As any student of creative writing knows, you’re not likely to get though school without reading about a billion short stories before you’re done. And quite frankly, between reading short stories and writing stories and thinking about short stories and talking about short stories, by the time my near-decade of creative writing education was done, I was pretty burnt out on the short story form. Plus, confession: I’d never really loved the category to begin with. More often, I prefer to stick with my characters for a few hundred pages or so, not just 10 or 20. So if you’re not totally sold on the lure of the short story either, believe me, I understand.
But with that said, you don’t spend years studying short stories without coming away with some appreciation (dare I say love?) for them. After all, there’s something to be said for a writer who can take readers on the full arc of a novel in the span of just a few pages. And there is also something a bit musical about the art of putting together a collection of short stories — from the title to the arrangement, to the thematic thread, to the overall message a collection holds. So if you’re guilty of under-appreciating the short story (and believe me, all us readers have been there) the collections on this list might just urge you to give the genre another try.
Here are 10 short story collections for people who don’t like short stories. At least a few of these are bound to convert you, I promise.
1. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
This Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection is sure to convert even the biggest short story skeptic into a devoted fan. From a reinterpretation of the classic Cinderella story, to tales of immigrant experiences, to a complex analysis of the conflict between India and Pakistan, each of the nine stories in Jhumpa Lahirir’s Interpreter of Maladies explores the pitfalls and successes of the coming-of-age experience, in prose that is both gorgeous and thought-provoking.
2. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
A collection of the very best work of the late short story writer Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women reads as a love story to the hidden corners of America — into places as varied an unnoticed as rural laundromats and the offices of switchboard operators and halfway houses, and deep into the hearts and minds of the people who exist there. Each one of Berlin’s characters is wholly themselves — revealed and imperfect and alive on the page. You’ll find yourself feeling almost as though you’ve known them in real life.
3. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Fantasy, the supernatural, pop culture, and natural disasters collide in Kelly Link’s collection of short stories: Get in Trouble . Told with a voice as witty as it is whimsical, this collection takes readers from rural North Carolina to swampy Florida, introducing you to irresistible, one-of-a-kind characters, who are each discovering their own resilience and hidden strengths. You won’t be able to get enough of them.
4. Something is Out There by Richard Bausch
I became slightly obsessed with Richard Bausch after I discovered him in Poets & Writers magazine, and after reading this collection you might as well. Something is Out There is a collection of stories all bout familial struggles, betrayal, the fragility of romantic love, and the truths we only keep to ourselves. Filled with almost frustratingly-relatable characters, it depicts how easily our lives, that have unfolded in one particular way, could have easily happened differently—and how the events of just a single day might make you change everything.
5. The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams
Comprised of a whopping 46 short stories, at first you might be inclined to shy away from this collection — but don’t, because if Joy Williams can’t convert you into a short story lover, no one will. Featuring both new stories and the best pieces from her celebrated collections, The Visiting Privilege features Williams striking prose, as well as a series of artfully rendered characters whose personalities and struggles are simultaneously unfamiliar and relatable.
6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
This story collection is seriously SO GOOD — yes, even if you don’t like short stories (that’s the theme we’re running with here, after all.) Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is a collection all about asking the tough questions, and no story perhaps more than the title story, which introduces readers to two couples profoundly different from one another: one an Orthodox Jewish couple from Israel, and the other an interfaith (really lapsed-faith) Jewish/Christian couple from the United States, who find themselves wondering what and who they’d actually risk their lives for.
7. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
The 2013 Nobel Prize winning Dear Life is a collection of stories about people who are, often unknowingly, approaching moments of transformation in their lives. Short story master Alice Munro captures each of her characters in moments of decision-making (or lack thereof) when they find themselves halted at a life-altering crossroad. Dear Life explores the power of a single moment — be it large or small — and how one single act, consciously taken or not, can change your life forever.
8. Refund: Stories by Karen E. Bender
Karen E. Bender’s collection Refund , explores the function and failings of money in post-9/11 America — how much we value it, how we cheat people out of it (or don’t), who has it and who doesn’t, what we’re willing to give up for it, and whether or not we can move beyond issues of money in order to forge deeper human connections with those around us.
9. I Am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran
The stories in I Am an Executioner are not for the faint of heart. They explore the grotesque and the abnormal, things that are simultaneously weak and powerful, and sometimes leave you wondering what, exactly, Rajesh Parameswaran just allowed you to witness — which makes them all the more compelling. Each story deals with characters negotiating their own individual understandings of love and how they express that love, and act as a bit of a literary slap in the face. These are not your MFA-required short stories, that’s for sure.
10. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
I do really love a collection of short stories that are, however faintly, linked — and these are especially good for readers approaching the short story genre with hesitation. At the center resides Yunior, the love-hungry young man who has great difficulties in both his romantic relationships and his relationships with family and friends alike. This Is How You Lose Her begins at the end, and then walks readers back to the very beginning, through Yunior's journey to and from his lost love, Magdalena.