The best short story collections that could change your life

Charlie Jane Anders Author Of Even Greater Mistakes
By Charlie Jane Anders

The Books I Picked & Why

A House Is a Body: Stories

By Shruti Swamy

A House Is a Body: Stories

Why this book?

A really great short story collection can sweep you off your feet and take you to a lot of different places, in a way that novels can't quite manage. And Swamy's debut collection is haunting in the best possible way. These dreamlike stories feature characters who are lost and dislocated, carried along by other people's desires, and the best of them have something to say about art as well as relationships. In one story, an artist who is descending into alcoholism gets into a relationship with the god Krishna, and in another, a "laughter artist" has perfected her laughter to the point where all laughter seems artificial. Swamy conveys the feeling of being lost but seen, in a really beautiful, arresting way.


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Get in Trouble: Stories

By Kelly Link

Get in Trouble: Stories

Why this book?

Kelly Link is the one of the most potent storytellers alive, and a master of the short-story form. And this 2015 collection is Link at her most hilarious and gloriously weird — it's full of superheroes, demon lovers, ghost boyfriends, and a woman with two shadows. Some of these stories deal with fame and celebrity culture, while others deal with strange relationships and teenagers who are trying to find their own way in the world. Every one of these stories is a perfect experience unto itself, and some of them feel like the best kind of magic trick: Link shows us a bunch of clues and hints, and then in a moment of startling realization, everything suddenly falls into place and we find ourselves someplace new.


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Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories

By May-Lee Chai

Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories

Why this book?

This story collection is mind-blowing in the best way. As its name suggests, a lot of the stories in this book deal with immigrants, including Chinese people who've immigrated to the United States, but also rural people who've migrated to cities. Chai's characters are struggling to balance traditional Confucian values with postmodern urban existence, and a lot of these stories feature tensions between different generations in a single-family. The best story is probably the award-winning "Fish Boy," in which a boy moves from the Chinese countryside to the big city and ends up working at a seafood restaurant whose offerings sound pretty unappetizing. Chai is brilliant at picking up on the subtle nuances of damaged families, and every one of these stories hits home.


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Homesick: Stories

By Nino Cipri

Homesick: Stories

Why this book?

This book of speculative short fiction includes some of the best queer representation I've seen in ages. "A Silly Love Story" includes a gender-fluid character named Merion, and "Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff" includes a trans grad student named Min. Cipri manages to combine the surreal and illogical with a pervasive sense of warmth and humanity, which is a nearly impossible feat, and they make it look easy. Each story will leave you wondering what happens next, but the characters will also live on in your imagination long after you've turned the page.


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Never Have I Ever: Stories

By Isabel Yap

Never Have I Ever: Stories

Why this book?

Yap's debut collection is full of brilliant moments and haunting images. She wraps together Filipino folklore with characters who are endlessly rich and fascinating, and the result is sometimes terrifying, sometimes weird and unsettling, and always gorgeous. This book will leave you feeling as if uncanny worlds are waiting for you to discover them, just out of view. Many of these stories go to dark places, but then you stumble on a sweet tale like "A Spell For Foolish Hearts," involving a gay magician, a love potion, and a complicated relationship. You'll wish you could read this book for the first time more than once.


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