As mentioned in my previous post, I like to read literary anthologies and journals out of order. With Robert Drewe’s The Best Australian Stories 2007, I started at the back of the book and worked my way to the front. With Stop Drop and Roll, I read the fiction first and followed up with non-fiction and poetry. Sometimes I read the stories with the most interesting titles or those written by familiar writers, and I wonder if reading out of sync matters?
I usually stick to chronological order when reading single-author collections, such as Nam Le’s The Boat or Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing, and when I do, I notice an overall argument or arc. For instance, with The Boat, Nam Le begins with ethnic writer clichés, then follows up with a challengingly diverse range of fiction, proving his right to claiming the Vietnamese boat story. So, if an overall argument or arc applies with single-author collections, do they also apply to literary journals and anthologies? Does reading out of sync matter?
Naturally reading is a linear experience. What I read today will influence how I read tomorrow. But do editors lose sleep over a collection’s order?
Yes and no. At Verandah 23’s launch, I remember directing such questions to some of the editorial committee, and they told me that they’d thought over the ordering of the pieces. Start light, go serious in the middle, and end with a bang. Or something like that.
Sabina Hopfer from Etchings orders pieces with a different purpose in mind. Her journal follows a restrictive format of text broken up by several blocks of artwork and she must arrange the text in such a way as to avoid wasting pages. The overall arc of each issue is completely serendipitous.
Whatever the case may be, most journals try to begin and end with strong, memorable pieces. So should I change my habits to include reading the first piece first and the last piece last, choosing my own adventure in between? I dunno. What are other people’s thoughts on the matter?