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5:46 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

Infectious Collections: Stories And Poems To Convert Any Reader

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 8:57 am

This post is for everyone who passes right by the poetry section; all the bookish types who haven't read a short story since graduation. We know you're out there — and you're not alone.

I'm talking to you, folks who love literature — novel-devourers, nonfiction lovers, proud wearers-out of library cards — but just not collections. To all of you who never pick up stories or poems for vacation reading.

And to you I say, gently, lovingly, without judgment: You're missing out! The pleasures of a great story or an exquisite poem are their own sort of bliss — at least as intense, as delightful or as heart-wrenching as any sprawling plotline. Forget school connotations. This ain't nutritious lit; it's fun.

But if you're not used to a genre, it's hard to know where to start. So when the NPR Books team created the Books Concierge, we wanted to encourage serendipitous discoveries. Looking for a comic novel might lead you to funny science fiction; memoir lovers could get hooked by a book shelved with the comics; lovers of long form might stumble across a shorter must-read.

And in that spirit, here, pulled straight from our Concierge, are a few suggestions for folks who don't normally read stories or poetry. We think you'll love these books. And after you're done, maybe — just maybe — you might find yourself browsing those shelves a little more often.


If you love novels that center on family drama, try Belmont, by Stephen Burt, which Craig Morgan Teicher says is filled with tender, funny poems on "the challenges, whimsies and ecstasies of fatherhood and suburban life." Or take a look at This Close, by Jessica Francis Kane: Jane Ciabattari praises Kane's "intimate insights" in stories about, among other things, marriage, motherhood and middle age.

If you're more into nonfiction — with a tendency toward eye-opening journalism that brings attention to social issues — check out Thieves I've Known, by Tom Kealey, which gives empathetic voice to the lives of the marginalized.

If you're looking for books that are sexy but with serious writing chops (and we know many of you are!) take a look at Book of Goodbyes, by Jillian Weise. Think less Fifty Shades of Grey, more "13 Ways of Looking at a Breakup."

Dark humor more your style? Take a look at the much-talked-about Tenth of December, by George Saunders. His stories are absurd, satirical, strange and utterly engrossing.

If you like globe-trotting fiction, check out two staff favorites. NPR's Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, recommends A. Igoni Barrett's Love Is Power, or Something Like That, and Weekend All Things Considered host Arun Rath praises The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons, by Goli Taraghi.

Fantasy and science fiction lovers know that there's a long tradition of the short story in these genres. A variation on the form appears in Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell; Maureen Corrigan calls the collection "daffy to devastating."

If you love biographies, try The Big Smoke, by Adrian Matejka. This propulsive collection takes a poetic look at the fights, loves and losses of the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson.

Fans of the morbid and macabre, you'll have your heart in your throat (or in a bag, perhaps) as you read Revenge, by Yoko Ogawa. Alan Cheuse calls it "weird and mesmerizing."

If your idea of a good grim read is more tragic than eerie, try Black Aperture, by Matt Rassmussen. His poems revolve around grief and loss, avoiding the common clichés in what Teicher calls a "strange, sad, gorgeous book."

Looking for funny love stories? Ease your way into short stories with Snapper. These linked tales of a bird-watcher's life are part novel, part collection.

And lastly, one more recommendation from Teicher — for everybody. Incarnadine, by Mary Szybist, is an inventive, experimental take on spirituality in verse. "If you only read one book of poetry this year," Teicher says, "this should be it."

For even more suggestions, check out our poetry and short-stories category. Now, all you story lovers and verse fiends in the crowd — take your turn. What collections would you suggest for readers who are new to the forms?

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