We are all constantly running out of time. In reading that sentence you just ran out of at least one second. If that gives you as much stress as it does me, this list is for you. Reading to me is like food and air — I can’t go a day without it. But, recently, getting through entire novels seems to be taking up far too much of my time. Yet, I still crave the act of reading. The creative thrill of piecing together strings of words into images that only your mind pays witness to can be addicting. This is why I’ve started to maximize the most of my time and brain capacity by reading short fiction. Through reading short fiction, I feel as though I’ve fulfilled my thirst for creative reading in the least amount of time possible. The short stories I’ve read are quick, important and detailed, and can be found online for free. And, conveniently, are in the following list.
The author of this short story, Akil Kumussary, is a recent Charles Pick South Asian Fellow in fiction. Her novel “Half Gods” has gone on to achieve critical acclaim, being selected as the Editor’s Choice for the New York Times Book Review. She was also my creative writing professor last semester. I accidentally stumbled upon her short story while doing research for this notebook. After thinking “That’s my professor!” I began to read the story. Upon finishing it, I thought, “Oh my God … that’s my professor.” If you’ve never read anything written in the second person, I’d suggest starting at this story. The use of second person allows the story to come alive in a way third or first person wouldn’t allow. Kumussary’s prose alone is enough to keep the reader interested. Every sentence is not only needed but wanted. She depicts the “not-so-quite” and “almost enough” limbo all people go through in a way that isn’t pitying, but celebratory of the excitement in the “in-between” moments of life.
2. “A Trip” by Claudia Ulloa Donoso (Translated by Lily Meyer)
Akil assigned this story as required reading in her class. In this piece of flash fiction not reaching over 1,000 words, the main character goes on a vacation in the stomach of her cat. The story is unexpected, hilarious and would pair perfectly well with a cup of morning coffee.
I discovered Aimee Bender last semester, and she has easily become one of my favorite authors. Her collection of short stories titled “Girl in the Flammable Skirt” should be on everyone's to-read list. “Marzipan” was one of the stories in this book that particularly stood out to me. All of the stories in this collection are told through the perspective of a woman. They all possess a certain type of fantastical flare. “Marzipan” focuses on how it feels to lose a parent. The story starts off with a woman being concerned over the fact that her husband's stomach has taken on the shape of a donut — with a gaping hole in the middle, coincidentally happening after the passing of her father-in-law. The woman then becomes concerned with her own stomach, as she is impregnated at age 50. The story takes a gruesome turn for the best, but you’ll have to read it to find out more. It is a whacky and creative metaphor for loss and grief. Bender trusts the minds of her readers are as wild and interesting as her own.
3. “The Coast of Leitrim” by Kevin Barry
After reading this short story in The New Yorker this October, I understood love a little better than I had before. You meet the main character alone in his dead uncle’s cottage. An infatuation (or is it love?) with a barista takes away his loneliness for a bit. Was that all this barista did for him, though? Check out this short story to uncover more about this character and his lonely and realistic journey through love.
Who would I be if I didn’t include a George Saunders story in my list of recommended short fiction? Saunders is acutely aware of the terrible things humans do, and he’s also aware of the humor that can be found in it. The short story “Puppy” was actually the first piece of fiction I read by him. The wit and pacing in this story immediately had me inclined to read more. Featured in his book of short stories “The Tenth of December,” “Puppy” is a sad and strangely hilarious recounting of the adoption of a puppy. This seems like a wholesome activity but, naturally, humans find a way to mess it up.
Diving into any of these stories will open your eyes to a world you haven’t experienced before. The authors are brilliant. The stories are emotionally resonant. The time it takes to read them is short. Take a break from your day and enter the world of someone else’s for a bit. I promise you, it’ll be worth it.