Recommendations: Realistic Short Story Collections

I have recommended short story collections before but as I have finally started reading them again, I figured it was time I wrote another post. I don’t think we talk about short stories often enough – a format that can be difficult to get right but when they are good they are often brilliant. Clicking on the covers leads to the books’ Goodreads pages.

Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff

I am in awe of Lauren Groff’s command of language – every single sentence ist perfectly done while not making the writing sound clinical but rather organic and captivating. I also really like the way she structures her stories – they never felt like they were working towards a punchline but rather their endings were perfectly done. Some stories I would have loved to spend more time with but I mean that as a compliment.

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

I knew I would enjoy this pretty much from the first page on. Nafissa Thompson-Spires has a wonderful tone and an even better command of her stories. I found the stories uncomfortable and biting and so very very clever. Her characters feel real if often difficult and the situations they find themselves in are frustrating and perfectly rendered.

Some stories feature the same people again, which is something I always enjoy. I do like how this gave the stories more depth without them being incomplete without the added context – this is something that I assume is difficult to achieve but oh so satisfying when it works.

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

This collection has possibly my all-time favourite cover. I just adore it. And the stories within are as beautiful. Focussing on women and their complicated relationships to each other and to men, this collection blew me away. I never managed to actually write a review (I was newly pregnant when I read this) and I am sad about it because I should have shouted from the rooftops how brilliant I thought this was. I wish more people read this!

I Hold A Wolf By Its Ears by Laura van den Berg

I adored this! These stories were often sad, sometimes creepy, always impeccably structured. Van den Berg tells her stories unchronologically, often circularly, but always in a way that feels very deliberate and I appreciated this. The stories are told with a conscious darkness but never feel hopeless. Van den Berg focusses on characters that seem unmoored but are still anchored by something, often a sibling (I adore this!). Even when the subject matter is dark (and it is!) it never felt gratuitous or unnecessary to me.

Home Remedies by Juliana Xuan Wang

Really really good! These mostly realistic stories worked exceedingly well for me – especially those that were told unchronologically in a way that I have not encountered in short stories before. This way of telling a story is something I particularly enjoy, so I was very pleased when I realized what Wang was doing. Not every story did work for me but enough did that I will be reading whatever she writes next. I also cannot get over the absolutely stunning cover.

How To Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

I enjoyed these stories a lot with their thoughtful explorations on families, focussing on the lives of Laos immigrants and their children. I particularly enjoyed that the parents depicted really do try to do the best for their children even if they sometimes miss the mark or sometimes cannot be the parent they would love to be if they had more time/ money/ knowledge.

Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

A short story collection blurbed by and compared to Sally Rooney and Colin Barrett. McHugh’s prose is incredible (a stunning blend of more colloquial Irish English and super interesting descriptions and metaphors) and the way in which he structures his stories impeccable – this is a very, very bleak collection, featuring many sad and unlikable characters, that I could nonetheless see working for the right reader perfectly.

Wrap Up June 2021

I will just have to stop complaining that my reading month was awful. There is no way this state of affairs will change, especially now that I am back at work and really, really need to finish my PhD – as I just accepted a PostDoc job starting in August (I am super excited about the job and think I can do it very well but at some point this next year I will need to have the title for it).

This does mean a couple of things for my blog though: I cannot even attempt to write reviews for everything I read (which I have not been doing for about two years anyways) and this will be the part of my hobbies that is least likely to survive. I will for now change the way I do my wrap ups to include mini impressions of the books I read and hopefully will be able to write at least this post each month.

Books I read in June:

I began the month strong by finishing the absolutely incredible Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (5 out of 5 stars): an impeccable researched and structured deep dive into the Sackler family (of OxyContin “fame) – my main takeaway is, as usual, capitalism is the worst and regulation is indeed not the enemy. The audiobook is read by the author himself which is always something I adore. Afterwards I listened to my chaotic buddy read: Brood by Jackie Polzin (4.5 out of 5 stars) – which has stuck and grown on me. It is a surprisingly gruesome story about a griefing woman and her chicken – and I loved her so much. She is prickly and sad and so sure of some things (and probably very wrong about them!) while being very anxious and unsure about other things. She is a near perfect character. Afterwards I fell even deeper into my reading slump, as I went back to work and got just hammered with things to do. Thankfully, I still have some Ilona Andrews’ books to read, which is what I did. I inhaled the first two books in their Innkepper Chronicles Clean Sweep (4 out of 5 stars) and Sweep in Peace (3.5 out of 5 stars) – they are just my “break in case of reading slump” authors. At least once a year they manage to ignite my love for reading anew. This is technically the third series of theirs that I am reading and while it is not my favourite, it has all the things I love about their work: great world building, brilliant characters with wonderful interactions, main characters that are just my kind of overly powerful women – and an emotional core that hits me as a surprise again and again. I also finally DNFed A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion which had been sitting at 62% read on my Kindle for six months. This is not a bad book by any means but I found it unfocussed and for me at least the mix between coming-of-age and thriller did not work. I thought the coming-of-age elements, even if they followed expected story beats (the skinny dipping scene, the awkward first kiss, the falling out with friends, the fights with sisters), worked beautifully due to how expertly the main character is drawn. The thriller-y elements on the other hand did neither work for me nor kept me interested enough to keep reading.

Favourite of the Month:

Empire of Pain was as brilliant as I expected it to be.

Stats(ish):

I finished four books, three written by women and one by a man. One book was non fiction, one fiction and two can broadly be categorized as Urban Fantasy (albeit with scifi explanations).

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should be trying to finally finish some of the books I have been reading for literal months – and stop adding more and more books to my currently reading shelf. 10 books is just ridiculous!

Wrap Up May 2021

I had such hopes for this month – but my reading was erratic at best and I have not finished a single fantasy book – even though I planned to prioritize them.

Books I read in May:

  1. No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: 2.5 out of 5 stars
  2. Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

The best book I finished was definitely Detransition, Baby – I adored many things about it and I am a bit miffed that it didn’t make the Women’s Prize shortlist. I loved its exploration of gender and motherhood, Reese is such a wonderfully realized character that made my heart hurt – it is not perfectly structured and sometimes a bit too sprawling for me, but what an excellent, excellent cast of characters.

Stats(ish):

I finished three books, all of them fiction written by women.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I do not even know how to get my reading mojo back – and I will be going back to work in two weeks and my tiny reading time will probably disappear completely. The only thing I reliably get to is audiobook listening, so I will probably be switching near completely to that format.

One thing I do know, however, and that is that I will be reading Brood by Jackie Polzin with the possibly most chaotic group chat I will ever be part of. I am excited! (and the audiobook is only about 5 hours long, so I should manage to actually read the book in June.)

Wrap Up April 2021

Apparently I will now forever only finish two books a month. I exaggerate but it does feel this way.

Books I read in April:

  1. Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  2. Eat The Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Before the Twitter Thing, I would probably have said Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing – but that was a very unpleasant experience and I cannot divorce my feelings from that. I thought Eat The Mouth that Feeds You was an excellent collection, let down by a couple of stories that didn’t work for me.

Stats(ish):

I read two books, both by women. One non-fiction title and short story collection.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

I should focus on the books I am already reading an try to finally finish one of the eleven (!) books I am in the middle of. May is Wyrd and Wonder though and I am planning on prioritizing fantasy accordingly. I also hope to make some progress in the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted books I am planning on reading. Let’s hope my reading pace picks up!