I'm asking this on Writing.SE because I'm doing a short presentation on "What is an anthology," and I'm not sure how to answer the question "Why is X an anthology and Y is not?"

Merriam Webster defines "anthology" as:

A collection of selected literary pieces or passages or works of art or music.

With a bit more research, I found that a film series such as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is an anthology.

(a) Which of the items in the following list are anthologies?
(b) Is there a critical attribute that professional writers use to say with confidence that a collection is or is not an anthology?

  1. A book of American quotations.
  2. A cookbook built around a common theme.
  3. Guy Kawasaki's book, Enchantment, because each chapter ends with a contributor's essay on "How I did it."
  4. The Academy Awards gown section of a magazine.

At first I thought that "literary piece" was the acid test, then I found definitions about "literary work" and "collection" to confuse matters more at http://www.copyright.gov/register/tx-collective.html

2 Answers 2


I think "selected literary pieces or passages" is your linchpin here.

Let's take that college mainstay, the Norton Anthology (this one is American Literature). This is a book which contains quotes, poems, short stories, and excerpts of longer works. (IIRC — it's been a while)

The various pieces can be grouped by kind (poetry, quotes), by date, by region, or any other criteria. There may be context, analysis, and discussion around the pieces, or just an introduction to each one. There is nothing in the book which doesn't pertain to those pieces, and the author(s) or editor(s) don't have another story to tell or another agenda to promote outside discussion of the pieces.

So to take your list:

  • A book of American quotations could be an anthology. I think it would need some context around the quotes to qualify.
  • A cookbook might, but it would be a stretch. Cookbooks are instructional; you're actually meant to use the recipes. An "anthology cookbook" sounds to me like a collection of ancient recipes which are presented for educational purposes (like how the Egyptians prepared a corpse for mummification) rather than something you could use to make dinner tonight.
  • Guy Kawasaki's book is his book, and if he includes other excerpts, that doesn't make it an anthology. If he were collecting an anthology of other people's work and he was the only one providing analysis, that might qualify.
  • A magazine about something else which happens to have a section on X is not an anthology.
  • 2
    Great response and explanation of each item. I think main point of an anthology is that it's a collection. And adding on to the idea of a collection, it is going to be from various sources.
    – raddevus
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 12:08
  • 1
    @SaberWriter Various sources, yes, although not necessarily various authors. There's The Portable Dorothy Parker anthology, for example, which is poems, quotes, reviews, and stories from across her entire career but not everything she wrote. amazon.com/Portable-Dorothy-Parker-Penguin-Classics/dp/… The "sources" are books of poetry, reviews published in magazines, etc. but they are all Parker's. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 12:22

The core concept of an anthology is a "collection," of things that would otherwise be separate --things that have their own separate identity and coherence.

What is anthologized might be different authors, previously published works by a single author, different types or genres of work, and so forth. In television, an "anthology series" like the Twilight Zone presents individual stories without continuity between them, generally with different casts. Traditionally this was done by episode, newer series like American Horror Story do it by season.

A collection of new work by a single author is not an anthology, because the constituent work didn't ever have its own separate identity. The cookbook, and Kawasaki's book fall under the same reasoning. Most magazines also don't count --Reader's Digest being a notable exception, as a serialized anthology of magazine articles. Similarly, a book of quotations is not typically thought of as an anthology, because the collected pieces that compose it are fragments, not complete works.

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