You know the story: It’s a Sunday morning, the weather is gross, and your bed is oh-so-warm and comfy. So you let yourself lounge around and head to Netflix or Hulu, and put on an episode of your favorite show. I’m just going to watch one, you tell yourself. Six episodes later and you’re still laying in bed watching, and now you’ve got to see how the season ends, dammit. You're officially binge watching.
While it’s arguably not the best use of your time, polls have suggested that people feel good about doing it. It’s relaxing, entertaining, and — since the next episode automatically loads — you hardly notice how much time you’ve spent watching.
But we all know that spending the entire day watching Law and Order: SVU isn’t something you should do all that often. Here's an idea: swap the laptop for the paperback, and pick up one of these essay and short story collections; like your favorite TV show, your plans for reading “just one” will quickly go out the window.
1. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
Junot Diaz’s latest book, This is How You Lose Her, contains nine individual stories, each told in his signature conversational style. The characters feel familiar — many are young, troubled immigrants — but their thoughts are complicated, their motivations unique. Diaz tackles the idea of “love” in a fresh, no-bullshit, way; this is one of those books you may just read cover-to-cover.
2. The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Laura van den Berg knows what she’s doing. The short stories in The Isle of Youth take the reader on seven distinct journeys, exploring the complex personalities and relationships of the female narrators. Once you’ve made it through a few of the stories, check out our interview with van den Berg.
3. The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
The perfect binge read, this hefty book contains all of Mark Twain’s short stories, from the humorous “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” to the more contemplative, "Diary of Adam and Eve." While it’d be pretty much impossible to read all sixty stories in a day (the book nears 700 pages), this is definitely not a one-at-a-time read — finishing one story only makes you more excited to start the next.
4. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
David Sedaris’s most recent book, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, comprises mostly witty nonfiction essays (his specialty), along with a few fictional pieces. If you’ve read his previous books, you know what to expect — hilarious and insightful personal essays, often on unusual topics — and Sedaris delivers just that. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid reading Sedaris over the past 20 years, you now have new weekend plans. Start with this book, and then work your way all the way back to Barrel Fever.
5. The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories by E.M. Forster
E.M. Forster is best remembered for his novels, particularly A Passage to India and A Room With a View, but his short stories are equally engaging. The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories features six tales of intrigue and mystery, each one with a hint of absurdity or mysticism. In The Other Side of the Hedge, for instance, the protagonist has been walking along a dirt road (accompanied by what seems to be hundreds of thousands of other people), for as long as he remembers, until he one day decides to push through the tall hedge that surrounds the road. See? You’re already into it.
6. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
If you want to get a sense of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing before jumping into her newest novel, The Lowland, this short story collection is the way to do it. Unaccustomed Earth is divided into two parts, with a total of eight stories (five in the first part, three in the second). As usual, she tackles a wide range of poignant issues: cultural and generational differences, relationship conflicts, and love. Her writing style is simple and precise, making the stories quick reads that blend from one into the other.
7. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays is more than five years old, yet it still feels just as new and important as the day it was released. While David Foster Wallace identified primarily as a fiction writer, his nonfiction essays are just as strong as his novels, bringing his unique, analytical style to everything from John McCain’s campaign trail (Up Simba) to the Maine Lobster Festival (Consider the Lobster).
8. Dear Life by Alice Munro
You’ve probably heard Alice Munro’s name mentioned a lot lately. Last year, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature — making her the 13th woman ever to win the prize — and recently, the Royal Canadian Mint announced that she will be honored on a $5 coin. Munro has published 13 short story collections over the course of her life, but the most recent one, Dear Life, feels especially poignant and engaging. Of all her books, this is the most autobiographical, giving readers a glimpse at the real individuals who have shaped and inspired her writing over the past four decades.
9. Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
The New York Times describes Bobcat and Other Stories as “mesmerizingly strange,” and even that phrase seems like an understatement. The eight stories in this collection have seemingly unrelated plots — one story revolves around a college student’s unwise plagiarism, another details a weirdly macabre dinner party — but they are all linked by Lee’s unique plot twits and eerie tone. It’s tough to stop in the middle of one of these stories, so once you start, plan on reading for a good, long while.