This month is all about celebrating those little treasures we knows as short stories. I thought this week would be a great opportunity to revisit some of my favorite short story collections from the past few years. These stories cover several genres, from the realistic to the fantastic. First, I thought it might be a good idea to explore the differences between a short story “collection” vs. “cycle.” Did you know they are different? Allow me to elaborate.
Short Story Collections
A short story collection consists of several stories brought together into one book. Although there may be a common theme throughout the book, each story typically stands alone and is unrelated to any of the others. Collections are either written by the same author or several different ones. Organization can vary in regards to where certain stories are placed in the book. Sometimes it’s chronological, while other times it may be laid out by theme. Many times, the order of the stories is chosen in order to create a certain flow. For example, some publishers put the strongest works in the beginning, middle, and end with lesser known works placed in between. In many ways, a short story collection is like an album with many hit singles. You don’t have to read all of them in a book, you can always pick and choose your favorite ones.
Short Story Cycles
Unlike a collection, a short story cycle is meant to be read together as all the stories share aspects such as characters or set in the same world. This isn’t to say that the individual stories can’t be read separately. However, some things are just better together. As you can see, the differences between collections and cycles are subtle but they are definitely present.
As promised, here are some of my favorite examples. Click on the title to read more about each one:
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (collection)
If you love science fiction with heavy doses of philosophy, this is the short story collection for you. It was difficult to choose one or two favorites as all the stories are stellar, but I will mention “Hell is the Absence of God” and “Story of Your Life.”
- Tenth of December by George Saunders (collection)
Saunders is a gifted writer who crafts fantastic stories that focus on the moral dilemmas of living in modern America. This collection is brilliant and will definitely ignite lots of feelings. Notable selections include “Victory Lap” and “Escape from Spiderhead.”
- Dreams Underfoot by Charles De Lint (cycle)
If you want to read high quality urban fantasy, look no further than Charles De Lint. His stories set in Newford are beautifully written and will leave you believing in magic again. This book serves as a great introduction and will leave you wanting more. I refuse to pick any favorites. Read all of it!
- The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (collection)
There are three types of writers: good, great, and Murakami. Nobody writes like him, as he has one of the most unique voices in fiction. This collection of tales features all manner of bizarre circumstances, from deadly curses to strange creatures. Both “The Second Bakery Attack” and “Sleep” are great, but you should really take time to read the incredibly short but poignant “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.” Seriously, it will only take five minutes, and it’s heartbreaking but real.
- The October Country by Ray Bradbury (collection)
You can never go wrong with Bradbury as his stories never fail to move me. He was such an important part of my childhood, and his works are etched within my very soul (I’m so poetic). The October Country is a fun read and features my all-time favorite short story “Homecoming.”
- What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler (collection)
I was familiar with Fowler from her phenomenal novel The Jane Austen Book Club. However, this little collection truly showcases Fowler’s storytelling range as many of the selections defy falling into one specific genre. The ease with which she merges the real with the fantastic has instantly propelled her up on my list of favorite authors. The title short story “What I Didn’t See” is the perfect title for the overarching theme of this book as it deals with those viewpoints and details that we might miss at first glance. If nothing else, read the opening story “The Pelican Bar” as it is excellent.
- Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (cycle)
David Mitchell’s first book is quite good as a precursor to his superior Cloud Atlas. Each chapter focuses on one character in a different part of the world, which all connects together in a shocking conclusion. Writing in several different voices is a challenge for any author, but Mitchell makes it look so simple.
- Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood (cycle and collection)
This was my first Atwood. The first three stories form a cycle centering around a decades-long love triangle. The remaining ones are stand-alone affairs. Both “Torching the Dusties” and “Stone Mattress” are fantastic. Atwood is a master at blending genres, with many of the stories having a fantasy or science fiction feel.
What are some of your favorite short stories? Sound off with a comment below!