Lorrie Moore’s first collection of short stories, many of which she wrote as an MFA student at Cornell, is loosely structured as a self-help manual for the tragicomedy that is the human condition: adultery, divorce, suicide, and mothers. Few writers can pull off writing in the second person, but Moore is a master of her craft. You’ll be impressed.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Karen Russell, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Swamplandia!, delivers a collection of eight stories, each more fantastical than the next. Russell’s brand of magical realism holds a prism to human experience and bends it, just slightly, to make us see things in a different light. (And don’t miss her latest collection, Orange World and Other Stories.)
If Franz Kafka opened the door to weirdness in literature, Aimee Bender waltzed right through it and picked up where he left off. In this collection, a boy has keys for fingers, a woman’s children are potatoes, and a little boy with an iron for a head is born to a family of pumpkin heads. Bizarre, surreal, and absolutely true.
Get in Trouble
Like many of the authors in this roundup, Kelly Link blends fantasy and reality to expose the fragility of the human condition. Her characters range from astronauts to bootleggers to superheroes to teenagers, all of them navigating the strange universes that Link creates.
Magic for Beginners
A double dose of Kelly Link is never a bad idea. She’s a master world-builder, and this collection is ideal for those who turn to fiction as an escape from the mundanity of daily life. Her imagination is singularly bizarre, and the dreamlike stories she writes are like dark, beautiful fairytales.
The Tsar of Love and Techno
There are some people who claim to dislike short story collections because of their often disjointed naturel these are the readers who insist on following a storyline from start to finish without veering from the path. Anthony Marra meets these types halfway, with nine interconnected stories that overlap and span the last century in Russia.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
ZZ Packer has a gift for writing characters that feel familiar at first glance, and then become utterly original as their stories unfold. In this collection, a Brownie troop of black girls must confront their own prejudice, a young man accompanies his alcoholic father to the Million Man March, a woman from Baltimore runs away to Japan and finds herself living with a group of drifters. With humor and insight, Packer examines the African American experience through an unconventional lens.
Barbara the Slut and Other People
If you’ve been looking for a book about sex and dogs (not in the same setting, mind you), this is the collection for you. Fearless, honest, and funny, these ten stories take a candid look at modern sexuality and bring a fresh perspective to what it means to be young.
Tenth of December
In literary circles, George Saunders is considered by many to be a living legend. He’s the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, and this collection of stories, nominated for countless Best Book of the Year awards, doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. The characters he creates are unforgettable, and his writing is a marvel. Some might even say genius.
One More Thing
B. J. Novak
Let’s face it, short stories can be intense. If you need a pick-me-up after some of the heavy reads on this list, One More Thing will do the trick. B. J. Novak, best known for his work on The Office, is smart and funny, and he’s a fantastic writer. This book stands on its own as a short story collection—it’s not just another funny memoir by a TV personality.
Arrival (Stories of Your Life MTI)
Yes, the Amy Adams movie that made you sob started out as a short story. Ted Chiang takes the question “Imagine if…” and lets it explode on the page. In eight stories best described as literary science fiction, he questions everything from physics and mathematics to religion and our very concept of time.
Crow Fair is a collection of 17 stories set in the Big Sky country of Montana. With humor and heart, Thomas McGuane introduces us to a cast of misfit characters who seem hell-bent on making bad decisions.
The View From the Seventh Layer
Fantastical, ephemeral, original, and profound, Kevin Brockmeier’s collection of stories will enchant you. Falling somewhere between fairy tales and science fiction, The View from the Seventh Layer is at once otherworldly and intimately familiar.
I love reading long novels, but sometimes I only have time for a quick fix: a ten-minute subway ride, a grab-and-go lunch, my son’s half-hour swim lesson. In such moments, short stories are a lifesaver. While some read short story collections cover to cover, I prefer a grazing approach. Because I lack any self-control when it comes to reading (just one more chapter!), short stories allow me to experience the satisfaction of a full story arc in a handful of pages. This comes in handy when I absolutely must go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Perfect for readers on the run, these 13 short story collections will satisfy your craving for literature in a fraction of the time it takes to read a novel.
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