A Long List of Short Stories

As a literary genre, short stories have captured the imagination and energy of many great writers over many eras, but not always the popular acclaim of the book-buying masses. Most great writers who have produced both short stories and novels remain better known and more celebrated for their longer forms of writing. But that pattern may be changing. A recent article in The New York Times described a renaissance of short story writing and reading, attributing the shift in part to a digital age in which short-form works are cheaper and more easily accessed by an increasingly tech-savvy population. Whatever the reason, many contemporary writers are succeeding with new volumes of short stories that reflect the literary breadth, depth, and range of the genre.

The most notable example of the current appreciation of short stories is George Saunders, who was featured on the cover of The New York Times Sunday Magazine in early January for his new collection, Tenth of December. Described as “the best book you’ll read this year,” Tenth of December is now in its second month on the Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. (Saunders also gave a wonderful talk at P&P on January 14.)

All of this current commentary led us to ask our booksellers at Politics & Prose to recommend their favorite short story collections, new and old. Not surprisingly, the response was enthusiastic—and the list long.

Among the P&P’s perennial favorites are collections published in the past year or two that have been previously highlighted in store emails, newsletters, or staff picks, but are worth mentioning again: Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her; Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank; Alice Munro’s Dear Alice; Julian Barnes’s Pulse; Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn, and Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy.

Generating new excitement is Karen Russell’s collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, published this month. P&P bookseller Laurie Greer had this to say about it: “The eight stories in Karen Russell’s second collection feature a series of metamorphoses. In completely realistic settings—the prairie during a blizzard, a sunny Italian tourist trap, a middle school rife with bullies—the stabilities of identity and everyday life suddenly shift, in startling but psychologically apt ways, revealing new facets about the characters and their worlds. Throughout the book, Russell’s prose sparkles with telling phrases and vivid descriptions.” [For a fuller description, click here.]

Perhaps less celebrated but equally deserving of attention are the following titles selected by P&P staff members (click on each to see staff-written review):

Leonid Tsypkin
The Bridge Over the Neroch

Anthony Doerr
Memory Wall

Barry Hannah

E.C. Osondu
Voice of America

Elizabeth Hand
Errantry: Strange Stories

Edgar Keret
Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

Lydia Davis
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Alice Munro
Lives of Girls and Women

Jennifer Egan
Emerald City and Other Stories

Edna O'Brien
Saints and Sinners

Irene Némirovsky
Dimanche and Other Stories

Amy Bloom
Come to Me

Kazuo Ishiguro

Click here for
staff-written summaries
of these titles.

And here are a few for teenage readers:

Award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye focuses on everyday life in the interconnected world of There Is No Long Distance Now. P&P staff member Mary Alice Garber writes: “Like Nye’s well-crafted poems, these succinct slices of contemporary life are at times humorous, sometimes painful and always honest as they address the realities of family life, war, prejudices and our many connections to each other. Written for and about teens, these rich distillations merit a broader audience as Nye encourages us to slow down, pay attention and notice that nothing is ordinary.”

Who Am I Without Him? by Sharon Flake is, says P&P staff member Amy Kane, “an honest and intimate look into the struggles of adolescents. First loves, manipulations and the painful realities of the high school hallways all play out in this collection of 12 stories.”

Also, don’t forget anthologies. Our staff recommends The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike, which P&P staff member Rose Levine calls “classics by the usual suspects such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but also by Ring Lardner and others.”

- Brad and Lissa