the definitive representatives of their genre each year. Can we truly say that the literary journalism here is better than that collected in “Magazine Writing,” or that the blogs here are better than those in “Best of the Web?”
As I said, I liked this collection, and I think there’s a lot of good stuff here, but can we truly say this is the best creative nonfiction, or just a really nice sampling of a lot of different types of creative nonfiction? Lee Gutkind’s introduction is fantastic, and the inclusion of the James Frey commentary definitely gives the reader a better understanding of the creative nonfiction genre…but then again, this isn’t a textbook. It’s supposed to be an anthology of the best representatives of the genre, and I don’t know if it’s possible to really accomplish what Gutkind is setting out to accomplish here.