distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Collecting Short Stories

I have two pitches to complete in order to answer two separate, and exciting, invitations. I have other projects awaiting my attention. A novel brewing. An old novel wondering after its fate. Yet… I keep getting pulled back to my short story collection. I tell myself it’s so totally impractical and can’t I do something more, um, worthwhile with my time? But then again, some encouragement this past week has given me renewed drive to move forward with the stories. I’ll be sending out submissions to literary journals probably this weekend. I like to send in threes, dunno why, just humor me, so I’m waiting to complete the revision on the third story before making the exhilarating voyage to the post office. (I am not being sarcastic. I really like going to the post office with a stack of stories, weighing and stamping them up, and then setting them out into the world through the first-class mail slot. I am so old-school that way.)

It’s just that I love short stories so much. On their own. In collections. In journals. Anywhere.

And did you see this post on Koreanish? Maybe a story collection doesn’t have to be a totally lost cause. (Of course that depends on who’s written it.)

To be honest, I don’t understand why more people wouldn’t read story collections. They’re perfect for this endlessly distracting existence we’re in—I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but I know I’m in an endlessly distracting existence. A short story collection feels to me like a good CD. I don’t want to hear just one long, extended song—I want many songs, one for this mood, one for that mood, one that’s slow, one that’s fast, some that feel connected, some that don’t. But I do want the voice to be similar, which is exactly the way I like my short story collections. I love how flexible a collection can be, how you can experience it in whatever way you want to. You could read one story on its own, read them all in order in one pass, or shuffle them up and read them as you please. It’s a way to see many different facets of one writer; it’s the way to get me hooked.

Off the top of my head, here are some collections I admire (with links to author interviews!):

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Break It Down by Lydia Davis
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
Drown by Junot Diaz
Fresh Girls and Other Stories by Evelyn Lau
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
Girls in the Grass by Melanie Rae Thon
Honeymoon by Kevin Canty
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
Hunger by Lan Samantha Chang
In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd by Ana Menendez
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
The Knife Thrower by Steven Milhauser
Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto
Lust and Other Stories by Susan Minot
My Life in Heavy Metal by Steve Almond
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon
Runaway by Alice Munro
Servants of the Map by Andrea Barrett
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Use Me by Elissa Schappell

Huh, that turned out to be a lot.

Psst. Hey, you. What are some short story collections you like?

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11 responses to “Collecting Short Stories”

  1. The Shirley Jackson collection I mentioned in the other post, The Lottery and Other Stories, is wonderful. There is a thread of a tale about one man throughout the book, which makes it sort of spooky and like reading a secret.

    Another great collection of her work is Just An Ordinary Day.

    I love F. Paul Wilson’s The Barrens. Will likes his novels and I tried to read one but couldn’t get into it. His short stories, though, are absolute gold.

    I feel like I’ve made this list before. Have I made this list before?

    I know I don’t have enough short story collections. I’ll have to visit the library soon for some off your list.

  2. I love The Bloody Chamber- you know that was kind of Annika & my first wedding present? The 1st time we got hitched, at Antioch, Louise from the theater department gave it to us. I also really love Harlan Ellison’s “Strange Wine” collection.

    and I have a soft spot for Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood. Some of the stories are just heavy-handed dross, but a few of them (In The Hills, The Cities) are jaw-droppingly exciting.

  3. I just read “Sexy” by Jhumpa Lahiri. It blew me away and I read it three times, poring over my favorite lines. I agree with you about short story collections. It’s like ordering the sampler platter.

  4. Nova- Love this post! I could’ve read all the links all morning long. I actually ended up ordering Dawn Powell’s diaries that Elissa Schappel mentions in her interview. Your list reiterated some of my favorites and introduced some I’m anxious to check out. Other collections I love: “At the Jim Bridger” by Ron Carlson; “Fitting Ends” by Dan Chaon; “Who Do You Love” by Jean Thompson; “Where Love Leaves Us” by Reneé Manfredi; “We’re in Trouble” by Christopher Coake; “Survival Rates” by Mary Clyde; “Back in the World” by Tobias Wolff; “House of Thieves” by Kaui Hart Hemmings; “Some Fun” by Antonya Nelson

  5. Thanks for linking over to my post. I was a little giddy when I wrote that but I was really amazed by Nami’s news. As it was, it was on the heels of Paul Yoon also selling his collection to Sarabande, so there were two collections sold inside of two weeks by two of my favorite new writers. I think you’ve got plenty of reason to follow your intuitions on this.

    To understand how they did it, what they have in common is that both writers prepared for this by publishing as many of the stories as possible in journals in advance, which won them admirers among editors well before the collections came to be sold. Nami was in last year’s Pushcart with a story from Witness, and Paul was in Best American with a story from One Story. Nami spent the summer on residencies at MacDowell, Norton’s Island and Yaddo finishing up before she went to market, but she worked on her collection for over 7 years.

    Many of my faves are above. I would toss in Black Tickets, by Jayne Anne Phillips, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyun Li, and Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. Also, if you’re really a story and style fetishist, Guy Davenport’s Twelve Stories–the sentences are amazing.

  6. So many books to read! Now I just have to pay my overdue fines at the library (I forgot to return a book on time AGAIN… I wonder when they’ll ban me).

    koreanish: Thank you. I love learning how these things come to be, the advice is so helpful. I’m going to keep working at it. And I will be looking out for the upcoming collections by Nami Mun and Paul Yoon, for sure.

  7. I’m currently reading Coronado – Dennis LeHane’s collection. To be honest I’m not much of a short story reader (don’t hate me!) but I’m enjoying this collection quite a bit…

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