It’s May, it’s Short Story Month, and for us this annual exhortation to read brief couldn’t come at a better time. We’ve been hearing from a lot of folks who are having difficulty focusing on long books right now and need suggestions for shorter-form literature that doesn’t skimp on drama, profundity, or imagination. While graphic novels, such as those in our AAPI list, are a great option, we highly encourage everyone to try reading short stories too. From the sci-fi innovations of writers like Ted Chiang and Carmen Maria Machado to the humanity of Zadie Smith and Amy Hempel’s short stories, the list of short fiction below offers something for everyone, all in the time it takes to eat your lunch, stream a Netflix show, or gaze out of the window wondering where on earth we go from here.
Exhalation's varied and elegant stories speak to what makes us human, and the themes within the stories left me thinking about life and the way I act while navigating it long after I closed the book.
— Bill L.
Zadie Smith's impeccable voice and mastery of language shine in this wonder of a story collection, Grand Union. As if the reader were able to crack open the histories of passersby in Grand Central station, the stories Smith imparts are varied and intricate. They contemplate the existential questions of the millennium, the resistance of younger generations to the wisdom of the older, and philosophize the meaning of life, all within just a few pages each. It is a remarkable addition to the growing body of Zadie Smith's work and will surely be treasured by generations long after its publication.
— Alex Y.
In Sing to It, stories told in just a handful of spare paragraphs glint like small precious stones, while others fill page after page with uncommonly brilliant prose, throwing the lid back on the treasure chest. This remarkable collection — Hempel's first in over a decade — was every bit worth the wait.
— Tove H.
Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado’s sublimely creepy debut, draws on the lexicons of urban legend, the 19th-century British gothic, and American society’s evolving ideas about female corporeality to tell stories about women on the edge. In the liminal worlds of Her Body and Other Parties — positioned somewhere between 21st-century America and a horrorscape of breathing pavement and sentient dresses — an intangible, living darkness reaches out to hurt women, or convince them to hurt themselves. The dread this darkness inspires powers Machado’s riveting short story collection, which heralded the arrival of a brilliant and incisive writer.
— Rhianna W.
“Writer’s writer” is an annoying phrase — implying both commercial failure and writing that’s too good for the masses — but it’s really the best way to describe Deborah Eisenberg, whose wryly funny, language-rich short stories have been enthralling literary fiction fans for decades, and rarely get the mainstream recognition they warrant. The stories in Your Duck Is My Duck range from an artist reckoning with her patrons to a child trying to resist the earth’s rotation, but all of them deal with anxiety, money, loneliness, and the difficulty of simply getting stuff done because the world feels too crazy. They’re variations on the worries all of us feel, put into electric sentences by idiosyncratic characters you won’t want to part with.
— Lucinda G.
Clever, nuanced, and weird, Tenth of December is a short story collection that manages to venture into uncomfortable places in a very entertaining way. Saunders explores questions of morality and personal responsibility with a lightness of touch and an irresistible charm — while he may create narrators that seem shortsighted or foolish at times, he clearly has affection for all his characters. Standouts in the collection include "Victory Lap," following two adolescent kids whose fight or flight reactions get put to the test, "Home," a heart-wrenching portrait of a shell-shocked veteran, and the dystopian tale "Escape From Spiderhead."
— Renee P.
Etgar Keret is so smart and funny that you’ll forgive him for imagining a third-term Trump administration in “Arctic Lizard,” one of the many brief satirical pieces in his new collection. From a debate between a father and son, who, watching a man teeter on a roof, can’t decide if he’s suicidal or a superhero, to a very dark story about a child Hitler clone being raised for slaughter by a Holocaust survivor, the 22 stories in Fly Already call one’s attention to humanity’s propensity for error, and to the ways we are also (pathetically) well-intentioned.
— Moses M.
Florida, the place, isn't high on my list of potential vacation spots (sorry, Sunshine State!). Florida, the book, is a different story: I wanted to crawl inside this collection and live there. Lauren Groff has proven her talent time and again and her latest is no exception — she inhabits every character fully and creates complex emotional landscapes that are as lush and tangled as the book's namesake. Whether she's writing about a pair of abandoned sisters, a troubled woman observing her neighborhood on solitary nighttime jogs, or a boy molded by his violent and unpredictable father, every piece is a complete, perfect thing. The result is a collection of unpretentious stories that are dazzling enough to make you squint.
— Lauren P.
I love the weirdness of Kelly Link. The wildly varied, imaginative stories in Get in Trouble tweak realism just enough to give the reader a pleasantly twitchy, squirmy feeling, insinuating that the malevolent forces snaking through the storylines aren’t consigned to fiction. It’s been a few years since I read Get in Trouble, but the stories still occasionally stop me in my tracks; I haven’t forgotten the eeriness of siblings locked their future crypt, or of teenage girls falling for talking dolls, and neither will you.
— Rhianna W.
Is this cheating? If you feel paralyzed by the idea of choosing just one short story collection, pick up the 2019 edition of the Best American Short Stories series instead. The beauty of this collection is that you can skip the stories that don’t immediately engage you, read stories by well-known masters of the form, and be introduced to new favorites. Edited by Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), the 2019 anthology is a perfect fit for folks who want to read something really good, but don’t have the mental or emotional wavelength to commit to a full volume right now.
— Matt K.