Even amongst bookish people, the topic of short stories can be a divisive one. Some readers see short stories as too tedious or time-consuming, while others readers might complain that they feel short stories lack the depth of a novel. Adding to this conundrum, some readers were never properly introduced to short stories and now feel too overwhelmed by the genre and don’t even know where to start. Whatever the case may be, we here at The Spellbinding Shelf celebrate short stories, inviting you to abandon all prior convictions with our comprehensive list of five collections that are bound to make you fall in love with short stories.
Her Body and Other Parties—Carmen Maria Machado. Machado is known for the macabre undertones in her writing and for creating female characters who are not always wholesomely motivated. The ease of her prose makes this collection incredibly alluring, but there is more to it than that—these stories are dark, empowering, nuanced, sinister, and above all else, great fun to read.
Civilwarland in Bad Decline—George Saunders. This is a powerfully imaginative collection that tests the elasticity of language. It doesn’t matter if Saunders is writing about subversive capitalistic greed or an amusement park that is reminiscent of West World, these tales are impeccably crafted. Each story presents a strange new world that will leave the reader intrigued and wanting more.
Stories of Your Life and Others—Ted Chiang. In this collection, Chiang challenges the notion of what short stories are capable of. He builds dense worlds rich with unique language and dynamic characters. He experiments with time to decrease the flow of information to a drip, and yet every page will leave you yearning to know the tales extraordinary conclusion. Ted Chiang is an author worth reading again and again.
Magic for Beginners—Kelly Link. While all of the authors on this list so far experiment with blending the lines between genre and literary fiction, none are so adept at it as Kelly Link. That is not to say that her stories are gimmicky or weighed down by superfluous magic systems and supernatural characters. On the contrary, Link’s stories are full of emotional truth and excavate the far reaches of the imagination. Simply put, these stories are magical, but their power does not come from casting spells, but rather, in their ability to entrance their reader.
Since 1978, the Best American Short Stories series has been a literary staple with anthologies cultivated by great writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Tobias Wolff, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore, Roxane Gay, and most recently Anthony Doerr. Each year, this anthology puts forward twenty short stories that represent the best published short fiction. Each collection offers new worlds of enchantment, heartbreak, and excitement. There is no better place to find scores of talented writers, and also a plethora of publications, to further explore short stories—which by now you’re bound to love.
Publisher: Chiltern Publishing Genre: Coming-of-Age Drama Pages: 288 Format: Hardcover My Rating: 5/5 stars Buy Local
In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott turns the everyday lives of four girls into an entertaining novel of love, loss, and the exceptional power of family. Based on Alcott’s own upbringing, Little Women is a recollection of her childhood experiences, and life lessons while residing in New England during the Civil War.
The adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are captivating as they take on the challenges of growing up—exploring the balance between familial duty and freedom and society’s expectations of women in the 1800’s. During the uncertainty and scarcity of wartime, the March girls brave illness, romance, societal pressures, and unconventional career ambitions under the watchful eye of their mother, Marmee. Each of the March girls comes of age and discovers who they are through their endeavors, courage, and love of family in this classic novel.
Every once in a while, Hollywood brings an adaptation of Little Women to the silver screen to remind us what a treasure this story is to behold. This December, audiences will be treated to a version that is sure to introduce the novel to a new generation of women and men alike. With a powerhouse cast of Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothee Chalamet, it will no doubt be entertaining.
Audience members and readers will likely identify with one or more of the March family members. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are respectively the traditional elder sister, ferocious feminist, sensitive soul, and spoiled artist, respectively. Yet, they are fully realized characters with desires, flaws, and needs that transcend those labels. As such, the story’s relevancy has not diminished with age, and it underscores many of the challenges that even girls today face. New readers will discover timeless themes of familial duty, independence, courage, and generosity.
What is most striking about this novel is that Alcott dared to re-imagine what a woman’s future could look like by sharing her own experiences through the character of Jo. While its feminist principles are somewhat dated—as its original publication date is 1868—Jo March remains a timeless role model. She defies convention in favor of following her own path to becoming a writer, despite the obstacle of her gender, undoubtedly helped along with the support of her family, especially Marmee. The adventures of the March family, set against the grim background of war, are both charming and life affirming—making Little Women a truly poignant novel that will remain so for each new generation of readers.
