I get the general impression that people don’t read short stories a lot. Like other smaller pieces of media, people don’t seem to go for short stories unless they are really into an author or reading. Similarly, most people don’t watch short films, but film buffs and filmmakers love them. Unless you’re really into music, you might not want to get a musician’s EP, you’d rather wait for the full album/LP, and so on and so forth.
While I can relate to all these feelings, I will say that I’m a short story collection fiend and total convert.
Here are a few reasons to love short stories:
- You read just one and you’ve read a whole story! It’s a nice little accomplishment. Say you want to read even a little every day, you could read one short story every night before bed and boom there you go, reading goal met!
- Short story collections are great for waiting games—like if you’re waiting in line, on the bus, on a plane, waiting for an appointment, etc. You can finish a story in one sitting, you don’t have to dive in and remember where you are at like you would for a novel.
- It’s ok to put a book of short stories down. Unlike a novel, you don’t have to read straight through. You can read a couple stories (read them out of order even!), and pick the collection up again when you need it without having to remember major plot details or characters.
- You can read more than one collection of short stories at a time. I know a lot of people don’t like to read more than one book at a time, and I get that, you want to concentrate on the narrative. I have short story collections scattered about my house. I have one on my bedside table if I don’t feel like reading whatever novel I’m reading (see point 1) and one in the kitchen for when I have to watch something on the stove.
- Short stories are a good way to get to know an author’s work. I have discovered many authors by reading one of their short stories in another collection. Most novelists have a short story or two out there, read that first to see if you like their work before committing to a longer novel. It’s like test tasting, really.
Here are some short story collections I love and would very much recommend.
1. White Walls: Collected Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya
I read this collection in university. The translation by Jamey Gambrell is beautiful. The stories are melancholic, detailed, and capture all the nuances of the lives of women. The stories aren’t necessarily super tragic or anything, but so beautiful they made my heart hurt. I often think about re-reading this collection, or just a story at a time, but honestly, these ones stay with you long after you’re done reading them. This collection holds a prized place on my bookshelf.
2. Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime from Tin House edited by Rob Spillman
Ah, the collection that kickstarted my affinity for fantasy. I think it’s a little weird this collection was edited by a man, but nevertheless I bought this book after reading a review in BUST magazine a few years back, and it was my first real dive into the realm of fantasy. I read through the whole thing, then looked up some of the authors whose work I liked especially, and that’s how I ended up discovering some of my current favourite writers like Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, and Gina Ochsner.
3. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
I think this might be my favourite book right now (if I can pick a book that is technically a collection of short stories). This book made a difference for me—I’ll write at length about it in another post. I loved all the stories in this book, like actually all of them. They are fantastic, surreal stories, right on the edge of reality. There are stories about kids with sleeping disorders, stories about two brothers trying to find their missing sister, and girls raised by wolves who are kidnapped by nuns.
4. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Like the book by Russell above, this collection by Kelly Link is magic. It’s actually a YA collection, and I really don’t read a lot of YA fiction at all typically, it’s really not my bag. A lot of the stories in here were also published in her collection Magic for Beginners, but this one book gets my recommendation though, because if any book were to convince me to take up reading YA, it would be this collection. The actual story “Magic for Begginers” (yes, it’s the name of the short story that is also the title of her other collection of short stories, confusing, I know) is one of my favourite short stories of all time. The eponymous story, “Pretty Monsters” is a must-read for anyone who unapologetically loves their inner mean girl.
5. Sunday, Monday, and Always by Dawn Powell
Following my fifth tip for embracing short stories above, this collection of her stories was the first thing I read of Dawn Powell’s before devouring four of her novels in a row—this collection was that amazing. I loved all of these stories. Powell’s mastery of conversations and subtleties in social interactions rival J.D. Salinger’s, and the constant background of the Midwest in her stories is like John Steinbeck’s love of California. Say I was asked to pick one of these books to give to my friend (anyone, really) as a gift—I would pick this collection. The meanness of people, the kindess, the unrequited love, the politics of returning home to a small town while your family still hates/loves you for leaving—it’s all here.