The collection of short stories we have compiled below are testaments to the unique power of the short story form and its ability to portray the ups, the downs, and the momentary beauty of reality; to encapsulate the human experience.
You may have heard quotes like “a short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage,” or maybe the famous Stephen King quote, describing a short story as “a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” What he means by this is while short stories may lack the length of the traditional novel, they are in no way lacking in depth and intuition, just as a kiss carries its own special magic, the commitment of a relationship is unnecessary and nowhere in sight.
Here are nine short story collections worth adding to your bookshelf this Christmas season.
1. The Art of Living by John Gardner
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This short story collection explores the meaning of life and the meaning of art and how they intertwine, as well as how an artist may find it difficult to balance the two. This book contains tales of how conductors, painters, musicians and singers go about their lives and the extraordinary web each life can weave, using the appreciation of art to explore the human experience.
2. Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin
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Love is agony. Love is ecstasy. Love is unpredictable, testing, perfectly serene. It doesn’t always have to be something you feel but something you do. This short story collection documents the different facets and timelines of a doomed relationship between a sloppy young woman named Billy and an older, sophisticated man named Frank, from its beginnings to its end. Oh! and they’re also married to two other people.
3. This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
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These stories are bound together by the unity of place, situated in the fenlands of Norfolk and Cambridge. They revolve around the disconcerting premise that catastrophe can enter anyone’s life at any time, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. McGregor elevates everyday experiences into small, perfectly rounded pieces of art in this truly impressive collection.
4. Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver
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Carver writes with flat understatement about suburban disenchantment in mid-century America. The collection was written during Carver’s self-proclaimed “first-life” when he almost died of alcoholism. Writing into the economical sphere, with punchy prose and a pared-down style, we are shown how humor and tragedy dwell in the hearts of ordinary people. Carver’s second life started in 1977 when he gave up drinking with the help of AA and has been breathing life into the short story game ever since. (Well, he died in 1988, but his stories live on. You get it.)
5. You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down by Alice Walker
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If you loved The Color Purple then you should highly consider reading this 2004 collection of short stories, as they do exactly what they say on the tin and showcase women who, despite arriving at their lowest of lows possible, manage to rise again in an act of empowerment. Inside are fourteen provocative and often humorous stories about love, lust, fame and cultural thievery. Walker uses her fiction to impart knowledge and instead of setting out to solely entertain her readers, this talented writer certainly educates, too.
6. The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie
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This author’s short stories usually explore themes of despair, poverty, violence and alcoholism among the lives of Native American people, both on and off the reservations. Alexis grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation and was one of six children. He now lives in Seattle, Washington. This National Book award-winning author introduces readers to a cast of Native Americans, all of whom search for meaning within their strained relationships, be it in their marriages, their parent-child relationships, their confusing romances and any number of other things.
7. The Stories of Erskine Caldwell by Erskine Caldwell
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Caldwell is up to his usual tricks in this collection of short stories, using satirical humor to address controversial subjects like the racial and social injustices of the South. In this collection of ninety-six short stories, Caldwell feels and hears the appropriate rhythm for each story he tells. He is the maestro of word choice and sentence structure and is hailed a master of character development. Caldwell died in 1978 and since has touched the hearts of millions of readers. His writings about poverty, racism and social problems in his native South once made him a controversial writer among southerners of his time who felt he was deprecating the people of the region, but today he is one of the most cherished writers of the region.
8. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield.
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This collection was first published in 1922, a year before Mansfield’s death at the age of thirty-four from tuberculosis. A pioneering modernist writer, Mansfield was born and brought up in colonial New Zealand before moving to Britain, where she became friends with D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Life, death, marriage, distorted reality, gender and regret are among the main themes in this short story collection which are written in the modernist style, with the deceptively simple setting of a family preparing a garden tea party. Meditations on class, illusion and reality, and life and death are wittingly interwoven.
9. The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore
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Lorrie Moore is considered by many to be one of the best observers of human behaviour and in doing so describes it with a cutting sharp humour you won’t forget. What makes her writing special is the way she can shift so smoothly to gut-wrenching poignancy. In The Collected Stories she writes about terminal illness, infidelity, family dynamics and equal fluency. The collection is so big at over 600 pages, that it gives the reader a chance to dip in and out of a wide array of stories to keep your brain ticking over with excitement as you read the work of one of the greatest writers of American Fiction today.
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