The Books I'd Take to a Desert Island: Short Fiction Edition

And they're all by Ladies! Go, ladies.

Sep 21, 2011 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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After one or two supremely awful monster-weeks, I decided to run away from home. I am, as we speak, sitting on a beach, watching a shrimp boat and hoping it rains so I can do the Lieutennant Dan "Where the hell is this God of yours!??" speech. (I do it on the subway, too, but this adds a real element of authenticity to it.)

As I am literally stranded on an island, I had to choose 10 of my favorite books to bring along (and a sole new one -- I'll let you know how "The Art of Fielding" is even though I am jealously hoping to hate it because of stupid Chad Harbach's stupid $650k advance). Coincindentally, I got an email from reader Uzma asking for more book suggestions this morning.

These aren't necessarily my favorite books, per se, but they're all ones with incredible reread value, mostly because they're short story collections. If you're looking for something good to take to your apocalypse bunker or roaring fireside or whatever, please consider these.

And guess what? They're all by living women writers, so you can feel good about buying them and not guilty and sick like I did the last time I dropped $289 on books in a week. (Also, if you guys have suggestions for me, please let me know. I am a compulsive book-buying monster.)

Jhumpa Lahiri - "Interpreter or Maladies"
Probably the most brilliant short story writer working today. These stories will absolutely blow you away. I loved "The Namesake," but every story in "Maladies" is flawless.

Nell Freudenberger - "Lucky Girls"
Freudenberger makes it look easy. These stories -- many of them about expatriates in India and Thailand -- are so real and well drawn that you feel like you're reading about someone you know. They're deceptively simple but incredibly complex stories about really interesting, human young women. Read read read. I love Nell Freudenberger.

Karen Russell - "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves"
I hate magical realism. Like, really. I think I'm the only person I've ever met who is irritated by "100 Years of Solitude." But Karen Russell just NAILS it. She was one of the New Yorker's 30 under 40 and one of New York Magazine's 25 under 25. I saw her read one of her stories once and we were all walking around aftereward like we'd just seen Elvis. Stunning stuff.

Holiday Reinhorn - "Big Cats"
Haunting stories, all about women but Holiday Reinhorn has this really acerbic, almost masculine way of writing. Razor sharp, pitch perfect dialogue. This is an excellent book to read if you like to write yourself or just love a really well-constructed, seamless character study.

Mary Gaitskill - "Bad Behavior"
You know the movie "Secretary?" It's based on a wildly fucked up Mary Gaitskill story. (Let's just say it does not end in marriage and the James Spader character is not hot like my beloved, beloved James Spader.) This is a marvelous collection of really borderline-disturbing stories about deeply flawed people. You will blow through this. It's literary voyeurism at its sexually weirdest.
 
Lorrie Moore - "Birds of America"
The funniest book of short stories ever written. And the best. I don't have enough hyperboles for this collection. I don't laugh aloud at books and this one I still do even though I've read it a killion times.

Amy Hempel, "The Collected Stories"
Minimalist, beautiful little pieces, like orchids or rare fish. You know how good of a writer Amy Hempel is? She'd never use a terrible simile like that. If you feel like reading something "exquisite," pick this up.

Jeanette Winterson, "The World and Other Places"
Funny and sexy. She is a virtuoso. Read everything by Jeanette Winterson. Really. Her talent is awe-inspiring.