Become a fiction frequent flyer with short stories

Posted on March 25, 2020 at 6:00 am

By Melissa Rhoades

As a novel enthusiast, I love returning to the same characters, settings, and writing styles for days or weeks at a time. It feels like taking an extended vacation. Short stories, in comparison, can feel like weekend getaways that end too soon.

But Neil Gaiman has pointed out the positive side of these quick trips:

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

In other words, short stories allow readers to experience more perspectives, more voices, and more literary styles in the same amount of time. Instead of taking fewer long trips, readers can become virtual frequent flyers bounding to many “other worlds and other minds and other dreams.”

Recently, I’ve reappraised my attitude about short fiction. While I will always love long, meandering novels, I’m now learning to love shorter forays into other worlds. Luckily for me (and everyone), there is a lot of fantastic short fiction being published these days.

I’ve indicated when titles can be borrowed from our digital collections at OverDrive, which includes the Libby app, and at Hoopla.

Book cover of Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s collection Friday Black (2018) first wooed me back to the short format. Something about the jacket blurb made me check out the book on impulse, and I’m glad I did.

Having grown up on classic 20th century dystopian fiction (George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale), I was perfectly primed for Adjei-Brenyah’s dystopian near future. Stylistically akin to the TV series Black Mirror, these stories are peopled by everyday citizens working low-paid jobs, negotiating institutional violence, and surviving (sometimes) the crueler aspects of an imagined tomorrow. Friday Black’s predictions aren’t pretty, but they are achingly poignant, masterfully rendered, and riveting to read. You can find the eBook version at OverDrive.

Other recent releases I’ve enjoyed include the following short story collections.

Literary debut Sabrina & Corina (2019), by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, takes readers on a journey through life in contemporary Colorado. Full of beauty and heartache in equal measures, these stories focus on moments in the lives of strong girls and women as they navigate the complexities of family, love, race, violence, drugs, aging, and friendship. Both the eBook and audiobook are available at OverDrive.

Book cover of Orange World by Karen Russell

Karen Russell’s Orange World and Other Stories (2019) is packed with speculative moments and surprising twists. From the ghosts of dead WPA workers to the inner life of Madame Bovary’s dog to the post-partum demons (literally) that new mothers deal with, Orange World and Other Stories is full of fun and thoughtful surprises. You can borrow the eBook version at OverDrive.

Yukiko Motoya’s The Lonesome Bodybuilder (2018 translation) offers touches of magic realism rendered through a Japanese lens. Translated into English by Asa Yoneda, these stories create a delightful balance of the strange and ordinary while holding up a microscope to the mundane activities of our daily lives. Check out the eBook and audiobook at Hoopla and the eBook at OverDrive.

Helene Turnsten’s An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good (2018 translation) is perfect for lovers of cozy mysteries and Scandinavian writing. Translated from Swedish to English by Marlaine Delargy, these stories provide a romp through various escapades starring the elderly “lady” Maud, who is both patient and ruthless when it comes to getting her way. Listen to the audiobook at Hoopla, or read the eBook or audiobook of this popular title at OverDrive.

Additional recent collections not to miss include:

But don’t stop there. Older collections provide equally satisfying travels for the mind. Here are just a few.

Book cover of Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpra Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies (1999) envelopes readers in the lives of South Asian immigrants and their descendants as they learn to balance two or more cultures while navigating American life. Underlying Lahiri’s gorgeous prose are astute and subtle observations about human nature. The stories set in India are equally entrancing and beautifully rendered. Available on OverDrive in both eBook and audiobook formats. You’ll find the audiobook and a study guide at Hoopla.

In The Dinner Party (2017), Joshua Ferris focuses on profound transitional moments in his characters’ lives through small details full of humanity, humor, absurdity, and poetry. From Manhattan apartments to Florida retirement condos to rundown trailer parks, readers experience voices across America with an irresistible combination of humor and pathos. You can read the eBook at OverDrive.

Local author Sharma Shields’ Favorite Monster (2012) offers a delightful blend of mythology, cryptozoology, science fiction, and contemporary life in stories that combine seriousness with tongue-in-cheek playfulness. At each turn, these stories encourage us to reflect on our own modes of behavior while still allowing us to enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, this title isn’t available in digital formats. But you can place a hold for it, and then pick up your hold and check out the paperback when our libraries are open again.

We Live in Water (2013), by Jess Walter, also reflects the Inland Northwest’s stellar literary talent. Not only does Walter depict gripping life and death moments in his characters’ realities, but he places them concretely in settings that Spokanites will recognize. This book’s power is reflected in the fact that it was included on Obama’s 2019 Reading List. You can listen to the audiobook at OverDrive and read the eBook or audiobook at Hoopla.

Collections compiled by theme offer another great way to approach short fiction. Here is just a taste of the variety available.

The Penguin Book of Migration Literature (2019), edited by Dohra Ahmad, provides an infinitely fascinating read (despite the dry title). Travel a wide world of exquisitely written experiences— the sin of the slave trade, intergenerational struggles in contemporary Britain, the experiences of Japanese mail-order brides, Haitian refugees, and more. You can read the eBook at OverDrive.

The Penguin Book of Mermaids (2019), edited by Cristina Bacchilega and Marie Alohalani Brown, takes readers through a watery world of folklore from centuries past. Meet ancient Greek Sirens, Celtic Selkies, German freshwater mermaids, and ocean-dwelling creatures from the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Hawaiian islands, and beyond. The eBook is available at OverDrive.

Only Wounded (1997), by Patrick Taylor, focuses on stories set during the Irish Troubles of 1969–1994. Unlike writings that focus on fervent believers in one or more of the paramilitary groups, Taylor (better-known for his Irish Country novels) focuses mainly on the lives of everyday people living in and around the sectarian violence. Unfortunately, this title isn’t available in digital formats. But you can place a hold for it, and when our libraries are open again, you can pick up your hold and check out the paperback.

Steampunk Prime: A Vintage Steampunk Reader (2010), edited by Mike Ashley, compiles classic science fiction stories from Victorian and Edwardian writers. Venture beyond H.G. Wells to other early sci-fi perspectives on mechanical men, time travel, climate crises, aliens, and more. Unfortunately, this title isn’t available in digital formats. Place a hold for it now, and you can pick it up and check it out when our libraries are open again. And you can find more Steampunk story collections in our catalog as well.

If you don’t see the perfect match for your reading mood from those that I’ve shared, that’s okay. The Library District offers over 2,000 short story collections to choose from!

Browse our catalog to start your fiction frequent flyer experience today.

Melissa Rhoades

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