My time at Numéro Cinq stretches back close to three years now, which is kind of crazy, since I still feel like the new kid on the block. Anyway, I’ve hung around long enough that the powers that be (read: Doug Glover) decided to feature some of my writing in the “Top of the Page” slideshow accompanying this month’s issue. I’m super grateful for this, and I think DG chose some nice pieces to revisit. Click on through to read a little blurb about me, and visit the home page to see some of my older reviews, author interviews, and stories.
OK, so I don’t buy into journalistic lists, and this time of year, listicles are relentless. Everyone wants to proclaim the ten best movies, books, restaurants, albums, tv shows, colors, lampshades, zombie-themed children’s games, spoons, oak trees, pine trees, artificial trees, crossword puzzles, wigs, and, well, you get the picture.
Yet here I am, writing a list of my own. You can tell this right from the title: Top 12 Short Story Collections of 2013. But why am I writing this, if I proclaim to hate lists? Am I so in love with myself that I feel I’m some sort of authority on something? Is it because I like to hear myself talk? Or type? Am I just filled with so much self-loathing that I feel like I need to create that which I despise?
Um, no, not really.
Here’s the thing: I read a ton of short story collections every year. I mean it: 2,000 pounds of short stories per year. I weigh ’em.
Seriously, though, I love short stories. It’s pretty much all I read, both on the clock and off. Most of my reviews, those I link to here and the anonymous ones, are for short story collections. And while I dislike yearly “best of” lists, I still check them out, often only to be bummed by the lack of short narrative love. Sure, some collections pop up on book lists, but outside of something as bloated and (dare I say) club-ish as the Best American series, there isn’t a whole lot of space in these articles for the celebrating the short.
All of this rambling is to say that I want to share something with you: twelve short story collections from 2013 that really stuck with me. Are these “the best”? Not necessarily. What is “the best” of anything, anyway? How does one truly qualify something like art in such a fashion? Instead, these are twelve solid books from the past year that I keep thinking about, that linger with me, that both influence my own writing and make me strive to improve my craft.
A note: You’ll notice none of these are ranked. Though I’m making a list, I refuse to place one atop another numerically. Also, some of these may not technically come out until 2014, but since I got them this year, they’re from 2013 to me.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories by Ethan Rutherford — A solid, funny, clever look at seclusion, often on the high seas.
In These Times the Home Is a Tired Place by Jessica Hollander — Winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, Hollander’s debut is a smart, confident book bursting with tales of pregnant couples, lost souls, and finding a place in the world.
The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte — This is Lipsyte hitting on all cylinders: crass yet heartbreaking, silly yet deadly serious, prickly yet honest.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel — A blueprint of life, told through the defeated and the bizarre.
Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor — Genre-bending, linked-yet-not-linked stories, set in the US and Haiti.
The Color Master by Aimee Bender — Bender continues to be a literary beacon in a sea of words, crafting short, strange narratives that still feel incredibly personal.
Misadventure by Nicholas Grider — Often playing with the short story form, these tales dissect what it is to be a man (gay and straight) in modern society.
Savage Love by Douglas Glover — OK, OK, I write for Doug’s magazine, so I may be biased. Still, these stories are stunning: incredible structure, incredible language, incredible imagination.
Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus — Not for everyone, Marcus’s collection nevertheless challenges the concept of the short, oscillating between straightforward storytelling and experimental fare.
Tenth of December by George Saunders — I don’t need to talk about this. You already know about this.
Love is Power, or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett — Barrett’s stories of Nigeria are haunting. You cannot shake these images.
Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter — Amazing flash fiction. (You don’t need more. Just read it and thank me later.)
Glossolalia by David Jauss — The 13th book on this list of 12, Jauss’s Glossolalia consists mostly of selected stories from his previous books, so it doesn’t really count as a new collection, right? As such, it hovers here, included while also being disqualified.
So there you have it. Twelve books, plus another. A baker’s dozen of miniature masterpieces (that sounds corny) that continue to inspire me long after placing them up on the bookshelf.
Is this a perfect group? Probably not. Did I miss something? Most likely. While 2,000 pounds of short fiction is quite a bit to consume, it still leaves out hundreds and hundreds of books.
UPDATE MARCH 2014: Oh my, do I have egg on my face. You see, by the end of December, I still hadn’t read Laura van den Berg‘s amazing collection, The Isle of Youth. Now that I have, I must amend my list. Surely, this belongs nestled in with the other titles on my list. These stories are urgent.
So we now have 14(ish) of the best story collections of 2013.
My review of Sam Lipsyte’s story collection, The Fun Parts, is titled “Laughing at Despair,” and that kind of sums up—in my mind, at least—the career of the author. He has such a gift for examining people living on the fringe, these desperate, lost souls. Yet what makes Lipsyte’s fiction so great is the fact that it turns these lives into uncomfortable comedy.