The best novels told in interconnected short stories

Rebecca Sacks Author Of City of a Thousand Gates
By Rebecca Sacks

The Books I Picked & Why

Lost in the City

By Edward P. Jones

Book cover of Lost in the City

Why this book?

This book changed the way I think about setting. Although it might be considered more of a story cycle than a novel, what makes Lost in the City a novel in my mind is the presence of the city where it is set: Washington, D.C. By depicting the joy and pain of its residents, Jones paints a portrait of the city where he was born and raised. My own novel is largely set in the beguiling, complex location of modern-day Jerusalem. I was inspired by Jones—who himself was inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners—to think about the force of place when depicting the discordant harmonies of life happening in overlapping communities.

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By Yaa Gyasi

Book cover of Homegoing

Why this book?

Talk about expansive, sweeping novels! Homegoing is a novel in the form of a family tree. Beginning in a West African village in the 18th century, the narrative splits into two branches, emerging from two Black women whose lives are distinctly shaped by the slave trade. Each chapter is a story from a subsequent generation, eventually bringing us to the present day. My own novel is often described as “ambitious,” and I am certain that reading Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel made me a more ambitious writer. If you’re looking for a book that spans generations and continents, this is the one for you.

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In Our Time

By Ernest Hemingway

Book cover of In Our Time

Why this book?

Hemingway can be a challenge for me—reading him, I sometimes feel I’m standing in front of a closed-door—so I rolled my eyes a bit when a mentor of mine suggested that this short story collection might help me with my own work. But boy, did I stand corrected. Through short stories and fragmentary vignettes, Hemingway paints a deeply interior portrait of a man trying to return from war. It directly inspired me to include short, emotionally intense interstitial chapters to break up the longer, meatier chapters of my novel. 

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There There

By Tommy Orange

Book cover of There There

Why this book?

Published in 2018, There There is the most recent book on this list. I read at a time when I was struggling to wrangle dozens of characters’ storylines into a novel that would have a sense of culmination. This book appeared in my life just when I needed it. Orange’s debut is a masterclass in the art of collision, as characters from one story begin to shape other storylines. Like all great climaxes, the one in There There is at once unforeseeable and inevitable. 

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Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout

Book cover of Olive Kitteridge

Why this book?

What connects all the stories in this collection is the titular Olive, a gruff yet good-hearted middle-aged woman living in Crosby, Maine. Although she appears in every story, the strength of her presence varies greatly—sometimes, she is a main character, other times, she’s a barely visible background character. But always she is present, like a thread tying together the lives of a disparate set of characters from rural Maine.

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