The best books of strangely miraculous short fiction

Why am I passionate about this?

Early on, I identified with American short story writers Bernard Malamud and Flannery O’Connor. Though firmly ensconced in the American canon, neither had a fear of allowing the comic or fantastic to play important roles in stories with serious spiritual values. I enjoyed fabulous writers as well, the wildness of Nikolai Gogol, the magic of Ray Bradbury, the comic impulses of Mark Twain. I came across Dune and read it several times. Since those days, I have taken in many stories that do not stick to representations of reality, discovering writers all over the world with the same fascinations. I can’t keep myself from trying to join them. 

I wrote...

Not A Jot or A Tittle: 16 Stories by Robert Pope

By Robert Pope,

Book cover of Not A Jot or A Tittle: 16 Stories by Robert Pope

What is my book about?

These short stories fit the category of speculative fiction, a loose rubric that strikes a balance between whimsy and high purpose, high and low art and diction. I don’t mind being comic or serious, as long as the idea is vivid, engages the imagination, and appeals to readers. I always want to take readers somewhere they have not been, even or especially if this means using traditional forms for non-traditional purposes, occasionally verging on parody and dark humor. These stories were previously published in places as various as science fiction, mystery, literary, and horror publications.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

Robert Pope Why did I love this book?

The Elephant Vanishes includes two of my favorite stories by any contemporary writer.

Set in the forested vicinity of a factory that makes elephants, “The Dancing Dwarf” follows the adventures of a marvelous dwarf who once danced for the king, alas, now pursued by soldiers of the revolution. The other side of the spectrum, “The Last Lawn of the Afternoon” partakes of the fantastic only by osmosis. The care this teenage boy takes mowing and trimming his assigned lawns feels so real it reminds me of myself.

This range keeps the reader slightly off balance and full of expectation, which might not be so exciting if we weren’t in the hands of one of the finest practitioners of the craft anywhere in the world.  

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A dizzying short story collection that displays Murakami's genius for uncovering the surreal in the everyday, the extraordinary within the ordinary

*Featuring the story 'Barn Burning', the inspiration behind the Palme d'Or nominated film Burning*

When a man's favourite elephant vanishes, the balance of his whole life is subtly upset. A couple's midnight hunger pangs drive them to hold up a McDonald's. A woman finds she is irresistible to a small green monster that burrows through her front garden. An insomniac wife wakes up in a twilight world of semi-consciousness in which anything seems possible - even death.

In every…

Book cover of The Stories of Eva Luna

Robert Pope Why did I love this book?

Isabel Allende shows us marvels from South American traditions, archetypal stories with the excitement of passionate lovers and desperate bandits.

Once you finish the stories—not one a clunker—your mind will have been temporarily readjusted to the dangerous and fantastical world of deeply hidden human motivations. It’s as good as her autobiographical Paula, which is an education between covers. At first, I wouldn’t read Isabel Allende because two friends told me she imitated Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I later learned they had not actually read any of her books. I decided to see for myself. Not true, I told them. Read the books.

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Told in the voice of Isabel Allende’s beloved character Eva Luna, a “distinctive, powerful, and haunting” (Los Angeles Times) collection of short fiction by one of the most iconic and acclaimed writers of our time.

Eva Luna is a young woman whose powers as a storyteller bring her friendship and love. Lying in bed with her European lover, refugee and journalist Rolf Carlé, Eva answers his request for a story “you have never told anyone before” with these twenty-three samples of her vibrant artistry. Interweaving the real and the magical, she explores love, vengeance, compassion, and the strengths of women,…

Book cover of Autumn Country

Robert Pope Why did I love this book?

This collection is an Introduction to an established writer of traditional horror with thirteen stories previously published in magazines, anthologies, or collections. I read these now as a single continuous work (like a symphony) with re-emerging themes.

Weaving in and out throughout the collection, the image of the shape-shifter develops with a wild inventiveness that never spins out of control. The same with the writer’s fascination with music that comes out humorously in the story “Collectable,” disturbingly accurate in “Under Iron.”

There is dark humor working beneath the surface that keeps readers alert and tingling with anticipation, a good effect if you’ve never tingled.  

By Tim Jeffreys,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Autumn Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this way, the fantastic in these stories takes us away from our lives in the present moment, providing a moment’s escape, but brings us back to ourselves in the end, like that ride on the roller coaster. Our feet find purchase once again; the journey has not only been entertaining, as we screamed in delight and fear, it has taken us somewhere and then left us off in strange territory, entertained, yes, perhaps better off for the experience, yet, miraculously, unharmed. This is the pure experience provided by these stories. Each one takes us for that ride, rewards us…

Book cover of People Like You: Stories

Robert Pope Why did I love this book?

This collection reads like realistic stories from the perspective of a single point-of-view that throws common life into the realm of the weirdly uncommon.

In fact, I kept reading to figure out what I was reading. What changed in the process? My own perception of the world in which we live. These people may be like us, but the writer looks at them with new and different eyes. These stories sneak up on you and take over your mind for a marvelously short time because it’s a short book of short stories—one I recommend because it’s so unusual.

By Margaret Malone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked People Like You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist, PEN/Hemingway Award

In this marvelously funny, unsettling, subtle, and moving collection of stories, the characters exist in the thick of everyday experience absent of epiphanies. The people are caught off-guard or cast adrift by personal impulses even while wide awake to their own imperfections. Each voice will win readers over completely and break hearts with each confused and conflicted decision that is made. Every story is beautifully controlled and provocatively alive to its own truth.

Book cover of In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Robert Pope Why did I love this book?

Daniyal Mueenuddin derives the marvelous from the depiction of wealthy and poor Pakistani characters surviving as gracefully or gracelessly as humanly possible.

Reading at times like social anthropology, at times like magical realism, the stories are folk tales with inspections of and lessons about human foibles. Characters come to life with large and small schemes, machinations, and quasi-unconscious action that arises from a combination of tradition, desperation, and privilege.

The underlying humor, both dark and loving, is something the writer shares with the reader.  

By Daniyal Mueenuddin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Other Rooms, Other Wonders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

You might also like...

Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

Book cover of Ballad for Jasmine Town

Molly Ringle Author Of Sage and King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Editor Sociolinguist HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) Good witch

Molly's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A human child raised by the fae is an uncommon thing. But Rafi was such a child.

Now grown, half-fae but mortal, he lingers on the edge of human society in Miryoku, a nearby town sharing a border with fae territory. He doesn’t want to join the human world properly; he just wants to play music with a local cover band and avoid the cruelest members of his fae family.

Then, he meets Roxana, and his world shifts. She’s a human metalworking witch, up for a friendly fling with Rafi before she and her twelve-year-old daughter move away from Miryoku at summer’s end. But Rafi and Roxana grow too fond of each other to let go easily, and worse still, they soon become enmeshed in a much larger storm of prejudice and violence between fae and humans.

Ballad for Jasmine Town

By Molly Ringle,

What is this book about?

A law-abiding metalworking witch and a form-shifting half-fae musician embark on a secret romance, but soon become caught in escalating tensions between fae and humans that threaten their hometown. The second story after the popular Lava Red Feather Blue comes alive in Ballad for Jasmine Town.

The town of Miryoku has ocean views, fragrant jasmine vines, and a thriving arts scene, including a popular nineties cover band. It also sits on the verge, sharing a border with fae territory, a realm of both enchantments and dangers.

Rafi has been unusual all his life: a human born to a fae mother,…

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