The best short story collections for love, justice, and relational wisdom

Shann Ray Author Of American Masculine: Stories
By Shann Ray

Who am I?

Alongside writing poems and short stories, I am a clinical psychologist focusing on the psychology of men. People echo the vastness of the stellar expanse in which only 1% is matter like the planets and stars, our bodies, days in which we love and hate, moments we embody healthy intimacy or enact violence, the light that gives the face radiance. 19% of the universe is dark energy, and 80% dark matter-- less than 1% is light, and yet light is the foundation of life. "God is light," the ancient text intones, and though the words resound, what that light means in the despair of this world is a beloved mystery.

I wrote...

American Masculine: Stories

By Shann Ray,

Book cover of American Masculine: Stories

What is my book about?

American Masculine envisions women and men in a new country of grace. Winner of the American Book Award, named by Esquire as a “Three Books Every Man Should Read” selection, and chosen by Kirkus Reviews as a Best Book, Best Short Story Collection, and Editor’s Choice selection, the book also won the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize and two High Plains Book Awards, for Best Short Story Collection and Best First Book. With starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, the American Library Association, Kirkus,  and Shelf-Awareness, American Masculine was called a book of “elegance,” “muscularity,” and “astonishing power,” “prophetic,” “lyrical,” and “fiercely written,” forming a “true and pure depiction of sorrow and a primer for forgiveness.” “These stories are powerful literary stunners,” said Booklist.

The books I picked & why

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Rock Springs: Stories

By Richard Ford,

Book cover of Rock Springs: Stories

Why this book?

How do we overcome the most wild and unforgiving shadows of our personal and communal life together? If anyone can help us more closely understand our lack of understanding of one another, it is the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and short story writer, Richard Ford. The spare beauty of Wildlife (Ford’s homage to the dark force of lost love), is in close attunement with his cult classic of short story lore, Rock Springs. Ford’s subtlety and power as an artist are irrevocably tied to the uncommon life-giving capacity he shapes in us when we give ourselves to the ancient wisdom of this story collection. 

Labors of the Heart: Stories

By Claire Davis,

Book cover of Labors of the Heart: Stories

Why this book?

The title story of this collection is a miracle of human relations, ecstatic prose cut to perfection, and the multivalent understandings that arise when we give ourselves freely, openly, and yes brokenly to the will to love. There is nothing so sweet as the kind of development and shaping of humanity found in  Davis’ short stories. An author whose work has appeared in Best American Short Stories and won a Pushcart Prize, Davis is an author who has not received the kind of national following she deserves.

The Woman Lit by Fireflies

By Jim Harrison,

Book cover of The Woman Lit by Fireflies

Why this book?

Master of the novella (Legends of the Fall; Revenge; The Man Who Changed His Name), screenwriter, poet (The Theory and Practice of Rivers), and short story writer, Jim Harrison is unafraid to write with the kind of masculine energy that fills the world with a desire for life, freedom, autonomy, and intimacy. His powerful novella, The Woman Lit by Fireflies, the final movement in this collection, gathers the feminine and the masculine in a form of nonbinary exchange that results in deeper hope, and greater love. 

Lost in the City

By Edward P. Jones,

Book cover of Lost in the City

Why this book?

There is great beauty to the concrete and close-space urban worlds generated by Edward P. Jones. We descend with him into an ever more compassionate world in which people love and hate one another, seek one another, find one another, and bring about uncommon transcendence of heart, mind, and spirit. An artist whose books never fail to forward the depths of American literary gravity, he is a wonder to read and his art a joy to behold. Lost in the City, his first book of short stories, garnered the PEN/Hemingway award. His second book, The Known World, was granted the Pulitzer Prize. The words of social philosopher bell hooks provide the same grounding found in reading Jones’ beautiful powerful stories, it’s “all about love.”

Close Range: Wyoming Stories

By Annie Proulx,

Book cover of Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Why this book?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News, Annie Proulx is an engine of literary power with whom we engage in a breakneck ride to hell and back. In Close Range she follows traditional norms of Western masculinity and then deconstructs them and in fact explodes them so we can never see the American West in quite the same way again. Her stories set fire to a lone house on the plain. At night we watch the house burn with singular intensity until it burns down to nothing. Symbolic of how we must face and overcome our own individual and collective losses, after reading Close Range we are never the same again. 

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