Let’s face it, one of the greatest challenges facing avid readers is carving out the time to sit down and enjoy a good book. While it can be frustrating to only read a few pages of a big novel in between one daily obligation and another, short stories can provide a fitting alternative. Not only are they suited to quick emersions in a literary world, but some of the best literature being published today is in the form of short story collections. If you’re not well versed on short story collections, or if you’re looking for some suggestions, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the best, recent short story collections by the biggest names in contemporary literature.
McCann is best known for novels like Transatlantic and Let The Great World Spin, for which he won the National Book Award in 2009. Thirteen Ways of Looking is McCann’s first short story collection in over a decade, and according to recent reviews it was more than worth the wait. The Washington Post says “The irreducible mystery of human experience ties this small collection together, and in each of these stories McCann explores that theme in some strikingly effective ways. . . . McCann has perfected a method of finely blending his own narration with his characters’ thoughts and dialogue.”colu
When Tenth of December was released, it was the cover story for The New York Times, who called it “the best book you’ll read this year.” The acclaimed release solidified George Saunders as one of, if not the contemporary master of the short story. His stories are often characterized by their absurd humor, but even more potent is their underlying pathos. Whether you read Tenth of December or start with one of his other collections like Civilwarland in Bad Decline or Pastoralia, if you haven’t read him yet, you have much to look forward to.
If we’re talking short story masters, Edith Pearlman’s name must be in the running. Don’t take our word for it. The New York Times said Honeydew, Pearlman’s fifth story collection “should cement [her] reputation as one of the most essential short story visionaries of our time.” And if that isn’t enough, or even if it is, this is a writer who’s written some of the best short fiction published over the last several decades, and someone worth reading.
Besides being yet another master of the short story, Charles Baxter is known as an authority of writing. He’s published craft-oriented essay collections (Burning Down the House and The Art of Subtext), novels (like Feast of Love, which was made into a feature film in 2007), and short story collections. His most recent collection, There’s Something I Want You to Do, is comprised of ten interrelated stories, offering readers a nice blend of both short story economy and novelistic causality.
Okay, we’ll stop referring to any of these authors as short story masters, because it could be, and should be, said of all of them. Not the least of all is Karen Russell, whose story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves took the literary world by storm in 2006. Since then, the only 35-year-old author has written a novel, Swaplandia!, which was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Like all of her writing, the new collection is full of magic, humor, and heart.
Though perhaps best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz’s first book publication was a short story collection called Drown. His newest collection, This is How You Lose Her, is a series of interconnected stories that examine the cultural training men receive and how it corrodes the way they see and value women.
Like Diaz, Dybek’s recent collection focuses on some of the difficulties of romantic love. He’s another of the acclaimed masters on this list (though I think we said we promised to stop saying that… okay, last one). Paper Lantern, as well as his previous collections, has been well reviewed. He’s also written two poetry collections. So if you’re looking for a short form writer to fill your down time, this is one worth looking into.
If only there was a word to describe Moore’s tremendous skill with the short story… a word we didn’t promise to stop using. In any case, Lorrie Moore is one of the most unique and innovative short story writers of recent times. Her collection, Birds of America, was as uproariously hilarious as it was quietly devastating. Both of these things are in full swing in her most recent collection, Bark. Her work is also characterized by the sort of wisdom we tend to prize in our favorite writers. If she’s not one of yours yet, she may be soon.
With more than a dozen books to his credit, this short story
master expert has distinguished himself with his eerily uncanny works of fiction and his ability to retell myths and legends in contemporary, hyper-realistic environments. The New York Times Book Review says the Pulitzer Prize winning author’s new collection is “anchored by dark human yearnings—for perfection, or excitement, or some ungraspable form of fulfillment. These yearnings have a combustible quality. Beware the uncanny magic of Millhauser: Just when you think you recognize a myth, a character, a voice, the familiar tacks toward the strange and unexpected.”
Adam Johnson’s literary debut, the short story collection Emporium, made him a notable writer to pay attention to. Since then, he’s clearly lived up to his promise, not just with his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, but with his recently released collection, Fortune Smiles. The collection not only showcases Johnson’s humor and ability to use technology to absurdist effect, but also works to humanize people who can be difficult to humanize. Johnson’s ambition, both in novels and in the short form, is just the thing to brighten your down time, no matter how brief.
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