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Librarian's Picks: Short Story Favorites

Steve Inskeep talks with librarian Nancy Pearl, who's back with another hefty stack of book recommendations. This time, Pearl talks about some of her favorite short story collections:

Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken

Pearl calls this collection a "wonderfully wacky" assortment of short tales about oddball individuals inhabiting neglected corners of the familiar. Pearl's favorite character? Aunt Helen Beck, a homeless eccentric who adopts families by pretending she's a long-lost relative.

A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia and Other Stories by Victor Pelevin translated by Andrew Bromfield

Victor Pelevin in a Russian author in the style of Kafka or Borges -- a "fabulist" who shrugs off the ponderous gravity embodied by Tolstoy. "These are the kind of stories you just delight in reading and re-reading, because it's just so fascinating to see where this guy can take you," Pearl says. The title story follows the tale of a young slacker who finds the hinterlands full of werewolves -- and then he makes an interesting discovery...

After the Plague by T.C. Boyle

Boyle is best known for his string of successful novels, such as The Road to Wellville and, more recently, The Inner Circle. But many Boyle fans gravitate to his many collections of short stories, especially After the Plague. Why short stories? "You don't have time for leisure, you have to draw readers in immediately," Pearl says. For short fiction, the opening lines and last lines are most important. "T.C. Boyle's last lines are the kind that kind of reach in and twist your heart a little bit," she says.

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

"This is one of those collections where one would be hard pressed to find a bad story," says Pearl. "Moore is one of those people whose every word is chosen carefully to move the story forward just a little bit -- so that as you're reading, you get caught up in the lives of her characters." The characters in the 12 stories here have no connection with one another -- yet each is afflicted with an angst and aimlessness that's both engrossing and unnerving.

All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane

This is a collection of interlinked short stories, charting the amusing and slightly askew life of main character Charlotte Anne Byers. "I was just totally blown away by the humor and grace, and ability... to bring her characters to life," Pearl says. "The voice is so confiding and so honest."

The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin

Colwin, who died in 1992, was the author of five novels and three other short story collections. Most of the stories revolve around the dizzy glee of being young and discovering the maddening and enriching complications of adult life.

Samuel Johnson Is Indignant by Lydia Davis

This isn't so much a collection of short stories as a distillation of meaning, a flurry of ideas in 56 chapters. Some of those chapters are just a paragraph long. Some are one-liners. Her work has been described as "visionary, philosophical, comic prose -- part Gertrude Stein, part Simone Weil."

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

This National Book Award finalist is a collection of 12 vignettes exploring the complicated geography of human relationships, full of characters who fight loneliness even when surrounded by others. But the stories aren't morbid -- Chaon's writing buoys the mood, creating emotional landscapes that are unsettling but beautiful.

Pearl is the author of More Book Lust, a book of recommended reading, and is also the model for a librarian action figure (no kidding!).

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.