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: 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.
Sometimes, we all just need a good cry—and what better way to achieve that than reading a book that gives your heartstrings a nice tug? Although I know exactly how each of these books end, I still go through a box of tissues each time I read them. They’re just that good. So, grab some chocolate, get cozy, and get ready to shed some tears.
The Best of Me – Nicholas Sparks. Let’s be real, any Nicholas Sparks novel would fit well into this category, but, The Best of Me is my go-to. It follows the story of previous high school sweethearts, Dawson and Amanda, who haven’t seen each other in 20 years since they split. Luckily for us, we find them as they reunite for the first time. The story bounces between the present and past as we learn about their very different family dynamics and, ultimately, why they broke up in the first place. The end comes with a surprising ‘Sparks Style’ twist—one that left me sobbing the first time I read it. This is the perfect read for any fans of star crossed lovers, and I can promise it delivers in the tear department. (Fun fact: they added an alternate ending in the movie version because it’s that heart wrenching).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky. This book holds a special place in my heart, probably because it’s one of the first books I ever truly cried over. The story begins as the main character, Charlie, enters his freshman year of high school. Following the death of his best (and only) friend, Charlie is lost and not sure what to expect. While suffering from this trauma, he is also still coming to terms with the death of his aunt who passed on his 7th birthday. Shy and insecure, he is befriended by step-siblings Patrick and Sam, who begin to help him open up to the world. We read his story through letters that he writes to a “friend”; though we never learn the name of this friend, and they never write back. This format gives us an intimate connection with Charlie as we are taken on a wild journey through the ups and downs that come with growing up. Skillfully crafted, this story never fails to leave me with me tears running down my face. 10/10 would recommend.
A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. This one is for all my dog lovers out there. It’s a heart-warming story about a golden retriever named Bailey and his owner Ethan, who grows up with Bailey by his side. We follow the story through Bailey’s point of view as he is reincarnated multiple times, each time as a different breed. The unique perspective lets us live all of his experiences as he ends up in various homes throughout the book. Heartfelt ending aside, this book had me sobbing the entire time. I’m the type of person who cries whenever a dog dies in books, movies, real life, all of it. Apparently, I wasn’t consciously aware that in order for the pup to be reincarnated, he had to die each time first. So yes, I cried about 15 times reading this book, but, it was totally worth it. This story reminds us that even though our dogs are just a short part of our life, we’re their entire life. A Dog’s Purpose is great for when you want something lighter, but still tear-worthy.
The Sea of Tranquility – Katja Millay. Naturally, I had to include at least one book without a movie adaptation. I didn’t know much about this book when I first picked it up, but, a friend told me it was a must read—and, boy, was she right. The story follows Nastya Kashnikov, a former piano protégée, as she starts school in a new town. We don’t know much about her in the beginning except that she had been in a horrific accident and has decided to isolate herself from the rest of the world. She hasn’t touched a piano since the accident and she speaks to no one. That is, no one except for Josh Bennett, who has his own tragic past. Their story is full of raw, human emotion that is truly difficult to come by in this medium. This book wrecked me in the best and most unexpected way. It is definitely a must read for anyone looking for a solid cry session.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green. No tear-rendering book list would be complete without this masterpiece. 16-year-old Hazel Lancaster was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 13 and since then, it has spread to her lungs. The experimental trial she is on keeps her alive for the time being, but, (as she so kindly reminds us) she is dying, a fact that she is more or less okay with. She meets Augustus Waters (Gus) in support group and despite her attempts to fight it, finds herself falling in love with him. This beautifully written novel follows their love story, and, no matter how many times I read it, I am a sniffling mess at the end. Towards the end of the story, Hazel says that she can’t talk about their love story without turning into a puddle of tears. Well Hazel, neither can I. If you have yet to read this book, I suggest you go out and get it right now. Yes, it’s that good.
Summer is a time for rest, relaxation, fun, and (of course) copious amounts of reading. This summer, I set a goal to read one novel or short story collection a week. So far, I’ve read wonderful books from authors ranging from Ocean Vuong to Zora Neale Hurston. And while I’ve enjoyed every work, these are some of my favorites.
