17 Short Story and Essay Collections to Backpack This Summer

From Karen Russell, Alexandra Kleeman, Jenny Zhang + more!

17 short story essay collections to read this summer 2017

Earlier this year, I hit you with a list of 10 short fiction collections for you to TBR, but 10 stories aren’t enough to cut the cake, now is it? So, in the spirit of Short Story Month (the month of May, beeteedubs), I thought it could be fun to give an even bigger list of stories to choose from.

Whether you’re headed to the beach, lounging on that new hammock you’ve been waiting to pull out or resting in the comforts of your comfy bed this summer, there’s always room to squeeze in a story or two throughout the day. So here they are, 17 (more) collections for such occasions.

Some of the synopses below were provided by Amazon and Goodreads.

1. Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell

Captives become human silkworms; an amulet discovered in a bird’s nest becomes the medium by which the universe communicates with a depressed teenager; a crowd of bullies discovers a scarecrow-like cadaver that oddly matches the body of a former victim of theirs, and a masseuse understands she has healing abilities.

Purchase: Amazon, $10

 2. No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July

One woman seduces a special needs student after her teacher discards her; another woman grows curious of her epileptic Korean neighbor, and a factory worker creates a shrewd fantasy in order to gaslight a relationship.

Purchase: Amazon, $6.18

3. American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell

In “The Inventor, 1972,” a wanton driver aids and abets a young girl who he’s hit with his truck; a drug-addled intruder disappears in the wake of the homeowners’ unexpected arrival in “The Trespasser”; and the miasmic storm in “Storm Warning” starts to threaten the resoluteness of a man who becomes bed-ridden after a flash boating incident.

My remarks: Bonnie Jo Campbell is a fucking force to be reckoned with, let me tell you. I half-read, half-listened to these stories via audiobook this March, and many times I mislaid myself sitting the parking lot because these testimonies are just that good. Goddamn, Campbell is brilliant in American Salvage; she is just as distinguished here as she was in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. (Also, proud Michigander here)

Purchase: Amazon, $8.92

4. Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue

In Emma Donoghue‘s clever retellings of classic fairy tales, Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Cinderella trades her prince for a life with her fairy godmother, and Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire.

Purchase: Amazon, $9.77

5. The Refugees, Viet Thanh Nguyen

A Vietnamese alien is must adapt to the climates of living with two gay men in California; a dementia-stricken husband mistakes his current wife for a former lover, and an older sibling becomes the unsuspecting reminder of everything her younger sister envies upon her visit to America.

Purchase: Amazon, $14.62

6. You Are Not a Stranger Here, Adam Haslett

An elderly inventor, burning with manic creativity, tries to reconcile with his estranged gay son; a bereaved boy draws a thuggish classmate into a relationship of escalating guilt and violence; and a conventional middle-aged woman, a long-time resident of a psychiatric hospital, becomes the confidante of a lovelorn teenaged volunteer.

Purchase: Amazon, $8.89

7. Intimations, Alexandra Kleeman

An unnamed woman enters a room with no exit and a ready-made life; the disappearance of people, objects, and memory creates an apocalypse; the art of dance is used to try to tame a feral child; the key to surviving a house-party lies in knowing the difference between fake and real blood.

My remarks: Alexandra Kleeman‘s writing is always on pitch and fucking hilarious (intentional or not) and after reading her the first story, “Fairy Tale,” I was sold. In all, this is a collection I would certainly pick up again.

Purchase: Amazon, $16.12

8. Bobcat, Rebecca Lee

A student plagiarizes a paper and holds fast to her alibi until she finds herself complicit in the resurrection of one professor’s shadowy past; a dinner party becomes the breeding ground for dissolving marriages; and a woman is hired to find a wife for the one true soulmate she’s ever found.

Purchase: Amazon, $9.86

9. What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah

One woman’s maternal yearns inspire her to weave a makeshift child of her own; three generations of women are plagued by the ghosts of war; and a father wrestles to empower his growing daughter.

