Melissa recently wrote a piece on readers’ advisory and a new service the First Floor is providing (which I think is excellent and genius and I’m so proud that I get to work here) and it prompted me to think about how I handle readers’ advisory situations. One question I usually ask is “Do you like short stories?” I rarely get a “Yes! Yes!” so now that I have a captive audience (please keep reading), I thought I’d talk about some of my favorite short story collections. A little distance readers’ advisory, if you will.
I love short stories. It takes a very talented writer to pull a reader in and invoke an emotional response in a few pages. To quote myself from a blog post I wrote about short stories, “I believe that in the hands of the right author, you know everything you need to know in that specific moment. Maybe reading short stories requires a leap of faith and belief in the author’s ability to show you only what’s immediately important.” What most of these collections have in common are characters who are messy and complicated and whose lives aren’t perfected in 250 pages. I like being dropped into a life and then being taken out before everything is put back together.
I admit to judging A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends by Stacy Bierlein by its cover and thought I didn’t want to read it, but I’m glad I ignored my feelings. Some of the stories are slightly fantastical (which I love), like the title story where two women go on vacation and find that the only other people on the island are every one of their ex-boyfriends. Others are heartbreaking like “Luxor” in which a woman who cannot get pregnant shelters a child during a terrorist attack.
When the Messenger is Hot by Elizabeth Crane is my favorite of her three short story collections. Definitely read “Return from the Depot” which is about a daughter who tells everyone that her mother, recently deceased, is coming back. The mother does return, to the amazement of everyone but her daughter, after spending time in a bus depot in North Dakota. (Odd, yes, but amazing and interesting.)
Junot Diaz‘s newest book is This is How You Lose Her, a series of stories which follow the character Yunior through a good portion of his life. Diaz won praise with his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I hope readers of that book follow him and read this collection.
I could write an entire post on Pam Houston; she has been one of my favorite authors for years and is the reason that I, a bonafide city girl, imagine that one day, I will live on a ranch. Cowboys are My Weakness is an excellent place to start loving Houston.
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore is witty and original and Moore is another one of those writers who deserves a post of her own.
I’ve never gotten over that Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer is her only book (so far); she’s that good.
Death is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca is realistic about the not-so-prettiness of life and love. “It Sounds Like You’re Feeling”, a story about a mental helpline worker who is forced to see a counselor and “Look, Ma, I’m Breathing” were standouts for me.
Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy is a fabulous collection about loneliness and human connection.
Other places to find great short stories are The Best American Short Stories series and The Best American NonRequired Reading series.
If I can’t convince you to read these collections, several of these authors have novels I highly recommend. Crane’s We Only Know So Much, Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted, and Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs are all excellent reads. And maybe if you like their style, you’ll give their short stories a try.
Do you read short stories? If you don’t, do you promise to start reading them? Or tell me why you don’t enjoy them? Are there any collections do you recommend?