Occasionally, I find myself binging on a certain type of book—that is, I get hooked on a certain genre or type of book and find myself reading LOTS of them. In the past, it’s happened with historical romances (not the bodice-ripping kind, but the Jane Austen fanfic kind), micro-histories, and dystopian YA, to name a few. Right now, I’ve been binging on short story collections. The perfectly-crafted short story is even harder to achieve, I think, than the perfect novel—there is an art to drawing the reader in with enough detail to hook them, but keeping things short and sparse enough to leave them pondering at the end. It’s also far harder to connect with a character in the space of a few dozen pages than a few hundred pages, and the writer who can get you to fall in love (or hate) with a character in that confined space is a genius in my eyes.
With that in mind, I wanted to share a few of my favorite short story collections . . .
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins // Volt by Alan Heathcock
Battleborn and Volt are both collections with an incredible rawness and brutality to them, but expressed through writing that displays a stunning knack for language. The stories in Battleborn transcend time, taking place mostly in Nevada and the surrounding areas during various points in time. One takes place mostly in a brothel, another follows a pair of brothers who are prospectors during a gold rush; each story delves into a critical moment in the main character’s life, never resolving but merely observing. Volt is much the same, drawing beauty out of a stark, savage landscape and the people in it. Both of these collections will immerse you in the lands they describe.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote // Drown by Junot Diaz
If Audrey Hepburn is all you know about Holly Golightly, then you have to read Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I adore Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the movie) and I love Audrey Hepburn, but the cinematic version of Holly Golightly can’t hold a candle to Capote’s original leading lady. I was lucky enough to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Broadway, styled after the original novella, and it was stunning. Capote’s writing is incredible, and every other story in this collection is also amazing. Junot Díaz is another writer whose words leap off the page. While his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one of my all-time favorite books, Junot Díaz is also a master of the short story. The stories in Drown will punch in the gut, and leave you asking for more. They’re cool and collected, but filled with emotion and a search for identity under the surface.
Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman // Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Birds of a Lesser Paradise is a wonderful collection of stories about the bonds we have with family and with animals. Each story explores attachment and biology, and the human instincts that drive us to love and to fear, utilizing language that is full of emotion and alive. The stories in Interpreter of Maladies share the same quality in that the stories come alive from the page, full of emotion and humanity that will make you relate to each and every character. Each story felt like a punch in the gut by the end, and I felt invested in every person on the page. Lahiri’s writing is incredible, and I will definitely be devouring more of it in the future.
And next up on my list of short story collections to read . . .
Tenth of December by George Saunders // Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
Tenth of December has gotten rave reviews this year. (Joel Lovell called it the best book of the year the first week of January in the NY Times.) Bobcat and Other Stories seems like it will be satisfying way to scratch my itch for quirky, odd stories. I’m quite excited to get to both of them.