The best short story collections to send your mind into the sublime

Who am I?

Most of my public success has been as a novelist. My MFA, from the Iowa Writers Workshop, is in poetry. When I grow up, I want to be a short story writer. The dirty truth is, though, I’ve been making trouble with stories since I was a kid. During my first attempt in 10th grade, I wrote a story that got me suspended for two weeks. No explanation. No guidance. Just a conference between my parents, teachers, and principal (I wasn’t present), and they came out and banished me. I dropped out of school shortly after. I reckon that experience, both shameful and delicious, shaped my life and love of narrative.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

What is my book about?

Five thousand years out of the labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love.

The books I picked & why

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The Lottery and Other Stories

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Lottery and Other Stories

Why this book?

I read as a writer. Can’t help it. I read with my noggin gobbling up what I can learn from any given author. But occasionally that author’s skill seems unattainable. So it is with Shirley Jackson. Her masterful handling of situation and character takes my breath away. At her best, Jackson is in complete control of the unsaid, and the merely suggested. 

About the only thing I remember reading in Ms. Robinson’s English class was The Lottery. That story opened my mind to the power of fiction, and as I can understand now, of handling narrative, and choreographing tension. Jackson’s very believable characters are forever balancing on the knife edge of the supernatural and the merely strange human behavior.

The Lottery and Other Stories

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Lottery and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shirley Jackson's stories are among the most terrifying ever written' Donna Tartt

This is the definitive collection of Shirley Jackson's short stories, including 'The Lottery' - one of the most terrifying and iconic stories of the twentieth century, and an influence on writers such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.

In these stories an excellent host finds himself turned out of home by his own guests; a woman spends her wedding day frantically searching for her husband-to-be; and in Shirley Jackson's best-known story, a small farming village comes together for a terrible annual ritual. The creeping unease of lives squandered…


Friday Black

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Book cover of Friday Black

Why this book?

Such a rule breaker. A complete disregard for the laws of nature. That can’t happen! I shouldn’t feel so for those characters! And yet, and yet! The characters that people these pages are real and convincing. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah takes us in and out of realities. His world is dark sibling to our everyday world, but even his most flawed characters resonate with dignity, and through skillful well-crafted revelation, the reader comes to understand why these characters struggle—often against societal forces larger/older/engrained—and even when his characters make bad decisions (lord knows a misbehaving character is what good fiction is about) a glimmer of the potential for human goodness is exposed. This a contemporary voice, fierce and fresh, and worth paying attention to.

Friday Black

By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Friday Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The instant New York Times bestseller
'An unbelievable debut' New York Times

Racism, but "managed" through virtual reality

Black Friday, except you die in a bargain-crazed throng

Happiness, but pharmacological

Love, despite everything

A Publisher's Weekly Most Anticipated Book for Fall 2018

Friday Black tackles urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explores the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In the first, unforgettable story of this collection, The Finkelstein Five, Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unstinting reckoning of the brutal prejudice of the US justice system. In Zimmer Land we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of…


The Voice Imitator

By Thomas Bernhard, Kenneth J. Northcott (translator),

Book cover of The Voice Imitator

Why this book?

The title alone sets the stage. This is meta at its most meta-ness. Who is narrating? Who is listening? Is the author complicit in the sometimes catastrophic, always deeply strange, events that unfold in these tiny tales? More importantly, do we the readers play a role? Less is more. Lesser still is even more more. The reach of suggestion. A knockout punch of inference. 

The Voice Imitator

By Thomas Bernhard, Kenneth J. Northcott (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Voice Imitator as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Austrian playwright, novelist, and poet Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) is acknowledged as among the major writers of our times. At once pessimistic and exhilarating, Bernhard's work depicts the corruption of the modern world, the dynamics of totalitarianism, and the interplay of reality and appearance.

In this stunning translation of The Voice Imitator, Bernhard gives us one of his most darkly comic works. A series of parable-like anecdotes-some drawn from newspaper reports, some from conversation, some from hearsay-this satire is both subtle and acerbic. What initially appear to be quaint little stories inevitably indict the sterility and callousness of modern life,…


The Collected Stories

By Grace Paley,

Book cover of The Collected Stories

Why this book?

The complexities of the human, the whole human. That’s what Paley explores. How we think, how we act and feel, how we play and fight, how we talk. And talk. Paley is a master of nuance, and often reveals her mastery through dialogue. There is always a convincing urgency in the way her characters speak, and a delicious talking-around a thing, an idea. Her worlds richly detailed and urban. I’d like to live in the apartment building of Grace Paley’s mind. 

The Collected Stories

By Grace Paley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Collected Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This reissue of Grace Paley's classic collection—a finalist for the National Book Award—demonstrates her rich use of language as well as her extraordinary insight into and compassion for her characters, moving from the hilarious to the tragic and back again.

Whether writing about the love (and conflict) between parents and children or between husband and wife, or about the struggles of aging single mothers or disheartened political organizers to make sense of the world, she brings the same unerring ear for the rhythm of life as it is actually lived.

The Collected Stories is a 1994 National Book Award Finalist…


Red Plaid Shirt

By Diane Schoemperlen,

Book cover of Red Plaid Shirt

Why this book?

I don’t remember when or how or where I came across Diane Schomperlen. She’s Canadian, and I very much like attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in the middle of Ontario. It’s likely that I found her in a bookstore there. I don’t remember. I do however remember my immediate and deep love of her work. At once experimental—pushing against the boundaries of traditional story format—and fiercely human. Real people struggling to connect with, to stay connected with, each other. Real people. Beautifully flawed. And full of dignity. 

Red Plaid Shirt

By Diane Schoemperlen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Red Plaid Shirt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of short fiction by the author of Our Lady of the Lost and Found presents twenty-one tales, written over the past twenty years, that include "Losing Ground," a perceptive coming-of-age story, and "The Man of My Dreams," in which the realities of a dissolving relationship become intertwined with the narrator's dream world. Original.


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