Thought-Provoking Short Story Collections for the Distracted Reader

To this self-admitted distracted reader, short story collections are often a breath of fresh air. Short story collections can be great for readers who don’t have a lot of time or for those who like dabbling in a variety of stories and settings within the pages of a single book. Of course, there are an endless number of reasons why short story collections are great reads. They just have so much to offer.

Here are some recent short story collections that bring together a great blend of thought-provoking stories covering a range of characters, genres and themes. Some of the collections are more heartfelt and grounded, centered on slice-of-life narratives. Others explore the depths of horror or perhaps push the boundaries of neatly the packaged and predictable storytelling that one would expect. Wherever your reading interests lie, it is likely that there is a short story collection out there for you, waiting to be read.

The book that inspired this blog post, Tomb Sweeping, brings together 15 slice-of-life stories written from different perspectives and taking place across the United States and Asia. Author Alexandra Chang (Days of Distraction) blends various tones, genre elements and storytelling techniques, resulting in a collection of uniquely layered and often unexpected stories. One of the most unique stories is "Li Fan," in which a woman's life is recounted in reverse within succinct paragraphs. Tomb Sweeping explores themes of life, identity, relationships and aging through character-driven stories that, though heavy at times, are relatable and have a permeating sense of warmth.

Speaking of layered and unexpected stories, GennaRose Nethercott’s short story collection Fifty Beasts to Break your Heart takes folklore and fairytale elements to strange, surreal and moody places. Like Tomb Sweeping, Nethercott's book explores unconventional storytelling styles and techniques, incorporating things like divinations and spells, illustrations and even a haunted calendar. This collection of unsettling stories is weird in the best of ways. Each story teeters between the familiar and fantastical, filled with dark, hair-raising moments and, at times, some laughable bits, too.

Looking for something a bit more intense? Set in modern-day Argentina, Mariana Enriquez's horror-driven short story collection The Dangers of Smoking in Bed is not for the faint of heart. Blending surreal elements with visceral themes, these stories are often on the grotesque side, yet they are still somehow mesmerizing. Enriquez opens the collection with "Angelita Unearthed," a story about a rotting apparition of an infant too young to be named, haunting generation after generation of their family. This is a great read for anyone who likes surreal horror and would pair well in its strangeness with Fifty Beasts to Break Your Heart.

Diving into more slice-of-life collections, Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat features immersive character-centered stories taking place within Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, exploring themes such as family connections, displacement and the tragedies and triumphs of life and loss. Each story is moving and beautiful in its own way, even in their heaviest moments. If you choose to read just one, the very last story “Without Inspection,” about the limbo between life and death, is incredibly moving. Edwidge Danticat is an amazing writer, and this collection really shines. It is a great read for those who like heartfelt stories with a strong sense of place and relationships.

Afterparties is a brilliant collection that brings queer and immigrant experiences to the forefront, highlighting life in the Cambodian communities of Central California. This collection dives into more intense topics like generational trauma while also blending in plenty of hilarious moments. Dark comedy vibes start right away with the first story, a family drama called “Three Women of Chuck's Donuts.” This is a great read for fans of collections like Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat and Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor. Anthony Veasna So tragically passed away before the publication of Afterparties, which was his debut collection. If you enjoy this collection, be sure to also read Songs on Endless Repeat, a posthumous collection of So’s essays and content from his unfinished novel.

Also centering immigrant experiences, Dearborn by Ghassan Zeineddine features stories from a wide range of characters set in Dearborn, Michigan. Focusing on identity, race and gender, the ten stories in this collection also include comedic moments similar to the tone of Afterparties. With characters ranging from childhood to the age of 99, this collection highlights Arab American perspectives and stories of life and community in a moving way with some pretty surprising moments. Be sure to read “Yusra” about a butcher exploring their gender identity, passing time each week visiting the neighboring city of Hamtramck dressed in a niqab and heels, living their life uninhibitedly.

Looking for more recently published short story collections? Check out the Thought-Provoking Short Story Collections for the Distracted Reader book list.

What are some recent short story collections you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below.