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IR Staff Tells All: Short Story Collections We’re Thankful For!

This year IR is excited to partner with IU Press to award our first annual Blue Light Book Prize to an outstanding short story collection! Submissions open December 1, 2015. Check out our guidelines for more details.

In preparation for Blue Light Book submissions, our senior IR staff reflected on the short story collections they’re most thankful for this holiday season.

Peter (Editor): I am grateful for many story collections but am currently rereading a real favorite, Tim Horvath’s Understories. Tim’s stories are sharp and highly intelligent–studies with heart and a strong sense of narrative form. I would particular recommend “The Understory”–a title story that does not disappoint.

I would be remiss not to mention other favorite collections that I also consider to be gifts and that I am grateful for: Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women, Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth, Jennifer Egan’s Emerald City, Rebecca Makkai’s Music for Wartime, Amy Hempel’s The Dog of the Marriage, Lorrie Moore’s Collected Stories, Brian Evenson’s Windeye, Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles, Antonya Nelson’s Some Fun. . . I could go on but will stop there!

Victoria (Fiction Editor): Alice Munro forever. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage was the first Munro collection I bought and read, and I return to it often for examples of great writing or just for enjoyment’s sake.

Maggie (Web Editor): In Aimee Bender’s Willful Creatures, a pumpkin-headed couple gives birth to an iron-headed son. A miniature man is held captive and tortured. A boy with key-shaped fingers searches for doors to unlock. Reading an Aimee Bender collection is to look at the world sideways and be shown things you’ve never seen before. Put Aimee Bender on your Christmas list. Hold her dear.

Tessa (Associate Fiction Editor): Whenever I try to describe one of my favorite short story collections, Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, I inevitably end up sounding like a terrible person. A woman who accidentally drops and kills an infant? A woman mourning the death of her beautiful cat? What do you have against babies, Tessa? Or cats? Well, nothing. Nothing at all. This is just what happens when you make the mistake of trying to summarize a brilliant book. You get turned into a baby-and-cat-hater.

There is no summarizing Birds of America. You have to experience the wacky plots yourself. But I can promise that the notes of tragedy are always buoyed up by a current of genuine humor. That where the stories read as jokes, they are jokes the characters are in on. That the language here shines, bright and unforgiving as a blade, but always brings you closer to the characters’ struggles, peeling away the layers of blank sentiment that prevent us from seeing things clearly.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for Birds of America and all it has taught me about the humor and laughter and goodwill that exist in dark places—provided that you, like Lorrie Moore, are bold enough to seek them out.

Anna (Associate Fiction Editor): I’m most thankful for Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber:  And Other Stories. These aren’t the Disneyfied fairytales you grew up with. In these ten stories, Carter tears off centuries of saccharine sentimentality in popular European tales to reveal their latent dark sensuality. The prose is as voluptuous and delectable as a fine box of Belgian chocolates, sprinkled with wicked wit. Best of all, these stories are led not by passive princesses but by fearless women who take who and what they want.