A Summer of Short Stories

I have fallen in love with short stories again this year. Not that I am sure I ever fell out of love with them. I think if anything I tended to read collections by authors I knew, and saw them rather like bonus scenes to the full novels, which I know is daft but it is true. It was rare that I would read a completely new to me authors collection, though when I did and they were like Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles (which if you haven’t read after the amount of times I have recommended it, you are bonkers and there may be no hope for you, ha) I was lost in them completely.

This year they have really come into their own though for me. During Fiction Uncovered I was introduced to several collections of which the standouts were longlisted The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett and one of the winners The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, both of which I will be telling you about and raving about in due course.

Collections can be an interesting experience as some will blow you away and some will leave you cold, I hasten to add none leave you cold in the two I mention above, which can create an interesting reading experience of peaks and troughs. When a short story is amazing though it can blow your mind and as I said when I was talking about how intense reading taught me about my own read habits and that Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel, which is true.

I also think they could be the perfect way to get people back into reading more if they think they haven’t the time or that reading isn’t really for them. You can read a story or two on a commute, or when you are on the loo (sorry over sharing) or when you’re waiting in the car park for your partner to finish faffing around Homebase or any other DIY store, or clothes store if your partner is more into that than DIY or just on your lunch break and need a quick fiction fix.

They are a few pages of magic and so I am planning on reading lots more over (what is left of) the summer. Here are some, not all, of the collections I have been buying and others I have dusted off for just such a short story binge…

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  • Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman – This is a collection that The Beard bought me after I had heard great things about it from various lovely sorts on Twitter and also declared I wanted the cover art as bedding.
  • The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg – I saw this collection from Daunt Books (who have a publishing house as well as gorgeous bookshops) out the corner of my eye, because the cover shimmers, in Waterstones in Newcastle where they have wonderful displays of eclectic books, so purchased it.
  • The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim – This collection won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year (why all prizes don’t include short story collections I do not know) and my lovely pal Natalie was one of the judges and raved about it, a lot.
  • Young Skins by Colin Barrett – This won last year’s Guardian First Book Prize and whilst it pains me that the author was born in the same year as me, 1982, and is so talented it does mean I can tick off a box on my BOTNS Bingo Summer Reading card. This also links nicely with…
  • Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan – This was longlisted for last year’s Guardian First Book Award and was the public’s addition to the longlist. I read and really liked May-Lan Tan’s chapbook of two short stories Girly earlier this year and then randomly sat next to her at an event and had a lovely long chat about all sorts.
  • The Not-Dead and The Saved by Kate Clanchy – I do not know a single person who has seen Clanchy read her stories that has not been in hysterics and in tears in both happy and sad ways. This was enough of a recommendation for me.
  • An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass – One of the first books to come from the John Murray Originals imprint (the cover is stunning) which I want to read for the title, and title story, alone.
  • Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas – I love Tsiolkas’ writing and this is one of the collections I have been most excited about this year, it is out in September.
  • Jellyfish by Janice Galloway – Almost everyone I know loves Janice Galloway so by default I am sure I will and I think short stories can sometimes be a rather wonderful way of trialling an author, or maybe trying them out sounds nicer.
  • Your Father Sends His Love by Stuart Evers – Again all the right people have been raving about this.
  • Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – Why on earth has this gone unread for so long, I am frankly embarrassed. She is a genius, we all know this, and this is meant to be a brilliant collection of nine tales.

Phew. You may notice that there aren’t any classics on this list, which I have realised is rather remiss of me. That said I am reviewing a modern classic collection next, so you’ll be hearing all about that. I have also been contemplating Hemingway’s short stories in September as I will be at some of his old hangouts and watering holes by Lake Michigan when I go on my road trip around some of northern America, we will see.

Have you read any of the above collections or other collections by some of those authors? What did you make of them? Are you a fan of the short story? As always I would love your short story recommendations be they new, recent or classic (I have a feeling many of you will mention Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck, which I have read and adored but am struggling to write a review of) so let me know which other collections I should look out for and why…

13 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, Short Stories

13 responses to “A Summer of Short Stories

  1. As Janice Galloway is one of my favourite writers her new collection is on my summer tbr list too. A few friends have already read it and haven’t been disappointed.

