Happy National Short Story Day!

I've celebrated it by shoving a paracetamol suppository up my kid's ass.* Too much information? Well, I got your attention, didn't I? So: on this very short day, I want to big up a few of the best short story collections I've read this year.

First, Kevin Barry's two collections, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies The Island. I'd have to read them both back to back to really compare, but I think I prefer the first one by a tiny margin. Anyway, they're both amazing, and though I'll endlessly hype his novel, City of Bohane, too, I do think his stories are even more outstanding. I reviewed the second one here.

Then, another Irish writer, Claire Keegan, and her collection Walk The Blue Fields. I'd heard a lot about Keegan but this is the first year I'd actually read her work, and it's fucking brilliant. If you think that Irish people writing about lonely farmers and priests in the countryside is old hat, then read Keegan at once and have a rethink. So one of my missions for 2013 is now to catch up on the rest of her books.

Likewise, I came late to George Saunders: this year I loved In Persuasion Nation, and I can't wait to read his latest. Other excellent numbers were Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her and Sarah Hall's The Beautiful Indifference (reviews here and here) and A.J. Ashworth's  Somewhere Else, Or Even Here.

Finally, two that aren't standard collections (in fact, they're both marketed as novels, or novels in stories, but I'm not going to start harping on about classification and genre and structure here, because I have three years of the PhD dedicated to just that) but that are nonetheless each made up of absolutely superb stories. First, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. Strout's characterization is maybe the best I've ever read, and the book is funny and heartbreaking all at once, if that isn't too Hallmark a thing to say. Second, Keith Ridgways's Hawthorn & Child, a book that messes with genre conventions and ideas of closure so brilliantly I've barely shut up about it all year (review here.)

So! If you get book tokens for Christmas, I'd heartily recommend any of those. Meanwhile, I've got to go now and watch The Muppets Christmas Carol, by order of the baby. Happy National Short Story Day!

*She's fine now. Never fear.

Carys Bray review

My review of Carys Bray's collection, Sweet Home, is live at Bookmunch.

Jose Saramago reiew

My review of Jose Saramago's Raised from the Ground is live at Bookmunch.