The first choice for the RoscoeBooks Book Club is…wait for it…(gulp!)…a short story collection. I know, right? Craziness! It IS a National Book Award winner — Phil Klay’s Redeployment — but yes, it’s still a short story collection.
Now let me try to talk you into the idea of short story collections in general, but Redeployment in particular. Look, I realize that short story collections aren’t exactly the first choice when you’re looking to wile away the hours with a good book. That’s true even among the most voracious readers. Believe me, until about two years ago, I avoided story collections as if they were an audiobook of a Nickolas Sparks novel set to the musical stylings of Nickelback.
But I’ve converted, and some of the best books I’ve read in the last few years are short story collections. Here are five to try:
5. Redeployment, by Phil Klay — At turns hilarious and harrowing, this collection is about men and women in the Iraq war, how they cope with the horrors of war, and how the war has affected their families. This is the type of book to read if you don’t generally like war novels. These stories are relatively short, but each feels full and engaging. They’re more about people than they are about the horrors of war, but this collection sure makes you realize quickly just how absurd war really is.
4. Get In Trouble, by Kelly Link — These are fun, inventive, off-the-wall stories that really keep you on your toes. There are nudist colonies, superheroes, butter artists, burial pyramids, life-sized ghost and werewolf boyfriend dolls (you read that right), and much more. Link’s imagination is rather impressive, and this collection is a good cure if your reading has been stuck in the mundane lately.
3. We Live In Water, by Jess Walter — If you’ve read Walter’s stunning novel Beautiful Ruins, well, I’ll be honest, this collection isn’t much like that novel. But it’s still fantastic! These short, often-only-a-few-pages pieces detail life of down-and-outers, often in Walter’s hometown of Spokane, Wash. If you’re a fan of Denis Johnson’s seminal stories, Jesus’ Son (another AMAZING collection), then this one is for you, too.
2. Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell — First things first: The story in this collection, “Reeling for the Empire” is one of my favorite short stories ever — it’s unusual story, to say the least, but rather gut-punch, too. The stories in this collection are quirky and weird, but really imaginative and fun to read.
1. Tenth of December, by George Saunders — Not just one of my favorite short story collections, but one of my favorite books of the last several years, this is the place to start if you’re looking to get in (or back in) to short story collections. Masterful, engaging, and without a single dud, this collection is fantastic from beginning to end. “Escape from Spiderland” will nearly blow your mind. So, so good.
Other great story collections to consider: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck; Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk; Jamie Quatro’s I Want To Show You More.