For those of you who are interested, check out the trailer for the upcoming film below!
Are you hungry for the avant-garde of the literary world? Do you find yourself seeking out the newest, previously undiscovered works of up-and-coming authors? Are you the first one of your friends to ask “have you read this yet?” If so, then be sure not to miss out on The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing annual student showcase.
Creative writing students from all walks of life will be presenting their original works in an evening of story, poetry, and literary celebration. Included will be works of of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, food writing, science fiction, historical fiction, and more. The evening will also feature writing from several published and award-winning authors.
This marvelous event is sure to be filled with the creative outpourings of burgeoning artists, plenty of twists and turns, perhaps some surprising reveals, and most certainly some ground-breaking and thought-provoking word play!
The Piper Writers Studio is “committed to supporting writers in every stage of their development” with “challenging and diverse educational opportunities.” Anyone, not just ASU students, can attend the not-for-credit classes held in this division of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The studio welcomes writers of all levels of experience and seeks to help them grow from the point they are at, be that novice or seasoned professional. Class sizes are small, and are taught by local and visiting faculty. Please visit piper.asu.edu/classes/about for more information about classes, instructors, etc.
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing Genre: Thriller/Horror Pages: 706 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 Stars
20 years in the making, Stephen Chbosky’s second novel Imaginary Friend takes on a whole new genre compared to his previous best-selling novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Imaginary Friend follows seven year-old Christopher and his mother, Kate Reese, on the run from her abusive ex-boyfriend. She decides the small town of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania is the perfect hidden gem. However, one afternoon, a mother’s worst nightmare occurs when Christopher wanders into the woods and doesn’t come back out for six days.
When Christopher does return, he is different. He can do things he couldn’t do before, thanks to the nice man. His only goal is to build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, with the voice in his head guiding him the whole way. If he fails, the world as he, and everyone in the town, knows it will change forever.
Going into this, I was not sure what to expect because the premise itself is so different from my beloved The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But, I can say with confidence that Chbosky did not disappoint—I found myself tearing through the pages, desperately wanting to solve the mystery and connect the dots. Every character revelation and plot twist felt surprising yet inevitable, leaving me speechless by the end of it.
As with any good horror novel, I will probably have nightmares for a couple of days, but it was worth it to go on this journey with Christopher and his mother. The characters were so vivid that I felt like they were telling me the story themselves. It was terrifying, but in a thrilling way that really makes you think about the world and speculate about what lies beyond it—what we have control over and what we don’t, and what may lurk in the shadows.
Imaginary Friend reveals the power of family, of friendship, and of a mother’s love in the most bone-chilling, mind-blowing way. 20 years after his debut novel, Chbosky is back to remind us that no matter who we are or what our past is, we are not alone: in the the real world or the imaginary.
Publisher: Graywolf Press Genre: Memoir Pages: 264 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
What does domestic abuse look like? In what ways can domestic abuse be more than physical harm? What does domestic abuse look like between two women? What does domestic abuse look like when the perpetrator is smaller than the victim? These are some of the questions Carmen Maria Machado sets out to answer in her inventive new memoir In the Dream House.
In doing the research for this book, Machado sought out experiences that mirrored her own, but found the archive of literature and history to be lacking. This is her attempt at taking the first step in adding to that archive. She constructs her story through more than a hundred narrative tropes (i.e. stoner comedy, Chekov’s gun, man vs. self), resulting in an elaborately weaved and imaginatively told story that explores themes of abuse, queer relationship dynamics, queer world building, assessment of self-worth, and ultimately the emotional endurance that humans are capable of.
What I love most about this book, and there is a lot to love about it, is the way in which it pushes the boundary between nonfiction and fiction through the exploration of narrative tropes. While this memoir explores themes that are heavy and at times difficult to emotionally process, the reader is guided along by Machado’s incessant wit and playful prose; making this book fun to read despite the nature of its subject matter. Additionally, Machado annotates her experience with motifs from folk literature (i.e. taboos, ghost cries, girl mistakenly elopes with wrong lover) creating a dream within the tightly constructed world.
