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15 Short Story Collections You Need to Read

15 Short Story Collections You Need to Read

While there are plenty of incredible novels we want to get around to, many of them require a commitment that’s not easy to make (looking at you, City on Fire). The short story does not. Short stories are built for subway rides and waiting rooms. And when done well, they’re like a compressed spring—compact and powerful. Need a few recommendations? These are the 15 short story collections we think every guy should read.


George Saunders

George Saunders has a way of making you laugh while he punches you in the gut. His stories, which are always insanely clever, are often funny and sad at the same time. While there are many great Saunders options (Tenth of DecemberIn Persuasion Nation), we’re going with our favorite—Pastoralia. Every story included in the collection was featured in The New Yorker, so you could get a taste by tracking one or two down, but we’d say just buy the book. Link

The Complete Stories

Flannery O’Connor

After Flannery O’Connor passed, we received the collection that wrangled up all her tremendous stories. The Complete Stories is a must-own for any fan of the short story, as it includes all of O’Connor’s tremendous works. From “The Geranium,” her first story, to the few she wrote during her battle with lupus, every story is packed in this collection. The stories, often set in the American South, are the kind that sit with you and require a pause before moving on to the next. Link

Fortune Smiles

Adam Johnson

Fortune Smiles is the recent short story collection from Adam Johnson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Orphan Master’s Son. It’s one of the most wildly original books we’ve read in recent time. “Nirvana,” the first story, imagines a future where, after the president has been assassinated, a computer wiz can bring him back to life as a hologram spitting out relevant clips of his actual voice. It’s weird, creative, and oddly plausible. Many of the other stories do the same, and they all still hit you right in the feels. The collection’s surprising win at the National Book Awards is just further proof of Johnson’s brilliance. Link

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver, one of the most celebrated short story writers of all time, gained a new audience after Michael Keaton’s character in the award-winning film Birdman attempted to put on a production of one of Carver’s works. That work, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” is the title story in this collection. While that’s reason enough to be intrigued, you should really be interested because of how influential this book has become. It has spawned a million clones, but few could ever touch Carver’s brilliance. Link


Alice Munro

Alice Munro can claim David Foster Wallace among her long list of fans. The author of Infinite Jest loved the way Munro could make it seem so effortless to craft a character, and after reading Runaway, you’ll find that’s hard to argue. Her seminal work won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, and it’s filled with tales of women looking to escape their current situations. While it might make you nervous about your lady friend’s intentions, it’s very much worth your time. Link

Jesus’ Son

Denis Johnson

The stories in Jesus’ Son feel like they should all take place in a nearly empty dive bar at three in the morning. And though they are gritty and filled with drug use, failed relationships, and assorted pains, Johnson dusts them with beauty through his clever prose. So pull up a bar stool and crack the spine. Link

Interpreter of Maladies

Jhumpa Lahiri

If Interpreter of Maladies had a mantel, it would be lined with more awards than one in the most athletic family’s home. Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories are filled with cultural complexities, ones that make people feel different, but also the human elements that make us all the same. Many of the stories deal with complicated struggles, bittersweet moments where you wouldn’t know how to feel one thing fully. But through it all, Lahiri’s simple, seemingly effortless prose shines. Link


Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories

Franz Kafka

First, we need to acknowledge that the Kafka collection from Schocken Books looks so damn good. So good, in fact, that we wouldn’t blame you for buying all of them, even though you could just buy this complete collection. For reading purposes, however, Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories is what you want. Obviously, “The Metamorphosis,” one of the most famous short stories ever, is in there, but so are over 50 of his other works. Kafka’s stories blur the lines between fantasy and reality and poke at something deep inside each of us. Link

This Is How You Lose Her

Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, delivered this gem in 2013. Filled with his his streetwise prose, This Is How You Lose Her is a collection of stories about heartbreak. But don’t think for one minute this book is all tears falling on diary pages, Díaz’s characters are the hard-working, gritty type that live in small apartments in and around Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The characters are tough—or at least act that way—and react to pain the way Ivan Drago reacts to a jab. And somehow, that makes the stories even sadder. Link


James Joyce

Prepare for a trip through the backstreets of Dublin circa 1905. The 15 stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners focus on the downtrodden Dubliners getting by in the Irish capital many years ago. While it’s prized for capturing the look and feel of the city, Dubliners also tackles universal worries and concerns that resonate with people that don’t have a pint of Guinness a block away. Link

After the Quake

Haruki Murakami

Yes, the same guy that wrote 1Q84 can also write a short story—an incredible short story. The stories in After the Quake are set after the devastating Kobe earthquake that hit Japan in 1995. As an event like that is wont to do, it made people aware of the delicacy of life. Murakami was one of these people, and he used his feelings to craft these stories. Murakami’s straight-forward, no nonsense tone seems perfectly suited for navigating the uncertainty after such an event, like a taut rope pulling you through a thick fog of feelings. Link

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

If you’ve cruised through The Sun Also RisesThe Old Man and the Sea, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and you’ve drooled all over the pages of A Moveable Feast, you still have some great Papa Hemingway brilliance to experience. It’s time to get acquainted with his tinier works, which, many will tell you, are where he really shines. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway includes classics like “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Link

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

ZZ Packer

The New York Times doesn’t throw around the word “superb” all willy-nilly. And while Jean Thompson only used it to describe the title story in ZZ Packer’s 2003 release, the entire collection in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere deserves such praise. The fleshed out, relatable characters—often black teenagers—tackle race issues, fear, and confusion in surprising ways. ZZ Packer was somewhat of a writing prodigy, and this collection is proof of that. Link

T.C. Boyle Stories

T.C. Boyle

In the pantheon of great short story writers, there’s a goateed bust of T.C. Boyle. And if you’re ready to dive in to his sharp humor, his collected stories is a perfect place to start. He writes with the kind of awareness that will make you stop and question your own life, how you’re living, and how a guy behind a keyboard could skewer you so cleanly. And you’ll love every second of it. Link

I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Rajesh Parameswaran

OK, there are a lot of incredible short story writers not on this list. A lot. And to include I Am An Executioner: Love Stories over works from Cheever, Joyce, Salinger, and others seems a bit blasphemous, but we wanted a few picks you might not have already read. Rajesh Parameswaran’s book is incredibly innovative. In “The Infamous Bengal Ming,” our favorite story in the collection, you feel sorry for a baby-killing animal. The stories are so clever and fresh that you’ll eagerly await flipping the page to a fresh one. Link

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