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6 essential collections to celebrate short story month

Alice Munro, who devoted almost her entire career to the art of the short story, has died at age 92.
(Peter Morrison / Associated Press)

Celebrate Short Story Month with books by authors Alice Munro, Alejandro Zambra, Juliet Escoria and more in this edition of the Book Club newsletter.

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Good morning and welcome back to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

I’m Jim Ruland, a fiction writer, punk historian and a longtime contributor to the Los Angeles Times, and this summer I’ll be writing the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

In addition to being Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, May is Short Story Month and I’ve got a ton of recommendations of new, recently published and forthcoming short story collections for you.

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Once a staple of newspapers and magazines, short stories have few outlets to call home these days. With every magazine that goes out of print, there’s less space for short fiction. Short story collections are less likely to receive coverage than novels. That means readers looking for a good story have to seek them out.

Unlike National Poetry Month, which was launched in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, Short Story Month hasn’t been around for very long and does not have the support of a national organization. It started in April 2007 and is the brainchild of Dan Wickett of Emerging Writers Network and is celebrated by those of us who love the form.

I once believed the advent of the internet would lead to an explosion in the form — it seemed the perfect venue for stories you could read in one sitting. I was wrong. Now our attention span has been obliterated by social media. How can the genius of Anton Chekhov compete with short video clips of pets (and their humans) exhibiting all manner of questionable behavior?

One thing we can all agree on is that few short story writers did it better than Alice Munro, who passed away this week at the age of 92.

Alice Munro, the Nobel Prize-winning short story author known for ‘Dear Life,’ has died. She was 92.

May 14, 2024

Munro devoted almost her entire career to the art of the short story, penning innovative tales that widened the lens of short fiction. She published her last collection of stories in 2012 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature the following year.

When news broke Tuesday of Munro’s death, novelist and short story writer Laura van den Berg wrote on X: “I’ve learned an endless amount from Munro’s refusal of clean resolution & her embrace of unfurling possibility. The quiet art of wrestling w/ the big questions.”

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Lit Hub’s Emily Temple penned a short remembrance and Granta removed the paywall for four of Munro’s stories.

(Please note: The Times may earn a commission through links to Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookstores.)

Recommendations for recent, new and forthcoming collections

Although Munro didn’t need a translator, her short stories opened up the lives of rural Canadians to the rest of the world. No other art form lets you inhabit the consciousness of another with such immediacy. I especially love reading translated stories from other parts of the world, and there have been some outstanding collections this year:

“My Documents: Stories” by Alejandro Zambra and translated by Megan McDowell (Penguin, February 2024)
Originally published in English in 2015, Zambra’s stories drew comparisons to his countryman Roberto Bolaño. The new edition features five new stories and a foreword by Megan McDowell, who has translated virtually all of Zambra’s work into English.

“Through the Night Like a Snake: Latin American Horror” edited by Sarah Coolidge (Two Lines Press, March 2024)
Short stories are still one of the best ways for readers to discover new voices. This collection brings together powerhouses like Argentina’s Mariana Enriquez and rising stars such as Ecuador’s Mónica Ojeda.

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“Ghost Years” by Barry Gifford (Seven Stories Press, April 2024)
The author of ’90s novels “Wild at Heart” and “Perdita Durango” is still cranking out his signature style of quirky, dialogue-heavy epiphanic tales. In recent years, his work has centered on a boy named Roy with a glamorous mother and a gangster father in 1950s Chicago that bears a resemblance to his own upbringing.

“The Novices of Lerna” by Ángel Bonomini and translated by Jordan Landsman (Transit Books, May 2024)
Regarded as one of Argentina’s untranslated treasures, these stories were originally published 50 years ago. A peer of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, Bonomini’s strange and captivating stories are worth the wait. Read the story “Aromatic Herbs” here.

“Mouth” by Puloma Ghosh (Astra House, June 2024)
With stories ranging from the speculative to the surreal, Chicago writer Puloma Ghosh takes readers to the edge of the known world and pushes them over the edge.

“You Are the Snake” by Juliet Escoria (Soft Skull Press, June 2024)
Cult favorite Juliet Escoria left San Diego for West Virginia and is back with a new collection of stories full of razor-sharp insights.

The Week(s) in Books: Rock Renaissance?

Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre in Pasadena on April 10.
(Marcus Ubungen / For The Times)

Even though it’s getting harder to find rock ‘n’ roll on the radio — harder even than finding an actual radio — rockers from the ’80s and ’90s are telling their stories. The result? A plethora of rock memoirs that are a welcome break from the struggle-stardom-recovery template of so many rock tomes of the ’70s.

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This week Michael Malone interviewed Serj Tankian, the lead vocalist of System of a Down, whose new book, wait for it, “Down With the System,” was released on Tuesday. “I was very honest because that’s who I am,” said Tankian. “I’m an activist, and without being honest, there’s no activism.” Preach.

Earlier this month, Lauren LeBlanc profiled Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre about her new book, “Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk.” You can still get tickets to see Hanna in conversation with Amy Poehler on Monday, May 20, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in an event presented by Book Soup.

Mike Magrann of the L.A. punk rock band CH3 will read from his autobiographical road novel “Miles Per Gallon” at the Cerritos Library on June 5 at 6pm. The event will be followed by a performance of CH3 songs.

Meanwhile, the music industry continues to mourn the death of legendary musician, producer and Gen X pain-in-the-ass Steve Albini. Mikael Wood assembled a list of 12 essential songs Albini wrote, recorded and/or produced that changed rock music.

Also this week, Jessica Ferri talked to Miranda July about her new novel “All Fours,” a kind of portrait of the artist at mid-life: “It’s only getting weirder and weirder!”

Bookstore faves

Every few weeks, we check in with an L.A. bookseller or librarian about what books they’re loving. This week it’s Alexandra Jade, a bookseller at Stories Books and Café.

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Stories carries a mix of new and used books and has a cozy little cafe and an outdoor patio in the back where it holds readings and conversations between writers. Jade sent me a list of some of the staff’s favorite writers of short fiction:

“When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamin Labatut and translated by Adrian Nathan West
A genre-bending hybrid of fiction and narrative nonfiction told in a style that Labatut has made his own.

“Terminal Boredom” and “Hit Parade of Tears” by Izumi Suzuki with multiple translators
Speculative short stories from the legendary Japanese storyteller.

“Tales of Falling and Flying” by local author Ben Loory
There are two kinds of readers: those who love Loory’s strange stark stories and those who haven’t encountered them yet.

“Blow-Up and Other Stories” by Julio Cortazar and translated by Paul Blackburn
Fifteen stories in which unsuspecting characters stumble into scenarios at odds with the normal rules that govern reality.

“The World Goes On” by Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai and multiple translators
As unforgettable as it is unusual, a narrator relates a series of tales that showcases the writing of the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize.

Stories also reported considerable interest in these new releases:

“Alphabetical Diaries” by Sheila Heti, who deftly rearranges her diary entries in such a way that imbues them with new meaning and arresting insights.

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“My First Book” by Gen Z sensation Honor Levy, who celebrated her first collection at Stories last night.

Stories is a stalwart supporter of indie lit and carries a number of titles by local independent publishers, including Archway Editions (an imprint of powerHouse Books) and Dream Boy Book Club, “books for people who don’t read books.”

That’s it for now! I hope the rest of your weekend is full of books that are everything you want them to be.

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