As part of our Best Books of 2014 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
There’s a playful bite to the eight short stories that make up Lorrie Moore’s new collection: They address the banality and bitterness of romance with subversive, mordant humor. In these tales of marriage and divorce, comedy is the coping mechanism for the disappointments of being in (and out) of love. It’s like laughing with a mouthful of food—the reality isn’t pretty, but we’re laughing anyway.
Fans of the best-selling and highly-lauded author Neil Gaiman have two projects to be excited about in the coming months!
First up on the coming-soon calendar: Gaiman's simultaneously creepy and poignant coming of age middle-grade novel The Graveyard Book, the only book to ever win both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals, is being released as a full-cast audiobook! Featuring some of the U.K.'s most talented actors from stage and screen—including BBC's "Sherlock" star Andrew Scott—music by Béla Fleck and a special essay read by Gaiman himself, this is sure to please audiobook lovers.
Listen to an excerpt from the recording here, and find it in stores September 30 from HarperCollins.
A little further on the horizon is a new collection of short stories and verse, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Discoveries. Along with a number of previously published pieces, a press release from Morrow promises "a 'Dr. Who' story written for the 50th anniversary of the series in 2013 . . . and a brand-new story exclusive to this anthology." Trigger Warning is slated to hit shelves in February 2015.
What do you say, readers? Excited to get your hands on these upcoming releases?
Short stories make for perfect reading in the summer. Since each one is a self-contained dose of literature, you barely even need a bookmark—plus, there's no worrying about whether you'll remember what you read on the flight over when you reopen the book on the way back. If you're looking for a bite-sized dose of summer reading, explore our guide to 2014's spring and summer collections.
Readers looking for a voice from a very different world should pick up Hassan Blasim's The Corpse Exhibition (Penguin). Compared to Roberto Bolaño and Borges, this Arabic author sets the stories in his debut collection during the Iraq War—and they're told from the Iraqi perspective. If you want a collection that will test your beliefs and haunt your dreams, this might be your pick.
Another collection that features a distinctive cross-cultural voice is Snow in May (Holt), the first book from author Kseniya Melnik. Melnik was born in Russia and emigrated to Alaska as a teen, and the stories featured here are connected through her hometown of Madagan, a port city in the Far East of Russia that was a stopover on the way to Stalin's gulags. Spanning the later half of the 20th century and geographical locations from Madagan to Fargo, these stories plumb the weight of history and the struggle to reconcile where you come from with where you are now.
Those interested in coming-of-age stories and tricky relationship dynamics will enjoy the linked stories in Polly Dugan's debut collection, So Much a Part of You (Little, Brown). Featuring characters that reappear across decades, the book explores the way that relationships—romantic and otherwise—change over time. When Anne inadvertently dates her best friend's high school boyfriend, the same mistake destroys both relationships. A student's one-night stand changes her college life. And a deathbed revelation spurs forgiveness. Utterly real and insightful.
Inappropriate Behavior by Murray Farish (Milkweed Editions) is a much wider-randing collection, spanning decades and countries in stories linked only by the strange twists each one takes. The delusional narrator of one story is addicted to making lists, stalking a girl called Allison and writing love songs to Jodie Foster. In the title story, parents struggle with the dual burdens of unemployment and a child with behavior issues. Occasionally experimental, always imaginative.
Another edgy collection comes from Scottish author James Kelman, whose novel How Late It Was, How Late won the Booker Prize in 1994. The stories in If it Is Your Life (Other Press) are mostly written with the stream-of-consciousness style and dark humor that Kelman is known for, and they're a bit more outré than his novels. But readers who like to read about lives lived on the edge will be excited for this new collection.
Take a nostalgic trip back to your childhood (at least, if you're a child of the late 80s like me!) with a newly published collection of Lois Duncan's short stories, Written in the Stars (Lizzie Skurnick Books). The author of teen classics like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Duncan has collected 13 tales from her very early career—including a story she published when she was only 13 years old—and includes a brief contemporary commentary on each one. As you might expect of stories that originally appeared in places like Seventeen or American Girl, these are mostly focused on the concerns of youth, but the glimpse they provide into the shaping of a young writer are fascinating.
