Last December, a short story by Kristen Roupenian called ‘Cat Person’ went viral. It was a reminder of the power the form can wield, and a great advert for literature in an era dominated by other mediums.
Short stories, of course, have the added advantage of being short, meaning you can digest them in small chunks – the perfectly alternative to staring at your iPhone for an hour before bed.
Here we round up 15 classic and modern short story collections that should be on everyone’s radar. It’s not a definitive list, of course, but it’s a great start for anyone who wants to read more fiction in 2018.
Snakes, crocodiles and lizards stalk the pages of this 2018 collection from one of America’s most celebrated novelists, in which the muggy, murky state of Florida is always a principle character. Groff’s mastery of language, plot and dialogue are on full display in a set of stories that linger long after you’ve closed the last page.
What radiates from every page of Kevin Barry’s work is a relish for language and a sheer joy in story-telling: not since Irvine Welsh has an author writing in English made writing seem like such fun. There is plenty of pathos, too, in his tales of lost souls and misfiring Irish families and friendships. This is funny, stirring stuff from a unique talent.
Anyone familiar with his peerless children’s books (so: everyone) will find it no surprise that Dahl’s adult fiction is equally vivid and wicked. The stories in Kiss, Kiss are brilliantly taut and unnerving – masterclasses in the form.
A pioneering modernist writing in the early 20s, Mansfield was brilliant at dissecting British mores and the class system – probably helped by growing up in New Zealand before moving to the country. She died too young, but left a legacy of brilliant work of which The Garden Party may be the finest.
In his unmistakably brash style, Díaz pulls you into the life of his recurring protagonist Yunior at the point of his break-up with his long-term girlfriend, then when a woman that comes into his life fleetingly then dumps him and an older woman he has an affair with who becomes his teacher. Despite the message of how flawed our relationships are, Díaz reminds us that “ love, real love, is not so easily shed.”
One of great modern Irish writers, this 2014 collection spans five decades of brilliance from O’Brien whose prose style is among the most revered of any living author. Her characters range from lonely nuns to single mothers to modern millionaires and are consistently brilliantly.
Murakami’s 2017 collection, his first since his best-selling Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, comprises of seven tales of men who find themselves alone for various reasons. Each story is centred around the concept of longing or loneliness, and all told with Murakami’s unique and illuminating style. One for long-serving fans and newcomers alike.
The titular story is a groundbreaking tale of one woman defying societal convention by leaving her husband to explore her sexuality that saw Chopin vilified in her time, but has since been embraced as a proto-feminist masterpiece. It is also a fantastically funny and ultimately heartbreaking read, as are the rest in this collection by a strangely underrated author so ahead of her time she was punished for it.
“What’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone?” asks British writer Eley Williams in her 2017 collection, which looks at the Sisyphean task of human interaction and the barriers that language has. Like Rachel Khong’s recent and acclaimed Goodbye, Vitamin, Attrib. catalogues the ephemera of the everyday beautifully.
Every bit as filthy, funny and provocative as the novel that proceeded it (Trainspotting: you may have heard of it?), Welsh’s first collection of short stories is a riot of colourful characters, eye-watering vernacular and imaginative story-telling. This is one of Britain’s best writers in his swaggering pomp, and the result is brilliantly addictive.
From the author of the both excellent We Should All Be Feministsand Americanah, this 2009 short story collection dissects ties that bind family, lovers and friends. In ‘The American Embassy’, a woman applies for asylum but leaves unable to describe her son’s murder in exchange for visa and in ‘Tomorrow Is Too Far’ a woman unveils the awful secret of her brother’s death.
Unfashionable though it may be for a men’s website to recommend Hemingway these days, ‘Papa’ was a master of the form and while this collection doesn’t include his most famous short stories, The Nick Adam Stories do contain some of his finest nature writing, as well as functioning as a semi-autobiography of his early years growing up in Illinois. This is Hemingway at his least affected and therefore most joyful to read.
This seminal collection with a now infamous title explores the ordinary lives of people in Middle America and the quiet activities that make up their days. Carver demonstrates his incredible ear for dialogue and gift at showing the devastation of heartache in very few words.
Twice Booker Prize nominated writer Sarah Hall explores landscapes both rural and urban in this poetic collection which strays from the erotic to the haunting in looking at nature, humans and animals.
Now 40 years since first publication, McEwan’s first published work is still his most hauntingly dark and atmospheric. The collection which earned him the title ‘Ian Macabre’ explores murder, sex and in the eponymous instalment, a summer of sex between a boy and his teenage sister.
Munro’s 2004 collection finds 12 women who find themselves at a crossroads with broken marriages or betrayed affections. In the excellent ‘Labor Day Dinner’ a woman questioning her second marriage reassesses things a dear death incident and in ‘Dulse’ a lonely woman finds comfort and catharsis in the kindness of a stranger.