Subsequently, this is a book that can easily be read over and over again and even seems to invite just that. There are whole worlds in this work that is part memoir, part literary criticism, part musing on pop-culture, and even part dissection of the music of Aimee Mann. I suspect that each time I reread this book, I will find something new to admire and obsess over.
In the Dream House became instantly important to me not just because of the innovative way in which it is written, but because it seeks to put in place a framework for a more complete history that previously did not exist. As with her critically acclaimed short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, Machado has again brought attention to an aspect of modern queer life that was once invisible. For this reason and many more, this book will enthrall its readers throughout its course until the wind carries the story away.
For those of you who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month is the world’s largest creative writing event. During the month of November, writers of all experience levels are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days!
Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this November? Head over to Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix on Saturday, November 30th for hours of writing time amidst fellow writers looking to finish their novels! Interested writers only need to bring their preferred writing tool and their wonderful selves! This event will start at 2pm—get excited!
For more information about this event, click here.
History is a rolling saga of love and war, and we are irrevocably changed by both. Generations of great writers have documented the change of times and the novelties they brought with them, and so I’ve decided to give you a few books that have truly marked the end of an era.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Windfondly remembers the last golden days of the South antebellum, before the Civil War wrenched families apart and changed the landscape of American society.
Scarlett O’Hara, a blooming southern belle, and Rhett Butler, an outrageous pragmatist, fall in and out of love in this classic as they struggle with the pain of losing loved ones, drastically altered social positions and wartime hardships.
Mother is the most popular work of Maxim Gorky. Based on real-life events that Gorky was personally connected to, this novel is about the spiritual awakening of a young factory worker and his careworn mother in Tsarist Russia.
Pavel Vlasov starts out by taking after his hard-drinking father, but soon meets a group of revolutionaries and begins to get an education in politics and philosophy. He stops drinking and undergoes a quiet transformation into a sharp, receptive young man.
This incites curiosity in Pelageya Nilovna, Pavel’s mother. After a lifetime of abuse and poverty, she overcomes her illiteracy and political ignorance to become a revolutionary. It is because of this display of willpower and strength of character, Nilovna Vlasova, not Pavel, is considered by many to be the true protagonist of the novel.
In one of the greatest love stories to emerge from World War I, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is set against the background of the Italian front, where Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse’s aide.
The stark reality of war brings real affection out of the playful simulation of love that the two initially engage in.
Frederic and Catherine are symbolic of the countless men and women who were kept apart by social and geographical boundaries in those uncertain times. This classic is about the illusion of glory in war and the courage to bid it farewell.
One cannot think of World War I without remembering the concurrent movement of the suffragettes, which spanned decades before and after the war.
My Own Storyis the autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Ghostwritten by Rheta Childe Dorr, it is a detailed memoir of Pankhurst’s work as an activist and the long road to electoral equality between British men and women.
The Diary of a Young Girl is a compilation of the diary entries of a pre-adolescent Jewish girl in Germany, forced into hiding with her family by the onset of the Holocaust.
Anne Frank kept a thorough record of the two years she spent in the Secret Annex, the mortification of growing up among near-strangers with various quirks, the lack of privacy and, of course, the uncertainty of life itself.
This piece of literature is remarkable for its unaffected style of prose and the sheer truthfulness and poignancy of the emotions portrayed on the pages. Anne Frank is a literary icon, immortalized through her work as an unwitting historian.
It’s November again, and that means that there’s some serious writing energy in the air. November is the month that writers from all over the world sit down to touch pen to paper, or fingertips to keys (be they of the analog or digital variety), and participate in what is known as NaNoWriMo. The elongated title of this exciting event is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge during which authors strive to write 50,000 words of a novel in November. NaNoWriMo is also the name of a non-profit organization (www.nanowrimo.org) which provides support, opportunity and encouragement to writers during this, and every one of their writing adventures.
