10 Essential Short Story Collections

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10 Essential Short Story Collections

Have you ever felt frustrated after buying a novel and not enjoying it within the first dozen pages? Or do you hate setting your book down and then forgetting where you left off? One easy solution is to dive into a short story collection. Short stories offer bit-sized tales—without the confusion and backtracking that may come with reading a novel. And as such, we present a round-up of recently published short story collections written by phenomenal powerhouses, under-appreciated greats and fantastic debuts. Ranging from nine stories to 122, these collections deliver something to love for every reader.

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin's work is largely overlooked, but this indispensable volume proves that she's a master in her own right. In the eponymous short story, a young cleaning woman grapples with the loss of a loved one. Unable to escape the haze of longing and regret, she goes about her days scrubbing counters and washing windows, achingly turning over her memories as her day progresses. Berlin's work is an examination of the inner psyche with a careful focus on details, tone and mood, making her exploration of the daily struggle marvelous. Make room in your bookcase for one of the greatest writers you've never read.

One More Thing by B.J. Novak

In B.J. Novak's razor-sharp debut collection of short stories, our favorite Office heartbreaker is quite the comedic wordsmith. Reminiscent of The New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs," Novak's calm, collected and riotously funny stories highlight his versatility in a variety of registers. Unsure if you're looking to commit? Give a listen to one of Novak's gems, "Julie and the Warlord," about a warlord on the hunt for love and the luckless average Jane who, wading through the cesspool of dating, chances upon an actual psychopath.

Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis

Think of Davis as a highly skilled miniaturist who crafts ever more detailed worlds with each story. With Can't and Won't she offers 122 stories in a scant 304 pages. With meditations on the longing for a deceased dog, staying awake at night, stolen salamis and counting pennies, Davis' incredibly specific and authoritative tone makes even mundane activities poetic. She's the kind of author you can read when you want to let your mind examine a treasure.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Dark, magical realism is crossbred with a haunting gothic streak in Kelly Link's agile collection of mysterious stories. If you're a fan of Karen Russell, think of Link as her delinquent, tattooed, truant half-sister with a penchant for impromptu cross-country road trips in a hot-wired convertible. Life-sized dolls, superhero conventions, hurricanes and nudist colonies exist among myriad settings and characters. It's a pleasure to let yourself get lost in Link's funhouse.

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Divided into side A and B (with an intermission for good measure), Anthony Marra's collection functions as a mix tape of interconnected short stories. Set in the USSR and Russia, the book explores art's ability to offer hope under the weight of war, depression and economic hardship. For those uncertain about picking up a short story collection, this one is for you. Marra's collection reads more like a novel, albeit a split and sutured one at that. The waltzing quality—characters cutting in or a familiar melody is reprised—makes for a wholly unique reading experience. Added bonus: Check out Marra's Russian-themed mixed tape on Spotify.

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

When was the last time you read a story that pulled itself off the page and sauntered into the real world? Enter Adam Johnson's enigmatic and expertly crafted collection Fortune Smiles. Among the best of the stories is "Nirvana," the Sunday Times short story prize winner, which tells of a brilliant young programmer who invents a hologram technology that captivates his paralyzed young wife. Johnson's ability to create tales that feel wholly autonomous make for a truly haunting collection. Trust us and the judges (it won the 2015 National Book Award) and check out Fortune Smiles.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

If you're looking for an easy read, look beyond Bonnie Jo Campbell's Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. Campbell's recent short story collection is primarily grounded in industrial working class Michigan and the hardscrabble lives of its women who struggle to get by on less and less. Campbell's stories deal with issues of abuse, teen pregnancy and rape, making Mothers a testament to the power of women to endure, to grow and to heal.

Cries For Help, Various by Padgett Powell

Think of Padgett Powell's particular brand of zany as a Thomas Pynchon-esque carousel with a dash of Gertrude Stein circa Tender Buttons. In this 44-story collection, the experimental master toys with Vladimir Putin, Janis Joplin, teenage CIA agents and mail-order brides. No stone is left unturned in this comedic book. At war with the mundane, Powell's funhouse is not for the faint of heart.

Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Who hasn't been inspired by the majestic landscapes and arid deserts of New Mexico? Those in awe of the stark beauty and seemingly listless small towns will enjoy Kirstin Valdez Quade's debut collection. The entrancing landscape and the people drawn to it serve as muse for Quade's collection, written about her native New Mexico. Heavily wrought with symbolism, Night at the Fiestas is grounded in issues surrounding family, faith, pain and hamfisted attempts at redemption. Honored as one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35," Quade is a talent to watch.

In the Country by Mia Alvar

Mia Alvar's acclaimed debut collection explores her native Philippines—an archipelago of some 7,107 islands and a population of somewhere around 102.7 million—in an intense and poetic examination of the Filipino experience. Exploring themes of isolation, homesickness and self-camouflage, Alvar's wide-reaching web of the Filipino diaspora is an exciting and necessary exploration of this vast nation's rich culture.