Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mid-Year Short Story Collection Round-Up

Two years ago, I was working on a new writing project, something undertaken just for fun and which was rapidly turning into a story collection of sorts. And I realized that for some reason, I had stopped reading short stories. So I made a conscious effort to stop that. I pointed out some of my early favorites on that new, improved reading path here.

What a great decision it has been. Now, I can’t imagine a reading diet lacking stories and I’m always on the lookout for something I may have missed in those years I was inexplicably remiss, or for something new on the publishing horizon.  

Three story collections made my 2014 Favorite Reads list, and as I finished another collection today, it seemed to me that I’ve read many more good ones so far this year. And so I checked. Of the forty books I’ve read in the first half of 2015, eight were story collections (that’s 20% for you math fanatics). I keep track of my reading on Goodreads (find me here), and I discovered that of the twelve books I’ve rated five stars this year, five are story collections. So yes, it’s been a good year for me and my lucky choices. And here are those five stellar collections:

Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor (2014)
My first read of the year, this started 2015 off with a bang. Minor’s lonely characters struggle for footing in a sometimes dark, always visceral world. These interconnected stories are unique in form and build one from the next, like a series of calculated punches.


The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story by Joan Wickersham (2012)

These seven love stories, however different in theme and execution, all relate in some way to the phrase “the news from Spain.” Although it was entertaining to see how this would play out in each piece, this was no parlor trick. These stories are strong and touching, reveling in human folly and faith. “A love story,”one of Wickersham’s characters explains, “can never be accurately reported, only imagined. It is all dreams and invention.”

See How Small by Scott Blackwood (2015)

Blackwood’s stories are told in different ways, through different perspectives, linked by the experience of a horrific event. Inspired by a true crime—the rape and murder of four teenagers—these stories explore the reverberations remaining in Blackwood’s fictional town. It reminded me of Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter, but its innovative form is something new altogether.


Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash (2013)

Another collection of lonely folks, living under what is perhaps a perpetually gray sky. Yet like so many situations that reek of tragedy, we can’t look away. Barbash’s characters flounder a bit in what we might call “first world problems” and yet, empathy and the appeal of his wonderful prose will make you want to persevere and stay up with them anyway.

The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy (2010)
The eighteen very short stories in Van Booy’s collection are like bright, smooth stones in a pond. Vivid and immediate, each creates a moment (or moments) you can imagine into a full life; each story seems to hold enough potential for a novel. Touching and masterful writing.



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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka