September’s Focus: Short Stories

This is the seventh year in a row in which I’m making a special effort to read short stories in September; otherwise, story collections tend to languish on my shelves (and Kindle) unread. In September 2020 I read 8 collections, and in September 2021 it was 12. How many can I get through this time?! Here are my options, including, at far right, some I’m partway through, a thematic trio (“Birds” titles) I fancy reviewing together, and a few from the library.

To my surprise, if I count linked short stories, I’ve already read 13 collections this year. Highlights: Dance Move by Wendy Erskine, The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, Antipodes by Holly Goddard Jones, and How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu.

The best of the lot, though, has been Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana, which I’ll be reviewing for BookBrowse over the weekend. It’s a character- and voice-driven set of eight stories about the residents of a Harlem apartment complex, many of them lovable rogues who have to hustle to try to make rent in this gentrifying area.

 

A September release I’ll quickly plug: The Best Short Stories 2022: The O. Henry Prize Winners, selected by Valeria Luiselli. I read this for Shelf Awareness and my review will be appearing in a couple of weeks. Half of the 20 stories are in translation – Luiselli insists this was coincidental – so it’s a nice taster of international short fiction. Contributing authors you will have heard of: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lorrie Moore, Samanta Schweblin and Olga Tokarczuk. The style runs the gamut from metafiction to sci-fi/horror. Covid-19, loss and parenting are frequent elements. My two favourites: Joseph O’Neill’s “Rainbows,” about sexual misconduct allegations, then and now; and the absolutely bonkers novella-length “Horse Soup” by Vladimir Sorokin, about a woman and a released prisoner who meet on a train and bond over food. (13 September, Anchor Books)

 

Here’s a short story collection I received for review but, alas, couldn’t finish: Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz. This was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and won the NB Magazine Blogger’s Book Prize. The link, I have gathered, is adolescent girls in Florida. I enjoyed the title story, which opens the collection and takes peer pressure and imitation to an extreme, but couldn’t get through more than another 1.5 after that; they left zero impression.

 

Currently reading: The Boat by Nam Le (it won the Dylan Thomas Prize; I’ve read the first story so far and it was knockout!), Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

Resuming soon: The Predatory Animal Ball by Jennifer Fliss (e-book), Hearts & Bones by Niamh Mulvey, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw – all were review copies.

 

Are you a short story fan? Read any good ones recently?

Join me in this low-key challenge if you wish!

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28 responses

  1. Rebecca, do you think short story collections are overtaking novels in popularity? Maybe, for some people, life has become so busy that it’s difficult to find the time to focus on longer stories.

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    1. What an interesting question! I know that short stories are still considered a hard sell by publishers in both the UK and the USA, although they are well respected, especially in the States with its many literary magazines. The numbers tell us that a short story collection will probably sell half the number of copies a novel does (I recently wrote an article that’s tangentially about this topic: https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/btb/index.cfm/ref/pr286144). Flash fiction is a great option for people without much time to read, while linked story collections might be a ‘gateway drug’ for fiction readers who say they don’t like stories.

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  2. I also thought Milk, Blood, Heat was very bland. From your stacks, I loved The Farenheit Twins and Fen, and Alice Munro is always worthwhile. I’m actually reading Anthony Veasna So’s collection Afterparties ATM, which is excellent.

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    1. I hope I can get to the Faber and Johnson this month. Over the years I’ve tried several times to get into Dear Life and failed, so I think I’ll pick up a different one of Munro’s collections and see how I go. Oh, I’d really like to read Afterparties! In fact, I feel like I requested the paperback from the publisher but it never arrived.

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  3. I like some short stories but have to admit I tend to reach out instinctively for novels or novellas. I certainly couldn’t dedicate a full month to it.

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    1. Me too, which is why I have to push myself a little more to read stories. For no better reason than the alliteration, I’ve done that in September for a good number of years now. Luckily, what with library loans and review copies, I’ll have plenty of other reads on the go alongside the stories.

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  4. Whenever I (rarely ) pick up a short story collection, I always wonder why I don’t do it more often. You are encouraging me to do my bit!

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    1. Yes, I often feel the same way, if I hit on a winner! I hope something will jump out to you from the library shelves.

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  5. I have a number of collections stuck in the book case too. I don’t know why I buy them really because I much prefer full length novels or novellas.

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    1. In general I would say the same for me. My Kindle, especially, is a graveyard of story collections I’ve requested from NetGalley and then never gotten to. Do you have any favourites, or an appealing one on the shelf to try?

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      1. Favourites? No I can’t say I’ve found anyone yet that I want to go back to.

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  6. I’ve been reading quite a lot of short stories too this year. You can never go wrong with Alice Munroe, she’s the master.

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    1. I’ve read some of her individual stories before but never a whole collection. I’ll see what I can do!

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  7. Very much enjoyed Stories from the Tenants Downstairs which I’ll be reviewing in January when it’s published here. Looking forward to reading The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

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    1. I hope Fofana will be in the running for the Dylan Thomas Prize. I think I worked out that he’s the same age as me and thus this would be his one and final year of eligibility!

      Church Ladies is good fun. I read the first two stories but set it aside when life got too busy. I’ll be glad to get back to it.

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  8. My favourite and maybe only this year was Homesickness by Colin Barrett. Hoping it makes the Giller long list. I just started The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, so may follow your example!

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    1. I’d really like to read The Girls’ Guide. I’ll have to find a secondhand copy one day.

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  9. I can’t imagine reading more than one short story collection in a month, ha ha! It takes me so long to read them usually, because I rarely read more than one story a day. I’ve got a Mavis Gallant collection that’s been lingering in my shelf for years. Maybe I’ll start that this month.

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    1. True, I wouldn’t read more than one story from a collection in a day, unless they were super-short. That’s why for September I keep 4-5 collections on the go at once!

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  10. I have numerous collections of short stories, Rebecca – I even made myself a meme, the Library of Brief Narratives, to highlight when I’d read and reviewed them – but I currently seem to suffer from a short attention span and so it’s been yonks since I picked up one of them.

    (Yes, I know that’s counterintuitive but often collections vary in the quality of their items and then I start to lose interest.)

    At present I’m barely halfway through a selection of only four Gogol stories and yet am trying to generate enough dynamism to return to them.

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    1. I’ve read a few of the stories in my selected Katherine Mansfield volume over the years but never sat down to the whole thing. I put a tick mark in pencil in the table of contents by the stories I’ve read — something I also do in anthologies, which I tend to spread out over a few years.

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      1. Ah yes, I’ve a Mansfield collection too – I last read a handful of her pieces in the 70s, to my chagrin. Good plan, about the ticks – I usually hate writing in books but a light pencil mark against stories read sounds a good strategy, thanks.

        I think I shall have to, er, collect my various collections together and start organising when to start tackling them!

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  11. Stories from the Tenants Downstairs looks great and I have Church Ladies coming to me from a friend who evilly posted a load of books she wants to pass on in our running chat group …

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    1. I reckon you’d really enjoy both of those. Tenants comes out in the UK in January, so keep an eye out on NetGalley.

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  12. […] of my annual project to read as many short story collections as possible in September. Here’s the first […]

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  13. […] noticed at the beginning of the month that Bookish Beck was doing a September Short Stories project, and thought I didn’t have any on hand, though was expecting one in at some point. Then I […]

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    1. Wow, well done! Thanks for joining in.

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