I have yet to complete an Instagram monthly challenge. For September 2020, I was determined to post one of my favorite short story collections every day, for Short Story September. But then god laughed, and closed my daughter’s daycare for the better part of a week.
But fret not, dear reader! For here is the list I intended to publish, in full. And as an added bonus, I’ve included links to my favorite stories where possible.
I’m still reading a short story a day, and I’m almost up to 900 stories, woo! I will not be stopping any time soon, so please feel free to send any recommendations my way. And I would love to hear your thoughts on my list.
Weird, gorgeous, funny, moving.
Favorite story: Agata’s Machine
A mix of outrageous beauty, and all-too-realistic future nightmares.
Favorite story: Glass-Lung
To give you an idea of how weird this collection is, the first story is about a man who falls in love with an airship.
Favorite story: It’s a close one between Beatrice, and Reindeer Mountain.
Yes, the same Mark Haddon who wrote The Curious Incident. This is a wonderfully varied collection. The title story is just devastating. I openly wept in horror while reading it.
Favorite story: Either The Pier Falls, or Wodwo.
I got my treasured edition for 25 cents in a Berkeley bookstore. It love it so much. DuMaurier’s darkest stories. A beautiful collection.
Favorite story: The Old Man
A real hidden gem; I love introducing people to this fantastical, feminist collection. Haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Favorite story: The Man in the Ambry. I don’t frequently get genuinely scared while reading, but this story was particularly spooky.
I started reading this collection two years ago, and I was so happy that I’d found a new-to-me author with a vast back-catalogue to explore. Each story is so rich, and beautifully written.
Favorite story: The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon
A gorgeous collection of stories about animals and magical realism. I’m not the world’s biggest animal lover, but some of these stories have reduced me to tears.
Favorite story: 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss
Kelly Link is just the master, isn’t she? Her ability to create a familiar but uncanny world is a matter of sentences is baffling. This collection shows her at the height of her powers.
Favorite story: Two Houses. This story is absolutely terrifying but I’m not entirely sure why.
Oh Flanners, you are bloody marvelous. These are “classic” stories, and I was surprised at how incredibly dark some of them are. But they make me feel so happy, they give me a warm yellow glow when I read them.
Favorite story: Good Country People. This story is seriously bonkers.
Right from the first story, this book delivers frequent gut-punches and heartbreaks. But the devastation comes quietly, and lingers for a long time. Another beautiful collection.
I read this early in 2020, and this is now the collection with which I compare all others. There isn’t a bad story in this book. And pretty much each one has a moment where a seemingly normal story goes weird and awesome.
Favorite story: Black Corfu
This is a varied collection of horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and just general awesomeness. I highly recommend the audiobook, as Gaiman has a gorgeous voice.
Favorite story: October in the Chair
I didn’t realize until after I’d started reading Sit, that it is aimed at young people. Which is fantastic, as this collections deals with some really dark stuff. Each story starts with the image of a child sitting. Such a wonderful book.
Favorite story: The Plain Chair
Let’s talk about Samanta Schweblin! I was first blinded by her brilliance when reading her debut novella Fever Dream, which left me completely disturbed, and I knew I’d be unraveling the story for years to come. The brilliantly-titled Mouthful of Birds is crammed with weird, disorienting stories. I was so blown away by my favorite story, I made this note as soon as I’d finished reading it: “Oh my word! This story has just been sitting there, on my bookcase, unread! Fucking hell!”
Favorite story: On the Steppe
This one slipped under my radar, until it was included on the Edge Hill Short Story prize longlist. This is a gripping, unpredictable collection, full of quiet horror. My favorite!
Favorite story: The Painting. It is really hard to choose a favorite, because this is an incredibly consistent collection.
I was drawn in by the fantastic title, I stayed for the stories. A beautiful collection about the quirkier side of the immigrant experience, from an author born in the Nong Khai refugee camp in Thailand. Moving, and often surreal.
Favorite story: Paris
A gritty, murky collection from the youngest ever Booker Prize nominee (please go and read Everything Under right now, it is magical). To be honest, I didn’t fully connect with every single one of these stories, but Johnson’s prose is always hypnotic.
Favorite story: Blood Rites
Enriquez is an author who makes me wish I could speak Spanish. Her work is slowly getting translated into English, and she has a newly translated collection, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, coming in 2021. Her writing is dark, vague, creepy, and exquisite. There have been two occasions when she has completely terrified me with a single sentence.
Favorite story: Adela’s House. So terrifying.
I talk about Sarah Hall a lot. You can’t mention modern short story writers without her name coming up. She’s been nominated for The BBC National Short Story award four times, and won in 2013. She is the master of the unsaid; events scream off the page without being directly mentioned.
My used copy of this book came with an ominous sticker attached. As if the stories in this book weren’t creepy enough! A tiny collection, which is probably best read in quick succession, as the stories are somewhat linked. But I read it over the space of a year or so, and still loved it. Unsettling and weird.
Favorite story: Lab Coats. This story is NOT for the squeamish. You have been warned.
Everyone should know about Priya Sharma. She is a double Shirley Jackson award winner, FFS! This is another weird collection (are you noticing a theme yet?), and it is beautifully written. Sharma’s recent novella, Ormeshadow, is well worth your time as well.
Favorite story: The Crow Palace
It would seem that this collection is getting a lot more attention recently, which is wonderful. ZZ Packer’s talent in immense. These stories burst with life. This collection was published in 2004, but is still incredibly relevant.
Favorite story: Brownies
This was such a canny bit of marketing by English Heritage. They gave eight authors after-hours access to an English Heritage site of their choice, and asked them to write a short story based on their experience. The resulting stories are outstanding, and genuinely creepy. Eight Ghosts was such a success, English Heritage did a follow-up collection, These Our Monsters. Fantastic stuff.
Favorite story: They Flee from Me That Sometime Did Me Seek – Sarah Perry
This collection is a fantastic “starter pack” for those wanting to get into weird short stories. It’s got Shirley Jackson, Roald Dahl, Daphne duMaurier, plus some authors whom I encountered for the first time (Lord Dunsany, Margaret St. Clair). It’s pretty old; I have a beautiful paperback with no barcode on the back!
Favorite story: Of Missing Persons – Jack Finney
If you’ve never read Jackson’s indescribable short story, The Lottery, click on the link below right now and prepare to have your life changed. I wish I could read it again for the first time. This whole collection is a masterclass in quiet terror. The reader is often scared, but not entirely sure why. I will sing Shirley’s praises until the day I did. I even named my daughter after one of her characters.
Favorite story: The Lottery
Another collection that may have flown under your radar. I picked this up because I saw it compared to Alan Bennett. And I’m overjoyed I did. Blower and I are from the same area of England, so there was a lot in these stories that I could relate to. Hard-working, loving families, with their fair share of hidden trauma.
Favorite story: Hoops
For me, Dahl’s short stories are as valuable as his children’s books. The Hitchhiker is probably the first short story I remember hearing; my primary school headmaster read it in a school assembly. No idea why. Dahl may have his faults, but he crafted beautiful, enduring tales.
Favorite story: The Hitchhiker
This is very much a comfort book for me. I’ll put the audiobook on randomly when I’m feeling down. Another spooky collection of stories, but I suppose that is to be expected from Stephen King’s son. Dark, terrifying, but sometimes surprisingly tender. I treasure my personalized, signed copy.
Favorite story: The Black Phone
Okay, so this isn’t technically a short story collection, as it contains poems, reviews; a veritable treasure trove of wit and snark. If you do not already have ample Parker in your life, you need this.
Favorite story: The Waltz