As a writer inhabiting this world in a female body, I am SO sick of seeing lists of “must-read books” that feature predominately cis-male authors. Talented and innovative women-identifying authors deserve as much exposure as basic dudes like Tom Clancy or Dean Koontz or whatever balding white man is hogging the shelves at Barnes and Noble with the same, repetitive stories. I’m. Over. It. Chances are, as a BUST reader, you are, too. But have no fear. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite short story collections written !!!by women!!! that you’re bound (book pun only kind of intended) to fall in love with. Swing by your local bookstore and load up on some literature, BUSTies.
1. No One Belongs Here More Than You – Miranda July
Written by California-based writer, artist, and filmmaker Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007) is a beautifully crafted collection of eclectic, character-driven narratives that emphasize the importance of seemingly unimpactful and mundane moments that, in the end, prove themselves to be quite the opposite. Having been published in 23 countries and deservedly receiving the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, this collection is my all-time favorite and is a must-read for fiction lovers that is worth revisiting time and time again.
2. The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Having published three wildly successful and critically-acclaimed novels—Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and most recently, Americanah—it’s no secret that Nigeria-born Chimamanda Adichie is one of the most influential and profound voices of our time. In her collection of 12 short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, Adichie explores, as she often does, politically emotional aspects of division and intersectionality among religion, race, and gender through the eyes of heartfelt and incredibly human voices. Read it and weep, literally. And then read it again.
3. Chelsea Girls – Eileen Myles
How do I even begin to write about this one? I guess the easiest way to put it is to say that, truthfully, I’ve never read anything like Chelsea Girls before. This candid and comical autobiographical novel, split into minutely-detailed stories, is as blunt as it gets, while still managing to be an absolutely genius piece of poetry. It jumps from Myles’ 1960s Catholic upbringing to her drug, alcohol, and sex-infused adolescent struggles, to the general hardships that she experienced as a poor lesbian artist trying to make it in 1970s New York City.
Warning: This is a fast-paced read that is intensely difficult to set down once you start, and you might feel like you’re experiencing an existensial crisis as you breeze through the pages, so proceed with caution.
4. Seasonal Velocities – Ryka Aoki
This collection of stories, poems, and essays by trans woman Ryka Aoki is perhaps the most emotionally jarring book on this list. Though the works, which examine vital topics like transphobia and discriminatory violence, are beautifully and eloquently written, they are heartbreaking. Seasonal Velocities is difficult to digest, but for fellow members of the queer community, and especially for those outside of it who wish to be allies, this is a required read.
5. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer
In this best-selling eight story collection, Chicago-born writer ZZ Packer artfully manages to approach themes of alienation and the inevitable never-ending search for truth with an exquisite balance of humor and tenderness. The characters and settings are diverse and celebrate individuality while avoiding cliched stereotypes; they range from a young black woman beginning her educational career at an Ivy League university to a destitute woman who travels to Tokyo in attempt to turn her life around. The stories are riveting, believable, and avoid resorting to annoyingly cheery conclusions. If it isn’t considered one already, this collection is bound to be an American literary classic.
6. Barbara the Slut and Other People – Lauren Holmes
Lauren Holmes is relatively new to the writing scene, having only released her first short story collection, Barbara the Slut and Other People, in 2015. That being said, I can only hope that when I (finally) publish a short story collection, the first go-round will be as successful as Holmes’. This book is poigant, hilarious, and an imaginative examination of milennial culture and, as the title suggests, sex, the female experience, and the reclamation of the word “slut.” There’s not a bad moment in this book, and for feminists who like to snort-laugh (like myself), this is another must-read. Not to mention, the white/hot pink cover is cute as heck.
7. How This Night is Different – Elisa Albert
In her debut short story collection, Elisa Albert uses tack-sharp wit and satisfyingly dry, sarcastic humor to examine what has been referred to by multiple critics as the experiences of “disaffected young Jews” and cultural conflict within contemporary Jewish life. Hilarious at times and harrowing at others, and sometimes both simutaneously, each story is as complex as the next. You’ll follow characters young and old, male and female, endearing and detestable; but chances are, you’ll enjoy it in its entirety. Good luck picking a favorite story.
8. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self – Danielle Evans
Having had her as my recent writing professor, I can confirm that Danielle Evans is not only a wonderful and radiantly intelligent human being, but an unbelievably talented and innovative author. Her story “Virgins,” which she wrote when she was only 23 years old, was published in The Paris Review, and held much promise for her collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Here, Evans’ stories are so well-grounded it’s easy to forget that they’re works of fiction. They focus heavily on African-American and mixed-race tensions, layered atop the struggles of adolescence, femininity, and the inherent inequality that accompanies each of these identities.
9. Can’t And Won’t – Lydia Davis
According to well-renowned author Rick Moody, Lydia Davis is “the best prose stylist in America.” He’s not wrong. Her latest collection, Can’t and Won’t, is a refreshing and finely-tuned glimpse into life’s most predictable, everyday moments, laced with the wry and sardonic voice we have come to expect from Davis. At times, the collection feels like an experiment with format; one story consists of a single sentence that lasts for 20 pages, and others are simply compilations of fragmented observations. In other words, it results in a unique reading experience —one that word-lovers should definitely indulge in.
10. A Safe Girl to Love – Casey Plett
Last, but certainly not least, is A Safe Girl to Love, a collection of eleven short stories by Casey Plett. Plett, a trans woman, writes about the unavoidable experiences and disadvantages that are faced when growing up and attempting to navigate modern society as a trans girl. She takes readers on journeys of loss, love, harassment, and sex, and reminds us all that, despite such hardships, and despite identity, one can find glimpses of charm in this seemingly sick world.
Images from Author’s Websites/Facebook Pages
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