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15 Books to Celebrate Short Story Month

April 30th, 2018

May is Short Story Month, and we at the Reading Group Center can’t wait to celebrate! What better way to introduce yourself to a new author or revisit a favorite than through a short story collection? With our busy lives and the constant competition for our attention, the short story allows us to get a sense of an author’s style and range without the pressure of a huge time commitment. Our admiration of the short story isn’t just about our attention span though, their compact nature requires great skill and deftness so the reader is immediately drawn in and then—only a few pages later—left satisfied. We like longer works too, but there’s something about the tightness of the short story that we can’t help but love.

This year, we are excited to start Short Story Month off with Haruki Murakami’s bestselling collection Men Without Women. In each of the seven expertly crafted stories, we are introduced to a new male protagonist, who often looks back on friendships and various relationships in his life from a place of loneliness. We appreciate the homage Murakami pays to the Beatles, jazz, and Kafka, how his stories vary from the realistic to the subtly surreal, and how he meditates on a cohesive theme while displaying a breadth of creativity.

After you’ve devoured Men Without Women, we’re confident you’ll want more! We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite short story collections, old and new, so you can dip in during your commute, over lunch, before bed, or whenever you have a few minutes to escape. We can’t guarantee, though, that you won’t lose yourself and binge these collections in one sitting—but there’s nothing wrong with that. Happy reading!

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“[A] beguilingly irresistible book. Like a lost lover, it holds on tight long after the affair is over.” —The New York Times Book Review

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are lovesick doctors, students, ex-boyfriends, actors, bartenders, and even Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, brought together to tell stories that speak to us all. In Men Without Women Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic, marked by the same wry humor and pathos that have defined his entire body of work.

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TrajectoryTrajectory by Richard Russo

“[A] collection of short fiction so rich and flavorsome that the temptation is to devour it all at once.” —The Boston Globe

The characters in these four expansive stories are a departure from the blue-collar denizens that populate so many of Richard Russo’s novels, and all are bound together by parallel moments of reckoning with their pasts. In “Horseman,” a young professor confronts an undergraduate plagiarist—as well as her own regrets. In “Intervention,” a realtor facing a serious medical prognosis finds himself in his late father’s shadow. “Voice” gives us a semiretired academic who is conned by his estranged brother into joining a group tour of the Venice Biennale. And “Milton and Marcus” takes us into a lapsed novelist’s attempt to rekindle his screenwriting career—a career that depends wholly, at a crucial moment, on two Hollywood icons (one living, one dead). Shot through with Russo’s inimitable humor, wisdom, and surprise, Trajectory is the work of a masterful writer continuing to discover new heights.

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WeatherLiving in the Weather of the World by Richard Bausch

“Every word feels perfect. The stories here aren’t just entertaining; they demonstrate just how exciting and resonant . . . short fiction can be.” —Houston Chronicle

In stories by turns suspenseful, comic, subtle, and profound, Richard Bausch probes the fault lines of daily life. At three in the morning a man tries not to wake his sleeping wife while fielding calls from his suicidal mistress. A successful real estate agent with two grown sons tries an online dating service on a whim and is surprised by the complicated result. And after being held up at gunpoint, a police officer commiserates with his assailant about their unhappy marriages. Wherever he casts his gaze, Bausch illuminates shades of human experience that defy understanding.

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SleepingHouse of the Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata

“Compulsive reading.” —The Sunday Times

Three surreal, erotically charged stories from Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata.

In the three long tales in this collection, Yasunari Kawabata examines the boundaries between fantasy and reality in the minds of three lonely men. Piercing examinations of sexuality and human psychology—and works of remarkable subtlety and beauty—these stories showcase one of the twentieth century’s great writers—in any language—at his very best.

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UncommonUncommon Type by Tom Hanks

“In Uncommon Type, Hanks proves his bona fides as a serious scribe, producing a collection of seventeen short stories so accomplished and delightful he can rest assured he has a great fallback plan should that acting thing, you know, not work out.” —USA Today

A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game—and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down-and-out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

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DancingDancing After Hours by Andre Dubus

“A master of the short story. . . . It’s good to have Andre Dubus back. More than ever, he is an object of hope.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

From a genuine hero of the American short story comes a luminous collection that reveals the seams of hurt, courage, and tenderness that run through the bedrock of contemporary American life. In these fourteen stories, Dubus depicts ordinary men and women confronting injury and loneliness, the lack of love and the terror of actually having it. Out of his characters’ struggles and small failures—and their unexpected moments of redemption—Dubus creates fiction that bears comparison to the short story’s greatest creators—Chekhov, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor.

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DearDear Life by Alice Munro

“One of the great short story writers not just of our time but of any time.” —The New York Times Book Review

In story after story in this brilliant collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancée, a wealthy woman deciding whether to confront a blackmailer, an adulterous mother and her neglected children, a guilt-ridden father, a young teacher jilted by her employer. Illumined by Munro’s unflinching insight, these lives draw us in with their quiet depth and surprise us with unexpected turns. And while most are set in her signature territory around Lake Huron, some strike even closer to home: an astonishing suite of four autobiographical tales offers an unprecedented glimpse into Munro’s own childhood. Exalted by her clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, Dear Life shows how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary life can be.

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MoralMoral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

“Sharply focused, intensely personal. . . . Moral Disorder is domestic realism at its most convincing. . . . These are poignant stories crammed with richly nostalgic detail, rueful, wise, elegiac.” —Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

A brilliant collection of connected short stories following the life of a single woman, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid’s Tale.

