Books

In a reading rut? Try one of these 9 contemporary short story collections by women

Written by Alice Porter

Can’t concentrate for 250+ pages right now? A short story might be just the thing to get you back into reading regularly.

Spending lots of time at home over the past year has given us more time than ever to read but it’s also been a particularly difficult time to sit down and concentrate on something like a book, as living through a global pandemic means that many of us have other things on our minds, to say the least.

It’s pretty frustrating to start a novel you think you’re going to love only to have to put it down after ten minutes of reading because you can’t focus. And it’s even worse to finally find the time to get back to a good book to realize you’ve left it so long that you’ve forgotten everything that has happened so far.

If this feels all too relatable for you, short stories could be the perfect solution. This kind of literature tends to range between 1000-10,000 words, which means you can usually experience the highs, lows and in betweens of its plot in one sitting. They’re the perfect thing to read before you start work or on your lunch break or if you’re headed back to the office soon, on your commute.

The best part? The satisfaction of being able to actually sit down and finish something, even if your concentration levels are low.

Here are 9 short story collections published in the last 10 years by women that promise wit, suspense and humour…

  • Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld

    From the author of the bestselling novels American Wife and Rodham, this collection of short stories by Curtis Sittenfeld explores topics including class, race, envy, disappointment, gender and celebrity. Much like with her novels, you’ll struggle to put these stories down once you start them, as Sittenfeld’s plots are fast paced but also offer insightful commentary on very contemporary issues.

    Buy Help Yourself from Bookshop.org, £8.36

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  • You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories by Kristen Roupenian

    Remember ‘Cat Person’? It was a short story published in The New Yorker in 2017 that took the internet by storm, providing an honest look at the contemporary dating scene, touching on issues like consent, emotional manipulation and power structures within heterosexual relationships. Two years on from the viral success of ‘Cat Person’, Kristen Roupenian, the author of the story, published You Know You Want This, a collection of more of her stories that look at similar issues pertaining to the lives of women, from dating, to careers, to family life.

    Buy You Know You Want This: Cat Person and Other Stories from Bookshop.org, £8.36

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  • Grand Union by Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith is known for her incredible ability to write about the contemporary moment, from her seminal debut novel White Teeth, to her collection of essays on Coronavirus and the year of 2020, Intimations. And her first short story collection, published in 2019, is no different. Grand Union interweaves ten stories that cross genres and perspectives, including a single mother holidaying in a European seaside resort, a successful writer who has lost her confidence and an ageing drag queen living in New York. If you’re a fan of Smith’s writing, this collection is a must-read.

    Buy Grand Union from Bookshop.org, £8.36

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  • Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay

    Jackie Kay is a poet first and foremost but her short story collections benefit enormously from this, as they take on a lyrical quality that you can really get lost in. Reality, Reality lets the reader into the interior monologues of 15 women who are predominantly middle-aged or older. Kay gives these women who are often ignored in society a space to explore themselves and it makes for insatiable reading.

    Buy Reality, Reality from Bookshop.org, £9.29

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  • Dear Life by Alice Munro

    Alice Munro is one of the most well-renowned around, having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017 and the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. Dear Life, her most recent collection of stories, published in 2012, present illustrations of ordinary life, exploring how a simple twist of fate can take a person out of their accustomed path and into a new way of being. Most of the stories take place in small Canadian towns around Lake Huron – Munro being Canadian herself – making them the perfect escapist reads for when you’re stuck indoors.

    Buy Dear Life from Bookshop.org, £9.29

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  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

    Carmen Mario Machado is a young American short story author, essayist and critic and her debut collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties, received great acclaim. For fans of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, Machado’s stories combine psychological realism with science fiction, with touches of comedy, horror and fantasy too. This 2017 short story collection presents the violence women face in various areas of their lives through a grotesque lens and it makes for eye-opening reading.

    Buy Her Body and Other Parties from Bookshop.org, £8.36

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  • Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith

    Ali Smith is a Scottish author known for her experimental, award-winning fiction and, most recently, for her groundbreaking seasonal quartet. But Smith also has a great deal of experience writing short stories, having published five short story collections in total. Her most recent, Public Library and Other Stories, contains 12 stories that interrogate the ways in which books affect our lives. Interwoven between the stories are conversations with writers and readers reflecting on the importance of libraries and how they have individually affected their lives, which feel particularly pressing now as libraries face frequent closures due to Coronavirus.

    Buy Public Library and Other Stories from Bookshop.org, £8.36

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  • What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

    You might know Helen Oyeymi from her first novel, The Icarus Girl, which received endless praise upon its publication for its eerie depiction of childhood. But Oyeyemi’s literary works go way beyond her debut and her first short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is the perfect example of her talent. Each story contains a key – keys that not only unlock elements of her characters lives but promise labyrinths into parallel worlds. Oyeyemi is known for her ability to combine the fantastical with the realist and these short stories offer just that.

    Buy What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours from Bookshop.org, £9.29

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  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

    Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

    Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning novel is a hybrid between a novel and a short story collection, as each chapter explores the life of one individual woman. The 12 women Evaristo depicts are all involved with one another in ways that are eventually revealed, but this book can certainly be read as a collection of short stories as each chapter stands on its own as a unique depiction of a black woman living in Britain.

    Buy Girl, Woman, Other from Bookshop.org, £8.36

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Images: various publishers and Getty

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