Encouragement is of the utmost importance when beginning any new creative project. The process realizing our visions is immense. Even more overwhelming, is allowing ourselves the vulnerability to share our unique perspective. In times like these a few words of wisdom, by someone who has walked the same path, can be invaluable. Read on for some excellent tomes of sage advice for authors by authors. These books are filled with just the glimmer of hope that tender creatives need, often sprinkled with the wry humor and earth-shattering honesty that the best of authors are known for.
“Make Good Art” – Neil Gaiman. The printed and bound version of Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts is not technically a book. However, its place as number one on this list is well-deserved. “Make Good Art” is a fantastic call-to-arms for any artist, not just writers. Gaiman delivers advice on having the courage to go out into the world and create. He urges artists who are just starting out, as well as seasoned artists, to ignore the boundaries created by the world and those that we create ourselves. He insists that no matter what you are facing, what you are going through, if you are an artist, you must create. This speech is an essential read for anyone who needs a little motivation given with a lot of heart. Put it on the shelf over your desk. Put it by the bathroom mirror so you see it when you brush your teeth in the morning. Put it anywhere that its powerful message can reach you again and again.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. If you have seen Lamott’s Bird by Bird come up on many lists similar to this one, it’s for a very good reason. The advice given to writers by Anne Lamott is like that of your most honest older sister, the one that you are secretly intimidated by because she is so cool. With wit and cutting humor, each essay in this volume explores a different aspect of the craft of writing or the act of being a writer. If for no other reason, this collection is invaluable for the essay, “Shitty First Drafts,” which urges writers to put pen to paper, regardless of perfection. This is a hard won lesson, but it is absolutely essential to the writers’ craft. If you want to learn how literature’s cool sister does this writing thing, then Lamott’s advice is definitely for you.
On Writing – Stephen King. The catalog and success of Stephen King is daunting to say the least. One of the most prolific writers of our time, this man has been doing it, and doing it well for very long time. He has built an empire based purely on his evocative imagination and his drive to produce more and more work. In his book, On Writing, King talks about his own experience as a writer, as well as delivering both philosophical and practical advice to the aspiring writer. In this edition, King also describes his life-threatening vehicular accident, and how he had to struggle back to his life’s work. With sections titled “What Writing Is,” and “Toolbox,” King’s memoir is full of the tried and true methods which this powerhouse of an author has himself used. Even if you are not a devoted fan, this book is real-world advice from a man who has made writing into a way of life.
The Faith of a Writer – Joyce Carol Oates. In The Faith of a Writer, the well-respected and award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates weighs in on what it means to be a writer. She discusses how important reading is for the aspiring writer, how the journey towards self-knowledge is essential to the work, and how great ideas are not enough if they are not paired with the craft of good writing. Perhaps one of the most poignant pieces of advice that Oates offers in this slim, but forceful piece is simply the words “Write your heart out.” Offering both insight into what inspires a writer of Oates’ caliber to what is essential to narrative craft, this piece will inspire with its elegant guidance.
Advice to Writers – Jon Winokur. Last, but certainly not least is Advice to Writers, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur. The gathered advice of more than four hundred authors delivered in small quotes, snippets, anecdotes and even short lists. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek and willfully contradictory, this often hilarious and sweepingly insightful collection touches on all aspects of living the writers’ life. While there isn’t much for concrete wisdom on the logistics of writing to be found here, what Winokur has compiled is a joyful reminder that at the end of the day, writing is about the pure pleasure of telling a story, and doing it with style.
Are you an aspiring writer or storyteller looking to have your work heard? If so, “Cold Turkey” is the event for you. Ten storytellers will have only six minutes to tell a story based on the theme of “Cold Turkey.” Eight of these people will be chosen on November 17, and two more will be chosen the night of the event. Five members from the audience will also be chosen as judges—so no matter what your style is, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
The event will be held on Friday, November 29 at Changing Hands in Phoenix. So, whether you’re looking to be one of the lucky storytellers, a judge, or just a member of the audience looking for a laugh, this event will most certainly be a good time.
Oh, and did I mention the winner gets a $30 cash prize? Just one more reason to check out this installment of Storyline Slam.