In these eleven tales, Margaret Atwood brings to life the story of one remarkable character, following her from girlhood in the 1930s, through her coming-of-age in the 50s and 60s, and into the present day where, no longer young, she reflects on the new state of the world. Each story focuses on the ways relationships transform a life: a woman’s complex love for a married man, the grief upon the death of parents and the joy with the birth of children, and the realization of what growing old with someone you love really means. By turns funny, lyrical, incisive, earthy, shocking, and deeply personal, Moral Disorder displays Atwood’s celebrated storytelling gifts and unmistakable style to their best advantage.

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CountryIn the Country by Mia Alvar

“Remarkable. . . . Each of these nine stories is superb.” —The New York Times

In these nine globe-trotting tales, Mia Alvar gives voice to the women and men of the Philippines and its diaspora. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s stories explore the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home—and marks the arrival of a formidable new voice in literature.

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NocturnesNocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Tight and assured. . . . Suffused with sympathy.” —Time

From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day comes an inspired sequence of stories as affecting as it is beautiful.

With the clarity and precision that have become his trademarks, Kazuo Ishiguro interlocks five short pieces of fiction to create a world that resonates with emotion, heartbreak, and humor. Here is a fragile, once famous singer, turning his back on the one thing he loves; a music junkie with little else to offer his friends but opinion; a songwriter who inadvertently breaks up a marriage; a jazz musician who thinks the answer to his career lies in changing his physical appearance; and a young cellist whose tutor has devised a remarkable way to foster his talent. For each, music is a central part of their lives and, in one way or another, delivers them to an epiphany.

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DimancheDimanche and Other Stories by Irène Némirovsky

“Luminous. . . . These accomplished tales create worlds full of secrets and treacheries. . . . Némirovsky’s characters emerge full-fleshed, and her voice remains timeless and relevant.” —Publishers Weekly

Written between 1934 and 1942, these ten gem-like stories mine the same terrain of Némirovsky’s bestselling novel Suite Française: a keen eye for the details of social class; the tensions between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives; the manners and mannerisms of the French bourgeoisie; questions of religion and personal identity. Moving from the drawing rooms of prewar Paris to the lives of men and women in wartime France, here we find the beautiful work of a writer at the height of her tragically short career.

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FlightIn-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson

“Funny, shrewd, alternately wicked and warm. . . . Simpson’s short-story collections are such a pleasure to glide through.” —Entertainment Weekly

A dazzling collection of stories from internationally acclaimed writer Helen Simpson, touching on everything from global warming and technology to health and aging to marriage and family life. Whether Simpson’s subject is single women or wives, marriage or motherhood, youth, young love, homework or history, In-Flight Entertainment is addictive reading that walks a line between being wickedly funny and dark. These thirteen stories brilliantly share the small details of interaction that reveal larger secrets and inner conflicts of contemporary living. They unerringly capture a type, a social class, a pattern of behavior, a generation.

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BridegroomThe Bridegroom by Ha Jin

“Finely wrought. . . . Every story here is cut like a stone.” —Chicago Sun-Times

From the remarkable Ha Jin, winner of the National Book Award for his celebrated novel Waiting, a collection of comical and deeply moving tales of contemporary China that are as warm and human as they are surprising, disturbing, and delightful.

In the title story, the head of security at a factory is shocked, first when the most handsome worker on the floor proposes marriage to his homely adopted daughter, and again when his new son-in-law is arrested for the “crime” of homosexuality. In “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” the workers at an American-style fast food franchise receive a hilarious crash course in marketing, deep frying, and that frustrating capitalist dictum, “the customer is always right.” Ha Jin has triumphed again with his unforgettable storytelling in The Bridegroom.

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BarkBark by Lorrie Moore

“Uncanny. . . . Moving. . . . A powerful collection.” —The Washington Post

These eight masterly stories reveal Lorrie Moore at her most mature and in a perfect configuration of craft, mind, and bewitched spirit, as she explores the passage of time and summons up its inevitable sorrows and hilarious pitfalls to reveal her own exquisite, singular wisdom.

Here are people beset, burdened, buoyed; protected by raising teenage children; dating after divorce; facing the serious illness of a longtime friend; setting forth on a romantic assignation abroad, having it interrupted mid-trip, and coming to understand the larger ramifications and the impossibility of the connection . . . stories that show people coping with large dislocation in their lives, with risking a new path to answer the desire to be in relation—to someone . . .

Gimlet-eyed social observation, the public and private absurdities of American life, dramatic irony, and enduring half-cracked love wend their way through each of these narratives in a heartrending mash-up of the tragic and the laugh-out-loud—the hallmark of life in Lorrie-Moore-land.

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ChanceChance Developments by Alexander McCall Smith

“[McCall Smith] is a master at using the economy of the short story to highlight the amplitude of the imagination.” —The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

Inspired by antique photographs, these five stunning short stories capture the surprising intersections of love and friendship that alter life’s journeys. In “Angels in Italy,” childhood friends, separated by circumstance, learn the enduring power of a first love. “Sister Flora’s First Day of Freedom” introduces us to a young nun who makes a difficult decision to leave the sisterhood and finds delightful new riches in the big city of Edinburgh. The enchanting “Dear Ventriloquist” tells of a mishap at a Canadian circus that sparks unexpected magic between a gifted puppeteer and a dapper lion tamer. Changing a tire changes the life of a young Irish teacher in “The Woman with the Beautiful Car,” and a young New Zealander learns what matters in life from his grandfather, a WWII veteran, in “He Wanted to Believe in Tenderness.” These charming and poignant stories are a testament to the power of human connection and brim with a grace and humor that could only come from the pen of Alexander McCall Smith.

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