I wish to find this short story
March 25, 2021 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Back in the '90s, I think it most likely was, I read this short story that I thought was called The Wish Book or just Wish Book, in what I would have sworn was the Best American Short Stories anthology that's put out every year. For the life of me, I can't find it now and it's been on my mind for a while, so I'd like to find it (with these vague details).

I unfortunately don't remember much about it, other than there being a child who was very poor, and the old Sears Wish Book catalog that came out for the holidays. I thought the title was Wish Book or similar, but it could be an entirely different title and I'm just remembering that because of the subject.

I would have sworn that it was in the Best American Short Stories collection that's published every year by I think Houghton Miflin, because I often stopped at a bookstore on the way home from where I worked in the '90s and would flip through them, but it's entirely possible it was another year, or maybe even another anthology (god, maybe it was an essay in the Great American Essays collection, at this point I'm starting to think anything's possible). I remember discovering a bunch of great short stories around that time flipping through the books, and I know I bought a few of them but they've been lost in moves so I can't check. I've spent hours trying to find the lists of the stories included in each year of the anthologies, but it's been a difficult task because Wikipedia, World Cat, and other resources are maddeningly inconsistent about listing exactly what appears in each volume. Since I can't recall the author, the lists by author are useless.

Most of my searching for a short story with that title brings up modern stuff, kids' things, etc. I've never been able to find anything that sounds familiar. I'd love to read this again, but even my library doesn't seem to list every volume's individual contents consistently. I know it's a longshot, but you guys have helped me find some obscure stuff, so you're my only hope now.
posted by kitten kaboodle to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds vaguely familiar to me which I realize is not much help.If you have a login at the Internet Archive, they have a number of them scanned and you can check them out and read a few pages online and see if they look like the right thing. Not comprehensive but at least you can browse the entire title. Here's the query I made which gets the titles they do have, may need to scroll a bit to get the actual books to come up.
posted by jessamyn at 3:29 PM on March 25, 2021

Best answer: Googling 'site:goodreads.com' turns up a collection by Kim Chinquee with a story titled "Wishbook." It says she's won a Pushcart Prize and been published in places I recognize, so maybe?
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:58 PM on March 25, 2021

I'm pretty sure I've read that story, too, but I'll be darned if I can remember where. So I guess this is just another piece of confirmation it exists...

Is there any chance you'd have browsed, say, Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine? Or the Year's Best Fantasy or Writers of the Future or something like that? (I'm much more likely to have read one of those during that era than the anthologies you mentioned.)
posted by stormyteal at 4:02 PM on March 25, 2021

FWIW, ISFDB does list a story titled "Wishbook Days" by Janni Lee Simner. It was published in a Christmas ghost story anthology from DAW in the 90s.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:05 PM on March 25, 2021

Response by poster: I feel like anything after the earliest of the early aughts would be unlikely as I was in a new job and had kind of given up by then on being published again for short fiction, so wasn't reading it as often. I've been searching for this for a long time, but like I said, the places I see the books, they have maddeningly random and unreliable lists of what's in the editions (including the IA but I'll keep plugging away).

It's absolutely not SFF or horror or anything like that--it's very much in the lit fic mode and I remember getting very weepy about it, which is why it's stuck with me for so long: I rarely cry over fiction unless it's animal stories.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 4:40 PM on March 25, 2021

Hmm. The Wishbook Days story by Janni Lee Simner wouldn't be it, then, though it's definitely one I'd read before. (I just found and read it now.) It's about a man who lost his job, owes a ton of bills, and a glitched futuristic hologram version of a Wishbook shows up, and he accidentally orders something, and makes things worse. Then it happens again, but he sort-of manages to derail that mess. The third time, he doesn't even believe the results until he's in the middle of it, and the hologram basically manages to give him a different present-time without technology, leaving him in a life he decides he wants.
posted by stormyteal at 4:50 PM on March 25, 2021

Without going to interlibrary loan, etc., the best confirmation/disconfirmation I can suggest for the Kim Chinquee story would be to see if some of her other work online (here, here, and especially here) feels like a match stylistically. The 2008 date on its collection could be misleading if the story were published elsewhere previously.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:12 PM on March 25, 2021

Response by poster: AAAaaahhh, most excellent internet detectives, thanks to prompts from you, I have found it again. It's indeed called Wish Book and it's by a writer named Bo Ball, and it was published quite a bit earlier than I realized. The mention of The Pushcart Prize was what did it--I had completely forgotten that existed. Eventually I realized they publish an index of all previous works in each volume and Wish Book was published in Vol. V, in 1980.

That makes sense, since the bookstore had an excellent back selection of anthologies and I often had hours to kill in between going from work to chemo with my mom. I must have flipped through all their volumes over time looking for what to buy. I never would have figured this out without your help to remember the Prize and to realize I was logged out of the IA; thank you so much!
posted by kitten kaboodle at 7:04 PM on March 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

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