Another familiar name with a new collection is David Guterson. The author of Snow Falling on Cedars returns with the playfully titled Problems with People (Knopf), which branches out from the author's typical Pacific Northwest territory to encompass most of the U.S. as well as Nepal and Africa. Though diverse in locale, these 10 tales are united by Guterson's strong storytelling voice and will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of his fans.
And we'll end with another collection from a beloved voice: Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck (Dial). Though most of these nine stories have been previously published in some of the best short fiction venues—Granta, The New Yorker—taken together, they demonstrate McCracken's remarkable range as well as her ability to truly understand the her characters and her quirky sense of humor (the title story opens with a 12-year-old girl being brought home by the police from a nitrous oxide party).
Kaui Hart Hemmings follows up her best-selling debut novel The Descendants—which was made into an award-winning movie starring George Clooney—with The Possibilities, a moving story of a mother struggling to come to terms with the accidental death of her 22-year-old son. Our reviewer says of the book: "While [it] is a book ostensibly about death, it is at its core really about life—in all its messy, funny, hurtful, confusing and transcendent moments." (Read our complete review and a Q&A with Hemmings about the book.)
We were curious about the books Hemmings has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Bread and Butter
By Michelle Wildgen
I’ve been a fan of Michelle’s work ever since our first workshop at Sarah Lawrence. This novel was rich, page-turning and simple, in the best way. Two brothers, two restaurants, one small town. The characters seriously sizzled with life—they were so utterly real, and the writing—the writing!—sings. Michelle is a master storyteller.
Another book about brothers that was captivating and fluid. This time the brothers are attorneys who return home to help their sister and her son who has been accused of hate crime. It’s an intimate book—clear-eyed, gripping and beautifully written.
The Stories of John Cheever
By John Cheever
I may as well stay the course. “Goodbye My Brother” is one of my favorite short stories of all time. A simple premise: The Pommeroy family—three sons and one daughter—meet at their summer place on the shore. One brother is so pessimistic and aggravating that he provokes his brother to hit him on the head. Small, profound and lyrical. Transcendent and enduring. It is, to me, a perfect story.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Possibilities—or any of Hemmings' recommended books—to your TBR list?
We're highlighting a new batch of the most humorous, unsettling and vibrant short story collections this April, and one of our favorite stars from NBC's "The Office" may surprise you with the strength of his literary muscle.
B.J. Novak is most often recognized for his role as Ryan, the Dundler Mifflin temp, but his first collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, is anything but a vanity project. Novak’s Harvard degree in English and Spanish literature combined with his sharp, absurdist style of humor are more than enough to convince us that he’s the real deal.
With 64 pieces that dip into everything from pop culture and celebrity to Mark Twain’s word choices in Huckleberry Finn, Novak delivers a fresh and emotionally astute literary debut.
The hilarious trailer stars Novak himself as he desperately tries to get his chic yet snobby Parisian crush (a fellow "Office" alum) to notice him.
What do you think, readers? Are you planning to read Novak's first collection? Is he giving Gary Shteyngart some competition for most entertaining book trailer?
Author Tony Earley's 2000 debut novel, Jim the Boy, was a national bestseller, but he is also known for his short stories, which serve up satisfying slices of life. On August 26, he'll release his third short story collection—and his first in 20 years—Mr. Tall (Little, Brown).
The seven tales—one of which is novella length—have varied Southern settings, from the Outer Banks to contemporary Nashville (Earley is an English professor at Vanderbilt University).
From the publisher:
Earley indelibly maps previously undiscovered territories of the human heart in these melancholy, comic, and occasionally strange stories. Along the way he leads us on a journey from contemporary Nashville to a fantastical land of talking dogs and flying trees, teaching us at every step that, even in the most familiar locales, the ordinary is never just that.
Will you read it?
We're still putting the final touches on our 2014 preview, but couldn't wait to share this news: Hilary Mantel is publishing a short story collection in September. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is the double-Booker winner's second short story collection and her first in 10 years—and it certainly has a killer title (ha).
