As you may know, back in April I decided to read a short story every day. While I may not have read a story every single day (see: parenting), I’ve read over 200 stories, and I don’t intend on stopping any time soon.
It was hard to narrow down my favorites. I kept a handy spreadsheet of everything I’ve read (because spreadsheets are bloody brilliant), and after a while I even started including plot prompts to remind myself which story is which, because my brain is terrible (again, see: parenting).
Some authors that aren’t included here but I have very much enjoyed are Sarah Hall, Harlan Ellison, John Langan, Camilla Grudova, Yoko Ogawa, Chesya Burke, Carmen Maria Machado, to name but a few. I also enjoyed revisiting favorites such as Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, Richard Matheson, Roald Dahl, Dorothy Parker…
But let’s get to the good stuff. Without further ado, here are my highlights from my reading adventures this year. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but there are some references to plot.
Logging Lake – Anjali Sachdeva (from All The Names They Used for God, Spiegel & Grau, 2018)
I’m still working my way through this magical collection, and I’m savoring every page. A lot of this story involves our protagonist, Robert, reflecting on a failed long-term relationship, and how fresh and exciting his new partner, Terri, is. When Terri invites Robert on a hiking trip, he grabs the opportunity to pull himself out of his comfort zone. However, it very quickly becomes apparent that Terri is completely winging this entire trip, and the lack of planning puts both their lives in danger.
It was hard to pick my favorite Sachdeva story. To be honest, I picked this one as it was the easiest to summarize without giving too much away. Glass-Lung is a epic saga squeezed into a novella; The World by Night is one of the most beautiful and haunting stories I’ve ever read, with so many strong visuals. Superb.
A Good Man is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor (from The Complete Stories, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Yes, I know, I should have read this one before 2018. You can read this one online, and it will only take you about twenty minutes. This story unravels so perfectly that I don’t want to give away anything that will ruin your enjoyment of discovering this gripping story for this first time.
I read three O’Connor stories in total this year, and have a whacking great volume to work my way through. Her reputation is completely well-earned. A master of the form.
Brownies – ZZ Packer (from Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, Riverhead Books, 2004)
I listen to a number of literary podcasts, but my favorite is Backlisted. If you’re not familiar with it, and you’re into long conversations about niche books, I highly recommend it. They also have articulate and insightful guests. Also, as an added bonus, it’s incredibly entertaining.
Anyway, this was the podcast that introduced me to ZZ Packer’s wonderful collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. Again, I’m still working through it and savoring each story.
It was hard to pick a favorite, but the one that stands out in my mind is the collection’s opening story, Brownies (which is available online here). A group of African American girls are at a Brownie camp, and hatch a plan to get a group of white girls in trouble by accusing them of using a racist slur.
The dialogue in this story is pitch perfect. Every word flows from the page and transmits into the reader’s brain like a radio drama. Beautiful.
Beatrice – Karin Tidbeck (from Jagannath, Cheeky Frawg Books, 2012)
The first line of this story is, “Frank Hiller, a physician, fell in love with an airship.” And why anyone wouldn’t want to read past that first line is beyond me.
Tidbeck’s stories are absolutely bonkers and completely engaging. I have read several Swedish authors this year, and I love the uncomplicated language they use, without taking any depth away from the narrative. Another wonderful surprise.
The Paper Menagerie – Ken Liu (from The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Saga Press, 2016)
This story should come with a warning that you may be emotionally destroyed by the time you reach the end. It’s a story about being a child, being a parent, identity, culture, all within a brief magical fable. The narrator struggles with finding his own identity, leaving behind a wonderful world created by his immigrant mother. You will cry. Read it here.
The Finkelstein 5 – Nana Kramer Adjei-Brennan (from Friday Black, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018)
This was one of the hardest stories to read, both because of its graphic content, and because it is not entirely unbelievable.
Five black children are slaughtered outside a library by a white man, who is tried but found not guilty, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As a result, some African Americans attempt to counterbalance this monstrosity by committing unimaginable acts of violence towards random white people.
I could go on, but I’d rather let the story tell itself. Totally worth your time.
The Future Looks Good – Lesley Nneka Arimah (from What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Riverhead Books, 2017)
Another very powerful opening story, which unfolds incredibly beautifully. A simple key in a door unfolds to an elaborate family history, completely dragging you along for the brief, fast ride. Another story that creates very strong visuals. Such an exciting writer. Read it here.
The Summer People – Kelly Link (from Get in Trouble, Random House, 2016)
It was hard to pick one from this Pulitzer Prize-winning collection. I’d read Kelly Link before but this collection is by far her best work.
The Summer People is a story about a mysterious house, and the wishes that may or may not be granted people who do favors for its inhabitants. It was a tough choice between this and the phenomenal Two Houses, but again, I have absolutely no idea where to start in summarizing Two Houses. You should just go and read the whole collection.
The Quiet – Carys Davies (from The Redemption of Galen Pike, Biblioasis, 2014)
Bloody hell, this story packs a wallop. Much to my shame, I’d never heard of Carys Davies before, and this collection was recommended by someone I follow on Twitter (I forget who, I’m sorry!) in terms of excellent short story collections. They weren’t wrong!
The Quiet, like most of the short stories I enjoy, unfolds in an unexpected and incredibly moving way. It just dawned on me today how significant the title is, given the subject matter. I won’t say anymore. Read it here.
And my favorite story of the year is….
The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon – Elizabeth Hand (from Errantry, Small Beer Press, 2012)
I had never heard of Elizabeth Hand before this year. Her excellent collection Errantry was recommended by the amazing, but now sadly defunct, Unbound Worlds.
From the first page, I knew I’d found one of my new favorite authors. I also read her short novel Wylding Hall this year, and it is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read.
This is by no means a “short” short story. At over 50 pages, it builds a fantastical world that you never really want to leave. It starts with a group of friends who work at a museum, wishing to honor one of their dying colleagues. They then embark on a completely unpredictable adventure.
Because the world is amazing, I recently reached out to Elizabeth Hand via Twitter to let her know how much I enjoyed the story, and she came back with this:
I’m not sure if this is the full thing, but there’s a video of Hand reading the story here.
If you decide to check out any of these stories, please let me know what you think. Hopefully this gives you an idea of the kind of thing I enjoy, so if you have any recommendations for similar stories, please let me know.
If you’d like to follow along with what I’m reading, you can find my spreadsheet here.