Friday, April 20, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Short Story Collections

Short stories can be just as powerful and effective as a novel, but they don't get as much recognition in the literary criticism world.  Even so, there are a lot of amazing short stories out there.  Some authors have even built careers on writing short fiction, such as Washington Irving ("The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"), Edgar Allan Poe (The Tell Tale Heart and Other Stories), and Guy de Maupassant ("The Necklace").  And you may remember that Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is still one of the most well-known and studied pieces of literature throughout American high schools.  Even though short stories are often treated like the novel's annoying kid sister, there are some pretty spectacular short story collections out there.  Here are a few of Hooked Bookworm's favorites:

Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz

This collection includes one of the most bizarre, quirky, and unique short stories I've ever read.  "Where We Come From" is about a pregnant woman who is desperate to cross the border and give birth to a "nice big American baby," but her plans keep getting interrupted so she holds the baby in for several years, waiting for the right time.  It's a completely insane storyline, as are some of the others in the collection, but Budnitz has a way of writing that makes everything seem somehow plausible.  Nice Big American Baby is fascinating, unconventional, and very memorable.  I read this book almost 10 years ago, and I still recommend in on a regular basis.

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

If you've ever had the pleasure of watching Me and You and Everyone We know, then you're familiar with the charming idiosyncrasies of Miranda July as an actress, director, and screenwriter.  But I would also encourage you to check out her short story collection,  No One Belongs Here More Than You, which is equally strange and charming.  Miranda July knows how to make daily trivialities and ordinary events seem immediate and important...she is simply one of the weirdest and most talented women in the world.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prolific and talented writers in America.  She is also a consistently amazing writer, and one of my all-time favorite authors.  My bias aside, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? is one of the most intense short story collections I've ever read, and the title story has accrued quite a reputation over the years.  Oates dedicated the story to Bob Dylan, it was later adapted into a film entitled Smooth Talk, and has even inspired songs by the musical group The Blood Brothers.  This collection is lengthy and might take you a while to absorb, but I really recommend at least reading the title story...and then read every other Joyce Carol Oates publication you can find. Please.

When the Nines Roll Over by David Benioff

If you're up for something completely devastating and soul crushing, then I would recommend David Benioff's collection, When the Nines Roll Over.  It may not sound like I'm endorsing it, but this collection is beautiful, puzzling, and imaginative - in spite of its tendency to induce sobbing.  Benioff brings up some strange and horrifying moral dilemmas that you would never want to encounter, but you may want to read about.  David Benioff is also the author of the critically acclaimed novel, The 25th Hour, which was later adapted into film by Spike Lee.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

If you read my southern lit rant last year, then you know I'm a fan of Flannery O'Connor and southern literature.  This is a pretty well known collection, but there's a reason why A Good Man is Hard to Find is still around after nearly 60 years.  Ms. O'Connor was brave enough to breach uncomfortable and controversial topics at a time when being a southern lady meant feminine delicacy and quiet civility.  The characters and settings in this collection are almost exclusively southern, but O'Connor struck a national nerve with topics such as racial tension, religion, unwanted pregnancies, violence, and death.  Still regarded as one of the primary examples of southern gothic literature,  A Good Man is Hard to Find has earned its place on the American bookshelf.

There are so many more great short story collections out there, but these are just a few of my favorites.  Which collections would be on your list?