If you need convincing that Mantel is as able a short-story writer as she is a novelist, there are a few samples of her short fiction online:
"Curved Is the Line of Beauty" (Times Literary Supplement, 2002)
"The Heart Fails Without Warning" (The Guardian, 2009)
"Comma" (The Guardian, 2010)
"Winter Break" (welovethisbook.com, 2012)
"The Long QT" (The Guardian, 2012)
I can't wait to get my hands on this book. Will you read it?
p.s. More about Mantel on our site. And did you know she was named one of Time's most influential people last year?
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Within these brilliant, often bizarre short stories, 20-something blue-collar boys seek escape from their stagnant lives by turning to an unnamed foreign war. Never political but rather introspective and familiar, Sayrafiezadeh’s fiction debut is truly a collection, as these eight stories capture the voice of a generation of young men and build a portrait of a nation where war colors every thought and action.
Read our review.
Watch for our full list next week! In the meantime, read more Best Books of 2013 coverage on the blog.
If I'd Known You Were Coming by Kate Milliken
University of Iowa Press • $17 • ISBN 9781609382018
Published October 2013
The 12 carefully observed stories in Kate Milliken's debut collection introduce a fearless voice in fiction. Ranging in setting from California to Maine, from the 1970s to today, the stories feature everyday people, yet somehow manage to unsettle with their exploration of loneliness, dark motivations and desires.
Tim pulled off at the hookout, as usual. Josie opened the glove box to find the bottle of Jim Beam he stashed in whichever car he took. She uncapped it and slipped her shoes off and cranked the seat low enough that all she could see were the two or three stars visible behind the screen of smog. Josie had wanted to leave L.A. so badly, get as far as she could, filling out only out-of-state applications, but here she was all over, again. The whiskey warmed her: down her throat, inside her chest, moving through her until the whisper of its heat rested between her legs. She put her feet up on the dash and tapped her toes to the glass, pinning the stars.
Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta
St. Martin's • $25.99 • ISBN 9781250034700
published September 10, 2013
Best book jacket of the year? Maybe.
With his razor wit and uncanny ability to capture the lives of everyday Americans, it's almost unbelievable that Nine Inches is Tom Perrotta's first true collection of short stories (Bad Haircut was technically linked stories). The characters in these 10 stories—and all their many terrible decisions—link together in their own way: Everyone's doing everything wrong, but they're not bad people. Because of these characters' collective foibles, I'd recommend reading each story individually rather than all in one sitting, as the stories here stand stronger on their own than as part of a group.
Read on for an excerpt from "Backrub":
I didn't realize I had a problem until my next run-in with Lt. Finnegan. This time I wasn't speeding and hadn't violated any traffic laws. I was just minding my business, heading back to Sustainable around nine-thirty on a Wednesday night, when an unmarked Crown Victoria popped up in my rearview mirror, that familiar white-haired douchebag at the wheel. There were no flashing lights, but he tailgated me for a couple of blocks before finally hitting the siren, a quick bloop-bloop to get my attention.
We were right by Edmunds Elementary School, the quiet stretch of Warren Road that runs alongside the playing fields. I pulled over, his car still glued to my bumper, and cut the engine. It felt like a bad dream, the same cop stopping me for the third time in less than two weeks.
I was fishing around in the glove box for the registration when he startled me by tapping on the passenger window—he usually approached from the other side—and yanking the door open. Before I could react, he had ducked inside my car and shut the door behind him.
The Prius was pretty roomy, but Lt. Finnegan seemed to fill all the available space. He reached down, groping for the adjuster bar, then grunted with relief as the seat slid back.
"That's better." He rotated his bulk in my direction. He was wearing civilian clothes, khakis and a sport coat, but he still looked like a cop. "How are you, Donald?"
"Did I do something wrong?"
"I don't think so," he said. "Not that I know of."
"Then why did you pull me over?"
"I didn't pull you over."
"Yes, you did. You hit the siren."
"Oh, that." He chuckled at the misunderstanding. "I just wanted to say hi. Haven't seen you for a couple of days."
Do you like Tom Perrotta's novels? Think you'll check out his short fiction?