For the past six years, I've been reading the fiction in the New Yorker with a varying degree of faithfulness. Altogether I've read about 75% of the stories in these years. This year I only got to about 50%.
When I read each story, I rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Here are the criteria I've developed for evaluating fiction. Obviously these criteria are highly subjective, but I think that in my own way I weigh each of them as I think about how much I liked a particular story.
Ambition: Does the story attempt something moving, funny, innovative—and deeply so?
Execution: Are the sentences thrilling? Does the story compel me to keep going?
Seduction: Does the story draw me in, enrapture me, make me feel that I am in the world it has created?
Resolution: Does the ending hold up with the rest of the story? Does it cast an interesting and revealing light on what's come before?
Resonance: Does the story linger in my memory? Does it change the way I look at life? Does it gather meaning with time and re-reading?
Here are my favorite stories from 2008, with my ratings in parentheses.
Some Women, by Alice Munro—a teenage girl observes a household's tangled relationships (10)
The Bell Ringer, by John Burnside—a Scottish woman and her sister-in-law deal with unhappy marriages (9)
Deep-Holes, by Alice Munro—a nearly lost and later mostly lost son (9)
The Fat Man's Race, by Louise Erdrich—Grandma Ignatia's tall tale (9)
Leopard, by Wells Tower—home from school with a scary stepdad (9)
Ghosts, by Edwidge Danticat—a young man harrowingly tastes the life of gang members in a Haitian slum (9)
The Gangsters, by Colson Whitehead—bourgie black boys shoot BB guns on summer vacation (9)
Wakefield, by E. L. Doctorow—a modern-day version of Hawthorne's tale (8)
Free Radicals, by Alice Munro—a woman creates a fiction to save her life (8)
The Lie, by T. Coraghessan Boyle—a man lies to avoid work and gets caught in a series of deceptions (8)