Bloodchild – Octavia E. Butler. Though it was up against some stiff competition, I think this collection is the standout of my summer reading. Each story is a world in itself where the characters and the stakes come alive. Be warned, each of these tales are bound to make your skin crawl (but in the best way possible). One of the highlights of this collection is “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” in which a woman is battling a genetic disorder that leads to self-harm and mutilation. Another highlight is “Amnesty,” which explores a plant-like alien race coming to Earth and becoming the dominant species.
Speak No Evil – Iweala Uzodinma. This story about Niru, the son of Nigerian immigrants, and his white best friend, Meredith, will leave you thinking long after you read the last page. After Niru comes out to Meredith, she urges him to embrace who he is. In turn, they both must suffer the consequences of Niru embracing his sexuality, and a great strain is placed upon their relationship. Speak No Evil takes an outside perspective of the American dream, weighs cultural notions of sexuality, and confronts the challenge of having brown skin in America.
Difficult Women – Roxane Gay. This is a dynamic collection of honest stories that explore the lives of women in modern America. Their stories range from sisters who suffered through the same trauma to a woman who is cursed with making the ceiling leak. These tales are imaginative, powerful, and at times frustrating. One of my favorite stories from the collection is the titular piece, “Difficult Women,” which explores the archetypes of loose women, frigid women, crazy women, and mothers. Another of my favorites is, “North Country,” in which a woman tries to escape the coldness of her relationship, but discovers a new type of cold in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. I read this book in high school, and for reasons (that I can no longer relate to) I did not enjoy it. This summer, I decided to give it another try, and I am glad that I did. In this futuristic dystopian novel, freedom and knowledge are regulated. At the center of the novel is Bernard, who questions the highly regulated and “civilized” lifestyle of the times because he does not feel as if he fits in. This novel delves into the cost of both individuality and authenticity and puts them to test against the collective well-being of society.
Watchmen – Alan Moore and David Gibbons. I am new to graphic novels, with my introduction being Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home earlier this year. While researching the genre, Watchmen came up over and over again as a great read, and it proved itself to be just that. It follows a group of washed up superheros in an alternate world where Richard Nixon was never impeached and the world is on the brink of nuclear holocaust. The story concludes with a great moral question that will leave the reader contemplating long after you have put the book down.
Whether the recent book-to-film movie release got you to pick up Where’d You Go, Bernadette for the first time or reminded you how much you love this book, we’ve got you covered with a list of book recommendations sure to please fans of the book…and movie!
Mr. Penumbra’s 24–Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan. The Great Recession drives web-designer Clay Jannon to leave his San Francisco work and take up a new job amidst the book stacks at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The only problem: the book customers are rare and seem to only check out unusually obscure volumes from the dark corners of the store. Curious about this strange behavior, Clay sets out to investigate the clientele to uncover secrets about Mr. Penumbra’s book collection.
Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty. In this witty and hilarious novel, readers will follow the three Kettle sisters: Lyn, Cat, and Gemma. Each sister is a unique character, and—together—they bring laughter, drama and mayhem. Lyn has a (seemingly) organized life marked by checklists, work life, marriage, and expertise in motherhood. Meanwhile, Cat confronts shocking secrets in her marriage. And Gemma flees whenever her relationships hit that victorious six-month anniversary. They must work together to deal with the ups and downs of life; including their technologically savvy grandma, champagne hangovers, and parent drama.
The Rosie Project – Greame Simsion. Brilliant but socially awkward Don Tillman has decided it’s time to search for a wife. So, as a profound believer in evidence-based decision making, this professor of genetics creates an orderly, sixteen-page, scientifically-supported love survey to filter out bad marriage candidates. When he meets Rosie, Don decides she cannot possibly be a good match, but he agrees to help her track down her biological father instead. In the quest to find her father, Don realizes that, despite his rational analysis, love is surprising, making him wonder if he should change his mind about Rosie and his love survey.
On Turpentine Lane – Elinor Lipman. Meet Faith Frankel: at 32 years, she purchases a charming bungalow in her old suburban hometown and believes her life is finally on track. But, at the same time, she notices her fiancé is too busy to answer her texts as he posts photos of himself with other women on a crowdfunded cross-country walk. There’s also the issue with her dimwitted boss. And, oh yeah, returning to her hometown means she lives minutes away from her hovering mother and philandering father who is convinced he’s Chagall. As she settles into her new home, she questions her life choices as she grows closer and closer to officemate Nick Franconi.
Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple. Don’t worry; we couldn’t forget Maria Semple’s newest book, Today Will Be Different. A hilarious book about reinvention, sisterhood, and identity, this book follows Eleanor, a woman on a mission to become less of a mess. Today will be different. She will tackle problems, get a shower, do yoga, drop her son Timby off at school, and work on her marriage. But life throws her a few curveballs along the way, as life tends to do. Now, she must also deal with a son playing hooky, a husband who might be keeping one too many secrets, and a mystery lunch date with a former colleague.
And, of course, if you liked the book, Where’d you go, Bernadette, consider heading to your nearest theater and giving the movie a shot!
Are you stuck indoors avoiding the summer heat? Praying that your air conditioning survives the next couple of months? If you’re like us in the Valley of the Sun, you are ready to escape the desert sun trapping you inside the house. Join us as we let our imaginations carry us far from the Sonoran Desert, over wavy ocean waters, and into some mysterious and fantastical islands with excitement and danger lurking around every corner.
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie. Back in the late 1930s, a mysterious writer lures eight strangers to his island by sending personal letters making tempting offers like a job interview or a summer vacation. When the guests arrive, a butler and housekeeper explain that their hosts, married couple Mr. and Mrs. Owens, have left a set of instructions for each stranger to complete before their arrival. The next morning, the guests begin to disappear one at a time—and the murder accusations begin flying.
The Magus – John Fowles. Bored by his teaching position in England, young Oxford graduate Nicholas Urfe decides to teach on a remote Greek island. Here, he meets local millionaire Maurice Conchis. What first looks like a promising friendship quickly devolves into a dangerous game that leaves Nicholas questioning the difference between reality and deception.
Snake Ropes – Jess Richards. On an island off the coast of Scotland, a mysterious building stands called Thrashing House. The novel is narrated by two girls, Mary and Morgan, who both come from broken families. After the young boys on the island start to disappear unexpectedly, Mary and Morgan must track down a lost three-year-old son with the help of magic. At the heart of the story, the girls confront trauma and healing in a fantastical manner.
Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane. Shutter Island is home to the secluded Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. When one of the high-security patients, murderess Rachel Solando, escapes from her cell, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, are called in to crack a code and solve the mystery of the missing patient. This psychological thriller is sure to keep you at the edge of your seat, but be careful—not everything is as it seems.
From the Mouth of the Whale – Sjón. It’s 1635 and Icelandic Jónas Pálmason has been banished to an island for blasphemy. Stuck in exile, Jónas recalls an exorcism, local massacre of innocent whalers, and mythical marvels—like bezoar, a magical stone with healing powers. This lyrical text blends science and magic to form a strange sort of beauty.
The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells. Once cast aside for its terrifying depiction of scientific possibilities, this 1896 science fiction novel has since inspired several movies and is now a successful classic English novel. Between the shipwreck, abandonment, humanoid creatures, and jungle chase, this creepy novel is sure to feed your need for adventure and the grotesque.
The People in the Trees – Hanya Yanagihara. Anthropologist Paul Tallent and doctor Norton Perina travel to a remote Micronesian island to find “The Dreamers,” a tribe of islanders who enjoy mysteriously longer lives than those in the outside world. Perina believes their power stems from a rare turtle living on the tribe’s land, and, tempted by the promise of longevity, steals a turtle for research. When he proves the turtle’s magical properties to the scientific community, Perina believes he has finally found success. But he quickly learns otherwise.
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton. Scientists have discovered a method for cloning dinosaur DNA. This gives billionaire John Hammond the perfect opportunity to open Jurassic Park, an island dinosaur amusement park. When paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist student Ellie Sattler are invited to a weekend visit to the island, they are met with a technological difficulty and biological nightmare. After you’re done reading the book, you can blast the A.C. while you stream the famous blockbuster film!
Get ready Eat, Pray, Love fans: Changing Hands bookstore is hosting an author event with Elizabeth Gilbert, the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and her most recent release, City of Girls.
Gilbert’s latest novel, City of Girls, is a fictional love story set in New York City. In the book, 89-year-old Vivian Morris recounts her experience dropping out of Vassar College and moving to live with her Aunt Peg who owned a crumbling theater house in Manhattan. It’s here that Vivian met a very outgoing stage crew that helped shape the course of her life.