Introduction I don't like to think of myself as doctrinaire about anything but certain ethical matters and perhaps the superiority of dark to milk chocolate. But I realize that I do have one unalterable rule that I wish I could also demand of others: When I teach a writing workshop, we must read published work on the grounds that, no matter how accomplished we may think ourselves to be, we need better writers in the room than even the best of us. This anthology and the previous edition (only a few of whose stories are repeated here -- it's well worth having as a companion volume) present perfect examples of occasions for teaching and learning. Of course this collection will gratify even the casual reader, one who, like most moviegoers or opera aficionados, appreciates exceptional accomplishment without particularly caring how its effects are achieved. It is not a textbook. But its genesis as a response to the question put to hundreds of writers/teachers who also instruct by enthusiasm and example --Which stories do you assign, return to, find especially effective as models, stimuli, provocations?-- makes it unusually useful for students in search of both inspiration and on-the-ground technical instruction. After all, as I insist to my students, they will not always have teachers to guide them in that long future that awaits them after they've paid off their loans. Yes, assuming they continue to write, their work will be read, appreciated, and criticized by friends and -- let's hope -- by editors and a world of readers. But before that, when they sit down to evaluate their own fi ction, they need to be able, themselves, to interrogate and probe and poke and be skeptical, and so -- back a step, before that -- in the generative and then the writing stage, it would be hugely useful to be able to do the same to a body of the most celebrated work being published today. And not just to read critically: to read practically. To assemble a tool kit, or amass a set of skeleton keys that will open just about any door. One of the more successful of the low-residency graduate writing programs even demands of its students that they make what are called "annotations" as they move through their studies; that is, they must choose a technical question they'd like to pursue and search in their reading for a variety of possible solutions. I still find myself doing exactly that, and I can't imagine I'll ever stop: Quite consciously, I'll anatomize some aspect of a story or a novel, not to imitate it (although that's a fine way to imbibe a given piece's style and structure) I am talking about taking stories apart like watches, studying the kinds and sizes of the parts they contain, and the way those parts move and affect one another. So, to mix metaphors (sample question: Can one do that?), what are the kinds of things an attentive reader might ask, either to follow a road or to break away from it and pave a new one? (All right: too many metaphors. Find your own.) Everyone agrees that any story can be told in dozens of ways, though each makes it a diff erent story. But for many student writers, first thought is assumed to be best thought. It usually isn't. I begin again and again and again because my first thoughts are usually banal and verbally slack. What can we learn, then, by studying opening paragraphs word by word? The reader starts with no more of a preconception of what's to come than the title might provide. If we think of ourselves as sleuths amassing clues -- not yet about the large thematic questions, at the macro level, but, rather, at the micro level, where we are being led -- we can learn what we need to by parsing who is speaking, and when, at what distance in time and space, in what kind of language and in what tone, on what occasion or for what reason at this particular time, before the significant action or after it...on and on and on. Often it turns ouThe Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Stories Since 1970 (Touchstone Books), 2nd was published 2007 under ISBN 9781416532279 and ISBN 1416532277.