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Why read simply a good story when you could stick to the greats? With their annual “best of” book collections, publishers make it easy to find the year’s finest writing. Here are some of our favorites from 2009.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009
Edited by Elizabeth Kolbert
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14

Elizabeth Kolbert -- staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, former New York Times reporter, and author of a book on the environment -- opens this science-and-nature volume by commenting on the 26 included selections (all of which have been previously printed in magazines) and providing her insights into the realm. The entries vary in topic from carbon footprints to evolution. One outstanding piece is a Harper’s Magazine article called “Contagious Cancer” by David Quammen.

Best African American Fiction 2010
Edited by Nikki Giovanni
One World/ Ballantine, $16

The stories included in this second annual collection of fiction span time, geography, and emotion -- from the dark days of segregation to the present , from the United States to Africa, from joy to sadness. But they all convey powerful messages that resonate with readers of all creeds and colors. Poet, activist, author, and professor Nikki Giovanni selected this year’s spotlighted tales.

The Best American Short Stories 2009
Edited by Alice Sebold
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14

Dating back to 1915, the popular The Best American Short Stories series has continually brought readers sharp, thought-provoking pieces of short fiction in an enjoyable, easy-to-digest format. This year’s anthology -- edited by novelist Alice Sebold, who is best known for her book The Lovely Bones -- offers 20 such pieces, culled from small literary journals (such as the Black Warrior Review), large-circulation magazines (like The New Yorker), and everything in between.

The Best American Crime Reporting 2009
Edited by Jeffrey Toobin
Ecco, $15

Emmy Award–winning CNN senior legal analyst and The New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin guides us capably through the past year’s catalog of true crime works. Highlights include a piece about the hospital workers who tried to save the life of President John F. Kennedy after he was fatally shot and the story of a bodysnatching scandal in the Northeast involving to-be-cremated remains. The gripping, detailed accounts will have you on the edge of your recliner.

The Best American Travel Writing 2009
Edited by Simon Winchester
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14

Even when you can’t physically get away for a vacation, the right travel story can transport you, if only mentally, and offer a brief respite. Though the included pieces were all published in the United States, the destinations that are covered span a host of international locales , from Bolivia to Burma. Only a few of the 24 writers represented are known primarily for their travel pieces, meaning this year’s volume has an unexpected freshness grounded in surprise.