  2. David

    Back in the mists of time (actually the end of 2011) you posted your reading resolutions for the coming year, and you’d also I think read Sarah Hall’s ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ around the same time. I’d read it too and in comments said that my resolution for 2012 was to read more short stories. The plan was to fit in one collection per month and try and make a dent in the 40 or so collections I’d amassed over the years. I ended up getting completely hooked on the form and reading at least one story every morning (I’ve found setting aside a specific time for short stories has really worked for me) and as a result have now got through about 180 collections, and have maybe another 150 on the tbr pile. I can safely say I’m a fan.

    I read the Carys Davies recently (it won the Frank O’Connor Award) and thought it was excellent. Of those on your pile, I’ve just finished the Stuart Evers (generally very good indeed, though I wasn’t at all sure about the title story – there was something a touch uncomfortable about it in the way that it made wild and slightly distasteful speculations about Bob Monkhouse and his son, leading me to wonder where the line is when it comes to public figures being “fair game”). I read both the Laura Van Den Berg and Margaret Atwood last year (the former was technically impressive but left me a little cold, the latter really changed my opinion about Margaret Atwood, an author who I hadn’t really enjoyed in the past). ‘Merciless Gods’ I’ve had sitting on the tbr pile for the best part of a year (I bought the Australian edition) but having flicked through it I keep being put off by the ‘Porn’ stories which look a bit much for my tastes – I know he is a confrontational author but from the bits I’ve read these seem like shocking for the sake of it. Still, I should give it a go and find out if that is the case or not.

    Recommendations? Crikey, too many to count. Sam Shepard is possible my favourite short story writer – “Great Dream of Heaven” is an utterly wonderful book. Dorothy Edwards’ “Rhapsody” from the 1920s is just beautiful, she’s like the Welsh Katherine Mansfield (speaking of whom, read “The Garden Party & Other Stories”). Other favourite collections – “In the Country” by Mia Alvar, “Redeployment” by Phil Klay, “Dream Stuff” by David Malouf, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” by Doris Betts, “The Wonder Garden” by Lauren Acampora, “The Other Language” by Francesca Marciano, “Johnny Too Bad” by John Dufresne, “The Lone Pilgrim” by Laurie Colwin, “olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout, “See You in Paradise” by J. Robert Lennon, “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” by Patrick Somerville, “through the Safety Net” by Charles Baxter, “The Loudest Sound & Nothing” by Clare Wigfall, “Little Raw Souls” by Steven Schwartz, “Light Lifting” by Alexander MacLeod, “You Only Get Letters From Jail” by Jodi Angel, “Something Like Happy” by John Burnside, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver, “Stay Up With Me” by Tom Barbash, “Battleborn” by Clare Vaye Watkins, “People You’d Trust Your Life To” by Bronwen Wallace”, “Once You Break a Knuckle” by DW WIlson, “An Elegy for Easterly” by Petina Gappah, “This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Somneone Like You” by Jon McGregor, “This Is Not Your City” by Caitlin Horrocks, “Radio Belly” by Buffy Cram, “How to Breathe Underwater” by Julie Orringer, “Stay Awake” by Dan Chaon, “Sleeping Funny” by Miranda Hill, “Something is Out There” by Richard Bausch, “The News from Spain” by Joan Wickersham, “Fools” by Joan Silber, “The Agriculture Hall of Fame” by Andrew Malan Milward, “Pleased to Meet You” by Caroline Adderson, “Mary and O’Neil” by Justin Cronin, and “Dear Husband” by Joyce Carol Oates…. to name a few😉

  3. Stone Mattress is on my Kindle right now. I’ve only read the first story, but really enjoyed it. I picked up a copy of The Blind Assassin earlier this year and hope to read it when I finish the collection of shorts. Every time I read Atwood, I wonder why I don’t read her more often.

  4. I bought Stone Mattress from the author herself when it was released and still haven’t read it. I have yet to read anything by Margaret Atwood that I have not enjoyed so this makes no sense!

