The 25th edition of Houghton-Mifflin Harcout’s superior Best American Sports Writing series is out. The good folks over at SB Nation were good enough to reprint series editor Glenn Stout’s introduction.
It’s a beaut:
After 25 years of professional reading, not to mention nearly 30 years as a professional writer, from my chair the best stories, whatever name you want to give them, share a few qualities — that is one thing that has not changed, as true today as in 1920, or when I was swaddled in my bed as a 10-year-old. So what do I look for when seeking out “the best?”
I believe the best work features thorough reporting, and has a defined shape, a structure and a backbone and an architecture and a music all its own. The stories I wish to read again are organic, written from within, from the material outward rather than plugged into some pre-existing template or journalistic equivalent of verse, chorus, verse. They are confident from the first word — and certain, sounding as if they already know the end of the story from the start, as if every word is predetermined from the first syllable. I once heard Bill Heinz talk about how important it was for him to find the opening chords, for they define all that can follow. The best stories allow the reader to identify characters by revealing something universal, something authentic we share. They unfold, they answer questions before the reader asks them, they create three-dimensional pictures that play out over that fourth dimension, time, they let the reader to create an internal movie of what is happening, they play to the senses, and involve the senses.