2015 has been a great year for short story collections. We thought we’d celebrate this by inviting some writers, readers and publishers to select their favourite collections of the year. A huge thank you to all those who have submitted their recommendations.
We’ll be posting the selections every day this week until Friday, so please join us for our week-long feast of fantastic short stories.
Closure – edited by Jacob Ross & Kadija Sesay (Peepal Tree Press) This is on my reading list for the Christmas holidays. Closure is an anthology of stories by new and established Black and Asian writers – including works by some of my favourite writers, Monica Ali, Bernadine Evaristo and Raman Mundair. I can’t wait for a snowy day, for a chance to sit by the fire with a hot chocolate and marshmallows to get stuck in!
Tessa Hadley (author of 2 highly acclaimed short story collections, her stories regularly appear in the New Yorker, Granta and other magazines. Tessa has also written 6 novels and teaches Creative Writing at Bath Spa University)
Light Box – K. J. Orr (Daunt Books Publishing, February 2016) Such fiercely, vividly individual stories, such a distinctive new voice, so assured already. The stories have wildly different settings and yet none of them feels like a travelogue, or phoney. Each time you read, you think, ‘this must be the world she really knows about, this New York’ – and then there’s one set in rural England or central London and it’s just as true. There’s intelligence in every sentence.
In Stories of Our Lives by The Nest Collective, the narrators of each story manage to convey a world of youthful yearning, love, fear, faith, loneliness and passion in stories that are a necessary counterpoint to the repugnant myth that queer Kenyans do not exist. The fact that this beautifully curated anthology, which is rooted in the thrills of oral storytelling, has to come with a warning label in order to be sold in Kenya is a sign that these stories of struggle and triumph are needed now more than ever.
I gulped down ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere many years ago and I still love the delicious heat of this collection. It is, to my mind, the best contemporary short story collection about the African-American experience. Zooming in on the lives of young African-American women on the periphery – a Yale undergrad who is perceived as a hostile outsider, a black brownie troop who’ve heard a perceived racial slur from a white brownie troop – these stories have teeth and they’re worth re-reading again and again for their irresistible narrative bite.
I’m not sure whether Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond (Fitzcarraldo/Stinging Fly) really is a collection of short stories. I’d read it as a novella. More simply, it’s the book I’ve enjoyed most this year: a profound, funny, intelligent and deeply felt meditation on self and space, and the creation and practice of a solitary life in rural Ireland.
Next year I’m looking forward to Rob Doyle’s This Is The Ritual (Bloomsbury, January 2016). Is it a collection of short stories, autofiction, essay? Same problem. The most exciting work I see at the moment is being done on the edges of, and in the spaces between, genre.
Kristen Arnett – (Writer, librarian. fiction reader for Guernica Magazine, editor-in-chief, Specs Journal. Kristen’s stories have been published in numerous magazines including Salon, The Rumpus and Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian)
Gutshot (FSG Orginals) – Amelia Gray. Unafraid to show the ugly underside of things, Gray’s collection is a grisly powerhouse. Comprised of “flash” shorts, the book spans the gamut of the grotesque: dealing blood and guts, but also black humor and the fantastic.
Get in Trouble (Canongate) – Kelly Link. Link’s newest collection subverts the genre, parceling stories of super heroes, ancient Egypt, magical creatures, and the lower-middle class. Full of delicate detail and gritty realism, Get in Trouble offers a smorgasbord of new wave nostalgia.
My favourite short story collection of the year is Mahesh Rao‘s One Point Two Billion (Daunt Books Publishing) in which each story is set in a different Indian state – it’s witty, subtle and painful in just the right way.
Rowing to Eden – Amy Bloom (Granta Books). Amy Bloom’s short stories are about the things that make us human – love, desire, family, ageing, grief and identity. Bloom now writes full time but when I first came across her work in the ‘90s she was still practising as a psychotherapist and if the empathy and acuity with which she explores these themes is anything to go by she must have been very good at it. For readers who already know Bloom’s work this collection comprises stories first published in Come to Me, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You and Where the God of Love Hangs Out.
Beneath the Bonfire – Nickolas Butler (Picador, February 2016)). Many of Nickolas Butler’s themes will be familiar to readers of his wonderful novel, Shotgun Lovesongs. He writes eloquently about male friendship, nature and our sometimes troubled relationship with it, chance, the compromises and collusions of small town life, and, of course, love. His writing is often striking – polished phrases are slipped in with ease. There are ten stories in this collection – some a mere few pages, others much lengthier – and if I had to pick a favourite it would be ‘Apples’ about a happily married couple, together for many years, but I’m a hopeless romantic.
A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin (Picador). Lucia Berlin died in 2004 having written intermittently over a long period stretching back to the ‘60s, fitting her stories around a multitude of jobs from teaching English to cleaning houses. She drew heavily on her rackety life in her fiction and her material is often raw but there’s always a wry humour in her delivery. Her writing is pleasingly pared back – there’s an immediacy in her short, crisp, carefully constructed sentences which makes the sharpness of her observation all the more striking. The collection comes complete with an introduction by Stephen Emerson – Berlin’s editor and dear friend – a short biographical note and a foreword by Lydia Davis.
Sarah Franklin – (Senior lecturer at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, Sarah also runs Short Stories Aloud, a monthly short story event in Oxford, UK, and is a judge for this year’s Costa Short Story Award.)
We Don’t Know What We’re Doing – Thomas Morris (Faber). This collection came out earlier this year and I keep coming back to it. The stories are loosely linked around the inhabitants of the Welsh town of Caerphilly, with occasional flights of fancy that seem more than merited given the characters’ everyday lives. A really witty, light touch; before you know it, you’re needing more.
Don’t Try This at Home – Angela Readman (And Other Stories). A debut collection by another new author, one who has won and been shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award in consecutive years, and with good reason. These stories pull you in and trip you up. I especially love There’s A Woman Works Down The Chip Shop, where the narrator’s Mum becomes Elvis as she discovers her sexuality. Heartwarming and heartbreaking.
More short story gems tomorrow!