I didn’t read short story or essay collections until my sophomore year of college when I registered for a course called Fiction Writing Workshop. It was in 2011 that I first read (or heard of) The Best American Short Stories and its other anthologies, in which works are selected by esteemed writers, critics and essayists to edit and assemble every year.
Lately, I’ve really enjoyed reading shorter collections than most longer, whole works. From my experiences, there’s nothing like a punchy short story to get me motivated to brave the bigger novels ahead. And with that, here are 10 short story and essay collections to read to have you feeling the same:
1. The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In these twelve dazzling stories, the bestselling, award-winning Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States. Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them.
2. Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, Bonnie Jo Campbell
The strong but flawed women of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters love and betray one another; their richly fraught relationships can act as anchors, lifelines, or deadly poison. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s working-class protagonists are at once vulnerable, wise, cruel, and funny, and they are always getting into or out of trouble.
In “My Dog Roscoe,” a new bride becomes obsessed with the notion that her dead ex-boyfriend has returned to her in the form of a mongrel. In “Blood Work, 1999,” a phlebotomist’s desire to give away everything to the needy awakens her own sensuality. In “Home to Die,” an abused woman takes revenge on her bedridden husband. In these fearless and darkly funny tales about women and those they love, Campbell has created characters that will capture the hearts and minds of her readers.
3. The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan
Marina Keegan‘s star was on the rise when she graduated from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.
As her family, friends and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’, went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord.
Even though she was just 22 when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina’s essays and stories that articulate the universal struggle we all face as we work out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.
4. Single, Carefree, Mellow, Katherine Heiny
For the commitment-averse women in the eleven sublime stories of Single, Carefree, Mellow, falling in love is never easy and always inconvenient. Maya is in love with both her boyfriend and her boss. Sadie’s lover calls her as he drives to meet his wife at marriage counseling. Nina is more worried that the Presbyterian minister living above her garage will hear her kids swearing than that he will find out she’s sleeping with her running partner.
The women grapple with love amidst everything from unwelcome house guests to disastrous birthday parties as Katherine Heiny spins a debut that is superbly accomplished, endlessly entertaining, and laugh-out-loud funny.
5. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri‘s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.
6. Close Range, Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx‘s masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in these breathtaking tales of loneliness, quick violence, and the wrong kinds of love. Each of the stunning portraits in Close Range reveals characters fiercely wrought with precision and grace. These are stories of desperation and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both stark and magnificent — by an author writing at the peak of her craft.
7. Drown, Junot Diaz
With ten stories that move from the barrios of the Dominican Republic to the struggling urban communities of New Jersey, Junot Diaz makes his remarkable debut. Diaz’s work is unflinching and strong, and these stories crackle with an electric sense of discovery. Diaz evokes the world in which fathers are gone, mothers fight with grim determination for their families and themselves, and the next generation inherits the casual cruelty, devastating ambivalence, and knowing humor of lives circumscribed by poverty and uncertainty. In Drown, Diaz has harnessed the rhythms of anger and release, frustration and joy, to indelible effect.
8. American Housewife, Helen Ellis
Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it’s a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood.
9. Say You’re One of Them, Uwem Akpan
“Nothing interests Maman today, not even Jean, her favorite child … She acts dumb, bewitched, like a goat that the neighborhood children have fed sorghum beer.” These extraordinary stories center on African conflicts as seen through the eyes of children and describes their resilience and endurance in heartbreaking detail. From child trafficking to inter-religious conflicts, Uwem Akpan reveals in beautiful prose the resilience and endurance of children faced with the harsh consequences of deprivation and terror.
10. Get in Trouble, Kelly Link
Fantastic, fantastical and utterly incomparable, Get in Trouble rummages in the cupboards of our psyches and pulls out fierce truths about everything from the essence of ghosts to the nature of love. And hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the pyramids . . . Strange, dark and wry, the stories in Get in Trouble reveal Kelly Link at the height of her creative powers and stretch the boundaries of the human imagination.
Have you read any of the collections mentioned above? If you have, tell us your thoughts!
Share some of your favorite short story and essay collections with us in the comments below!