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The 5 Best Short Story Collections I’ve Ever Read

Ana Perez is an Associate Marketing Manager for Education & Library at Simon & Schuster. Her love affair with literature officially began in fifth grade after reading The Giver by Lois Lowry, and has not stopped since. Her favorite books include Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, and anything by Margaret Atwood. Aside from reading, she adores baking, birding, astronomy, and hiking. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @motjustes.

 

Short stories play a crucial role in my literary diet. They serve as a snack, an appetizer, or some kind of tapas-esque dinner situation, where I read at least 10 different ones and feel satiated. There’s no fluff in short stories, which I find most appealing, as there is minimal commitment for great payoffs. They are an art form in their economy of language and immediacy despite their length. These tender, hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking short story collections are sure to be gratifying. The authors, five observant and uncompromising women, offer us unrelenting looks at others and ourselves, with plenty of compassion and wit, in inimitable styles all their own.


Jenny and the Jaws of Life
by Jincy Willett

Total humblebrag, but this book was recommended to me by David Sedaris in one of his infamously personal signing lines. I’m so glad I listened, because these stories are remarkable. It's a collection of incredulity and the deeply disturbing, all served with spoonfuls of laughter to make the heavy topics go down. These stories are complex, have clear story arcs, and will shock and devastate you, but in the best way possible. Highlights include "Melinda Falling," which is about the obsession of a boring attorney with a less-than-interesting secretary and so much more.

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Jenny and the Jaws of Life
Jincy Willett

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MENTIONED IN:

The 5 Best Short Story Collections I’ve Ever Read

By Ana Perez | February 13, 2019

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Heads of the Colored People
by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Fearless and honest, the dark and ironic humor of these stories is a remarkable examination of identity, especially of varying modern Black experiences. They each shift the readers’ perspective, and it is a genuine treat to read the author’s words. On the whole, each story defies genre, but the unifying undercurrent of sincerity and empathy is exquisite. Read “Belles Letteres,” an epistolary story told through letters left in their children’s backpacks by two feuding mothers.

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Heads of the Colored People
Nafissa Thompson-Spires

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Bad Behavior
by Mary Gaitskill

I am an expert at judging books by their covers. I know you are not supposed to, but it usually never fails me. How can you pass up an opportunity to explore the pages of a book featuring and image of a girl facedown and barefoot on the floor? I couldn't and am so glad, because BAD BEHAVIOR is one of the best short story collections. It's full of flawed characters and often depraved behavior (a nod to the title that took me way too long to get), and it shines a light on the complexities of being alive with intense intimacy and deftness. Everything and everyone is a little off-kilter, as exemplified in my favorite tour de force of narrative dexterity, “A Romantic Weekend.”

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Bad Behavior
Mary Gaitskill

This book, with its iconic paperback cover (a woman facedown, possibly falling, maybe pounding at the floor) was in every college dorm bookshelf in the late 1980s/early 1990s. If you wanted to be a writer, you read Mary Gaitskill’s pitch-black, edgy, creepy tales about men and women behaving badly, and you wondered if this was the real world, or just an especially dark version of it.

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Delicate Edible Birds
by Lauren Groff

The heartbreaking and beautiful writing of Lauren Groff always astounds me. Her short stories read like smaller novels, and her keen observations are enviable. She understands the magic in the ordinary and makes compelling, bewitching sentences. In this collection, each story tells a different tale of a twentieth-century woman, with each being a deep dive into psyches and varying experiences of modern femininity. There are layers of melancholy and deep sadness wrapped a clever sharpness. Read "The Wife of the Dictator," a character study of an American woman who falls in love with a Latin American dictator.

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Delicate Edible Birds
Lauren Groff

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MENTIONED IN:

The 5 Best Short Story Collections I’ve Ever Read

By Ana Perez | February 13, 2019

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The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
by Amy Hempel

I don’t know much about sports, but I can state and somewhat understand this statement: Amy Hempel is the Michael Jordan of short stories. Her writing is the epitome of craftsmanship, and her precision dazzles: she says so much with very little, as if she herself is being charged by the word for the printing. This collection of four different books is most of her oeuvre, and showcases her genius. Some of these stories are no longer than two pages, but all are inspired and engrossing inventions. Her stories deal with larger themes of death, the mundane, and most important, almost always feature dogs. Reading Hempel is like discovering a secret society and then wanting to tell everyone about it. To join, read "Under No Moon" as the membership fee.

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The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
Amy Hempel

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MENTIONED IN:

The 5 Best Short Story Collections I’ve Ever Read

By Ana Perez | February 13, 2019

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