For this year’s anthology, essays again rank higher in quality than stories, despite being outnumbered. In the top slots for essays and memoirs, Gabriel Garc°a M†rquez reveals his origins as a writer; Elizabeth Sifton traces the theological-activist career of her father, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the unexpected popularity of his famous “serenity prayer”; Alexander Theroux collects cases of obsessive collectors; and Amitav Ghosh browses his inherited literary tastes in “The March of the Novel Through History: The Testimony of My Grandfather’s Bookcase.” The next rank, even with the standard essays on chronic ailments, childhood, and cultural/religious heritage, fares pretty well: Daniel Henry vividly recounts an Alaskan camp’s Hitchcock-like invasion by “A Murder of Crows,” and Pam Houston gives a winsome survey of love in San Francisco in “The Best Girlfriend You Never Had.” The short story selection is headlined by Charles Baxter, Frederick Busch, Richard Bausch, Rick Moody, who all submit satisfying tales, but only Robert Coover, with his Wild West phantasmagoria, “The Sheriff Goes to Church,” really delivers the goods. Elsewhere, Stacey Richter goes over the top with a drug-addict teacher and her pusher students, Bruce Holland Rogers weaves a spooky allegory in “The Dead Boy at Your Window,” and Steve Stern crosses The Dybbuk with the Borscht Belt (and a touch of Updike’s Bech) in “The Wedding Jester.” Writing seminars show their influence in the stories by the few newcomers Mary Yukari Waters, Tom Bailey, and Peter Love, but the diversity of stories and styles is a far cry from the last decade’s assembly-line MFA fiction. Unfortunately this time there are no critical essays to balance the selection of poems, which, led by Alicia Ostriker and Robert Creeley, ranges from open-mike slam verse to metered artifice. To independent publishing what Sundance is to independent films: a little buzz, a lot of variety, some second-raters, and many chances for discovery.