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Best Short Story Collections for Writers

Updated on June 23, 2011
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Writers are Readers First

If there's a writer in your life, or if you happen to be a writer, you know that nothing matters to a writer more than reading. Developing a personal style and seeking markets that respond to their sort of work begins with time spent nose-in-book or nose-in-magazine seeking out the best that fiction has to offer.

These five story collections are ideal places to begin for anyone seriously interested in reading short stories with an eye for craft, voice, and the highest quality writing in the English-speaking world.

1) The Granta Book of the American Short Story, edited by Richard Ford

The collection of stories presented in the landmark Granta collection run the gamut from schoolbook classics like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Tim O'Brian's "The Things They Carried" to lesser-anthologized literary luminaries like Grace Paley and William Gass. The stories will share only one thing with each other, on the whole, and that's quality. Richard Ford selected stories that are all at the top of the established craft of literary fiction. This book is probably required reading for all MFA-Candidates in Literary Fiction, and an important book for anyone interested in writing serious fiction.

2) Best Horror of the Year, Volume 1, edited by Ellen Datlow

Few editors become as famous as the authors they publish. Ellen Datlow is just that sort of editor. Her annual Year's Best Horror and Fantasy anthology series was recently discontinued, and she branched off into just her side of that famous anthology series: Horror.

The Year's Best Horror of the year is exactly what every writer should read, to study the masterful ambiance of the best Horror writing of the year. The unsettling psychological landscapes never devolve into mere slasher gore, and always retain the simmering unease that is a vital tool to any budding writer interested in writing about difficult things.

3) Best American Fantasy

The shame that this series was discontinued is only compounded by the excellence of the last 3 issues. Kevin Brockmeier and Matthew Cheney combined their tastes in the final issue, Best American Fantasy 3, and sampled a wide range of publications and styles, specializing in an indefinable, mysterious sense of the strange and unexpected. The boundary between fantasy and literary fiction runs through the influence of Kafka and the South American Magical Realists, and few collections of stories so masterfully walk the shifty, unreliable boundary line as this one.

A shame there won't be any more of them.

#4) Best American Mystery Stories of the Century

Like horror, mystery excels at setting mood and tone and shape. Unlike strict horror, mystery does not necessarily have to make someone feel strange or fearful. Sometimes the sense of solving a puzzle is the point of the story. Sometimes the mystery stories are close character studies of broken or breaking individuals, and the social situations that drive them over the edge. Writers of all genres benefit from a strong foundation in the mystery story. Literary fiction has the epiphany story. Mystery stories have something more interesting than a mere epiphany. They have stories where the epiphany comes through the solving of something concrete, and deeply-felt by the people in the stories..

#5) Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Best of the Small Presses

Want to know what's happening in the place stories go to flower and soar? The small presses are the lifeblood of American letters, where writers go to write for other writers. The Pushcart Prize celebrates these publications every year by selecting the cream of the crop from the impressive range of magazines and 'zines that comprise American letters. Reading this anthology every year is a veritable "What's Going On" in the world of American letters. The index is very useful, as well, when a writer is looking to find markets that publish stories kind of like their own. By sifting through the index, the writer can research numerous markets without having to buy a whole lot of individual magazines.

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