When sickly Bostonian Edward J. O'Brien put together the first "Best American Short Stories" anthology in 1915, short stories were considered junky pop culture. He was hoping that his project would elevate the short-story form.
He had no idea he was launching a series that would last a century and, in the process, create a canon.
The new book "100 Years of the Best American Short Stories" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 752 pp., $30) serves as a meta-anthology that celebrates the series' long run. Like any institution, it is both essential and problematic.
From the beginning, "Best American" had a dual and somewhat contradictory mandate: to show...