The best short story collections by women

Lesley Pratt Bannatyne Author Of Unaccustomed to Grace
By Lesley Pratt Bannatyne

The Books I Picked & Why


By Lauren Groff

Book cover of Florida

Why this book?

Humidity, rain, heat, and danger saturate this book: you can feel it. In “Midnight Zone,” a young mother has to summon all her power to protect her children from the panther that lurks outside in the dark. What could be a story about one woman dealing with her own limitations becomes one about the power and danger of mother-love. Groff’s book is filled with characters like this: steely, honest, and flawed, all at once. Above all, her women and children are much stronger and more resilient than you think. 

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Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories

By Alice Munro

Book cover of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories

Why this book?

I love anything by Alice Munro; you can see why she won the Nobel Prize. Munro's stories sweep through huge swaths of time in simple, straightforward language; one minute you find a man in a friend’s kitchen eating a ketchup sandwich; within a few pages you are a girl again, and this man a boy, your first love, maybe. Munro’s characters are complicated, sometimes black-hearted, often conflicted and yearning, and so very real that you feel like you talked with them in the grocery store just yesterday.

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St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

By Karen Russell

Book cover of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Why this book?

Reading a Karen Russell short story is like riding the roller coaster at Space Mountain. Her stories are speedy, thrilling, and you’re never sure what’s coming at you. This collection, told mostly by children, amps up the thrills. Kids visit ice skating apes, wrangle alligators, hide out in oversized conch shells, search for swamp ghosts. The title story, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” takes a quirky premise—feral children are sent to a Jesuit school to learn etiquette—and ramps up the elements so that we can see the cruel, sad outcomes of molding young girls against their natures. St. Lucy’s is edgy, often surreal, definitely quirky, and fiercely imaginative.

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Thunderstruck & Other Stories

By Elizabeth McCracken

Book cover of Thunderstruck & Other Stories

Why this book?

McCracken was a librarian at my local library before she was a New York Times bestseller, so I’ve always eagerly read her books, beginning with The Giant’s House. I love Thunderstruck because it’s typical McCracken – unique, funny, tragic, and smart. In spite of the fact that accidents and death are ubiquitous, that wounds don’t magically heal, and that grief haunts many of the stories, this is not a maudlin book. McCracken can make you laugh out loud. Irony, wry humor, and joy live right next to cruel tragedy throughout the book. Best of all, compassion and tenderness abound.

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How to Breathe Underwater

By Julie Orringer

Book cover of How to Breathe Underwater

Why this book?

In my very favorite story in this book full of favorites, “Pilgrims,” young children cope with adult reality in a Lord of the Flies-like atmosphere where a tragic accident is offset by the innocent gift of a lost tooth, a talisman meant to create magic in a world that can seem devoid of it. How to Breathe forefronts girls and teens struggling with guilt, peer pressure, identity, envy, sickness, death. Sounds grim, but the writing, the world Orringer creates, is as beautiful and moving as it is dark. Her characters are the kind you can live inside, remember being, feel for. I think about them a lot, still, and I read the book more than a decade ago.

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