Purchase: Amazon, $13.68

10. The Wilds, Julia Elliott

A middle-aged woman plans to revitalize her fading youth with grotesque rejuvenating therapies; and an adolescent girl is unexpectedly inspired by the ravings and miraculous levitation of her fundamentalist friend’s weird grandmother.

Purchase: Amazon, $10.27

11. Lust, Susan Minot

As in a series of deceptively simple watercolors, Susan Minot‘s stories uncover small moments that yield larger truths—about the ways in which women and men come together and come apart again, about the disappointments and hopes of lovers who know what they want but don’t always know how to keep.  A deeply poignant meditation on the nature of desire and loss.

Purchase: Amazon, $11.42

12. The Paper Menagerie, Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie is a collection assembled with all of Ken Liu‘s award-winning and award-finalist stories, which encapsulates one’s struggle against history to the betrayal of relationships. Among the anthology is the titular tale, “The Paper Menagerie,” in which Liu focuses his lens on the relationship shared between a boy and his mother, who witnesses her peculiar gift for bringing the origami animals she creates for him to life.

Purchase: Amazon, $8.79

13. Knockout, John Jodzio

A drug addict finds himself stealing a tiger and an intoxicated begins a bed and breakfast with the son of his deceased first wife, while in another tale, one recluse’s fear of social involvement leads her to raise her child under her hermit lifestyle.

My remarks: This one was suggested to us by author Keith Rosson, whose book, The Mercy of the Tide, we reviewed in the past. (Thanks, Keith!)

Purchase: Amazon, $10.62

14. The Fire This Time, Jesmyn Ward

In an era provoked by tragedy and unanswered crimes, Jesmyn Ward‘s The Fire This Time serves as a continuum of James Baldwin‘s 1963 widely-acclaimed The Fire Next Time, a response to the outgrowths of racial injustice and mistreatment in America. Keeping with his tradition, Ward, too, dishes out a wave of tough love in light of the everyday hardships people of color face at the hands of institutionalized racism and prejudice. With the help of established authors like Isabel Wilkerson, Carol Anderson and others, this anthology glows with unspeakable awareness. And from it, blossoms a crusade more important now than ever.

My remarks: If I wasn’t clear enough in my first survey of her work, Ward is a phenomenal writer and The Fire This Time is no exception. If you’re just getting your feet wet with her writer, however, I would absolutely recommend you read her National Book Award-winning novel, Salvage the Bones (which I’ve read but yet to review. UGH!), and her forthcoming work, Sing, Unburied, Sing, due out this fall.

Purchase: Amazon, $15.14

15. Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang

From the young woman tries to comprehend her grandmother’s involvement in the Cultural Revolution; another daughter struggling to understand where her family ends and she begins; and another discovers her body’s power to inspire and destroy.

My remarks: I received the Galley for this one a few days ago, and found myself really taken by Jenny Zhang‘s writing style, albeit morbid in some parts. I’m still tugging at the pages, but I am enjoying these stories so far.

Purchase: Amazon, $17.40

16. South and West, Joan Didion

Joan Didion brings her unpublished drafts to life—overheard dialogue, observations, interviews, articles and more—in South and West. From interviews with local figures to the “California Notes” that began as an assignment from Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976 (however, unwritten to this day). Didion revisits all sorts of landscapes and memories as they reappear in her most recent collection.

Purchase: Amazon, $11.30

17. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder

Inspired by her own ambition to cope with stress and anxiety, Melissa Broder founded @sosadtoday in July 2012, an anonymous vessel that enabled the author to express her deepest, most piercing thoughts on Twitter, which has since garnered a whopping 470K+ following. In her brightest collection yet, So Sad Today performs a brave examination of sex, insecurity, addiction, and “the drama of waiting for the universe to text you back.”

Purchase: Amazon, $9.57


Which short story and essay collections have you been loving this year?

Share some recommendations with us in the comments below! We’d love to hear!
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Written by Paris Close

Paris Close

Editor-in-chief at Paperback Paris. Saving myself for Andy Cohen. Give me Gillian Flynn, or give me death.