    Short story collections that I have read and enjoyed recently are ‘Honeydew’ by Edith Pearlman and ‘Six Stories and an Essay’ by Andrea Levy.

  5. Janakay

    I’m a late, but enthused convert to the short story format. I never really “got” the form, until I was marooned at a beach house with a couple of short story anthologies. About halfway through the first one (I believe it was the 2014 O. Henry Prize Stories) I had one of those eureka moments. I am now the proud owner of many anthologies and single author collections, a few of which I’ve actually read! These include a couple on your list: Atwood’s “Stone Mattress,” which I adored (I’m a big Atwood fan, regardless of what genre she’s writing in–I also like some of her poetry) and I’ve almost finished Laura Van Den Berg’s “Isle of Youth”, which I’m also enjoying a great deal (extremely well written tales involving missed or failed communications, secrecy, deception, rootless young women–what’s not to like? My favorite story so far is probably “Opa-Locka,” funny in spots, altogether heart breaking and very atmospheric).

    My approach to the short story is probably a bit different from yours, in that I tend, as stated above, to go for collections including stories by different authors–I like the variety of approaches to the format, styles and themes–it’s like picking different candies from one of those darling assortments of chocolates. There are too many of these to name. One nice thing about the O. Henry collections, which I really like, is that they include essays by the three judges explaining which of the stories included that year particularly resonated for them. For a more international approach, Daniel Halpern has edited “The Art of the Story: An International Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories” which includes some really good stuff.

    Although I tend to prefer anthologies, I do enjoy single author collections as well. Although I haven’t read a lot of these recently, I can’t recommend “The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Taylor” too highly. The only thing better would be Taylor’s “Complete Short Stories,” which I’m currently trying to finish. I also liked Lorrie Moore’s “Bark”, although it’s not to everyone’s taste (and Moore herself isn’t one of my favorite writers).

    As for Lucy Wood’s “Diving Belles” — I have a copy (which I rushed out and bought, based on your recommendation) which I haven’t yet managed to read. So I guess I’m only half-bonkers. You’ve now shamed me into putting it at the top of the short story collections stack ……..

  6. Stone Mattress is funny and smart. It will make you feel great. I’m currently enjoying Rebecca Makkai’s Music for Wartime.

  7. Richard Zimler can write a perfect short story, ditto Charles Lambert and Ali Smith.

  8. Have you read Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Point” ? It’s a marvellous collection of short stories (and poems) combining various literary genre into a unique blend of ideas ?

  9. What a brilliant selection of books! Stone Mattress and Don’t Try This At Home are outstanding. The others I’ve only read a few stories from each, and need to get the collections. I echo Tommyknocker’s suggestion that you try ‘Trigger Warning’ as well. Also worth getting yourself a long to a Word Factory event at some point to check out the readings there. Always a brilliant night out.
    Last thing – you should check out Nightjar Press, which prints single short stories as beautifully produced signed limited edition booklets. Every story has a bit of a punch and I think they have a bit of an offer going on the older issues at the moment (not sure if it still is, though) Worth checking out if only to discover some new names. http://nightjarpress.weebly.com/

  10. I’ve enjoyed reading short stories since I picked up one of Alice Munro’s collections years ago, but they really came into their own when I had a baby last year and they were the only thing I managed to read for months! I loved Stone Mattress, and also enjoyed Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart, Alison Moore’s The Pre-War House And Other Stories, and Melinda Moustakasis’ Bear Down, Bear North.

  11. The only one of your pile I’ve read is Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman, which I think will be right up your street – very dark twisted modern fairy tale stylee. Other short story collections I’ve loved include The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel and Black Vodka by Deborah Levy (which I think you’ve read already?)

  12. I haven’t read any of these but a few of them are on my list. I didn’t like short stories so much but as of the past 6 months I’m loving them. Recommendations you asked: Water Street – Crystal Wilkinson awesome! Also Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self – Danielle Evans
    A Piece of Mine/Homemade Love both collections by the late great J. California Cooper. Happy reading!

  13. Pingback: It’s Monday and I’m journeying with Army Shanks to Far Arden | Olduvai Reads

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