Once upon a time, I lived in a city where I had a job that required a daily commute — one that was known to take anywhere from 18 to 90 minutes, depending on the weather, and the other commuters, and if the train conductor was trying to win something on the radio, and whether or not some unwieldy animal like a buffalo or a tyrannosaurus rex had decided to take a nap in the middle of the train tracks (that’s the only reason I can imagine justifies a usually 18-minute commute turning into a 90-minute one.) And during these daily travels, I was constantly on the prowl for the perfect books to read during my commute. After all, assuming your daily commute doesn’t require hours upon hours of train travel, you’re not going to want to read anything that you’ll completely lose yourself in — personal experience indicates that this will either lead to you a) missing your stop, or b) spending your entire day distracted by unresolved literary tension and intrigue.
Which leads me to the perfect solution for what to read on your daily commute: short story collections. All the drama of those full-length books you love, in a short and snappy, commute worthy package. You can thank me later — right now you have short story collections to buy! Start with these 12 story collections that are perfect for your daily commute.
1‘All Grown Up’ by Jami Attenberg
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg is a book that offers you the best of both worlds — not structured like a traditional novel, but definitely not a short story collection either. Told in a series of witty, highly entertaining vignettes, All Grown Up takes readers through the tumultuous, complicated, hilarious journey from “grown up” to “actual adult” through the experience of Andrea Bern, a woman who is 39, going on 40, and has decided to remain unmarried and childless despite the social and familial pressures that surround her.
2‘Hot Little Hands’ by Abigail Ulman
Abigail Ulman's Hot Little Hands is one of my all-time favorite collections of short stories, and it's all about women growing up, growing older, and discovering who they are (or are not) in this crazy, messy, sometimes unsympathetic world. From bad sex to first pregnancies to wishing for nothing more than to revert back to the days when you were a little kid at sleep-away camp, Ulman totally understands what it’s like to transition from awkward girlhood to even more confusing womanhood — because one way or another, we’ve all been there.
3‘What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky’ by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Lesley Nneka Arimah debut story collection, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, explores the kinds of relationships that exist at the center of most people’s lives, and how those relationships can, sometimes, be deeply tied to a sense of place. As playful as it can be disturbing, this collection reads like a series of fables written for modern times — cautioning readers against to-obsessive desires and illuminating the profound power of human connections.
4‘The Unfinished World: And Other Stories’ by Amber Sparks
If you’re looking for a true escape from your daily commute, The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks, will transport you to places both mythical and otherworldly, apocalyptic and mysterious. Imaginative and at times delightfully weird, the stories in this collection deal with topics as universal as death and as bizarre as taxidermy, as Sparks plays creatively with time and place.
5‘You Should Pity Us Instead’ by Amy Gustine
Harsh, relatable, and at times uncomfortable, Amy Gustine’s collection, You Should Pity Us Instead, is frank in its analysis of the human condition, unflinching in the face of loss and pain, and expansive in its range of characters, subjects, and landscapes. From addressing death and suicide, to the never-ending conflicts in the Middle East and the never-ending conflicts among families, to God and rape and motherhood and war and more, Gustine has offered her diverse cast of characters a lot of heart and even more honesty.
6‘Living in the Weather of the World: Stories’ by Richard Bausch
Richard Bausch is one of my favorite short storytellers of all time, and his latest collection, Living in the Weather of the World, dives once again into the darkest and most relatable depths of relationships between husbands and wives, ex-spouses, friends and lovers, parents and children, all against the backdrop of a world that is beautiful, fragile, and impermanent. Every thoughtfully executed story will give you something to think about.
7‘I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking’ by Leyna Krow
I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking, by Leyna Krow, will remind you of the magic just waiting to be discovered around every corner of your otherwise-mundane surroundings — if you only keep your eyes open enough to see it (action figures and octopuses, prophesies and environmental catastrophes, missing cats, and more.) In this collection Krow introduces readers to a series of utterly bizarre and uncommon happenings, set in the most typical of places: the suburbs, rural America. Filled with mystery, intrigue, and humor, each story offers an engrossing journey of discovery and surprise.
8‘The Worlds We Think We Know: Stories’ by Dalia Rosenfeld
Out next week, Dalia Rosenfeld's The World's We Think We Know is a collection of 20 stories. equal parts funny and sorrowful, strange and grounded, human and sometimes magical. At the heart of many of these stories are relationships — the beautiful and terrible things we do to and for one another, the bizarre encounters and transforming moments. And above all these stories demonstrate how, from Tel Aviv to Ohio and everywhere in between, we each love and lose, and fall and rise again, in the same, beautifully human, ways.
9‘Cities I've Never Lived In’ by Sara Majka
Sara Majka’s collection of stories will definitely make you think differently about that landscape you commute past day after day after day — and will make you think about the landscapes you've never passed through either. Cities I’ve Never Lived In is all about the ways places transform their visitors: the places that stay with you forever, and the places you’ve left behind, and the handful of places you probably should have left sooner. You'll be utterly transported by this gorgeous and striking collection of fiction.
10‘St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves’ by Karen Russell
Karen Russell writes the Florida everglades like no other writer I’ve ever read (except, perhaps, Susan Orlean), and her story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, will truly have you believing you’re in an alligator-populated swamp, rather than the subway on your way to work. In this collection, the line between who is human and who is animal is blurred, and every character is just trying to do their best to make their way in the world. And, if you’ve read Russell’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, Swamplandia!, the short story it originated from is included here.
11‘Goodnight, Beautiful Women’ by Anna Noyes
Beginning along the wild and mysterious coast of Maine and diving into the interconnected lives of the women and girls who live there, Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes is a collection of stories that bleed directly into one another, but can also be read alone. Noyes’ characters are girls and women whose inner lives little resemble their outer landscapes, who encounter the bizarre and the heartbreaking and the erotic as they try to make their way, with as much dignity and honesty as possible, through an often-inhospitable world.
12‘The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories’ by Chanelle Benz
Filled with both violence and adventure, and transcending the boundaries of time and space, Chanelle Benz’s The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead introduces readers to characters whose lives are in jeopardy, landscapes threatened, families fractured, and belief systems utterly dismantled by outside influences. Exploring the limitations of gender, race, and class, Benz’s characters all take turns being both the victim and the perpetrator in their own lives.