The Rise of the Short Collection
By Mary Karayel, Alexandra Constable, Aisling O’Mahony and Hayley Cadel
Though short stories have existed in oral form for centuries, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when they emerged in print. One of the earliest examples is the ancient Egyptian tale The Shipwrecked Sailor, which dates back as far as 2000 BC. The earliest written collection of Aesop’s fables dates back to 400 BC. Collections like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron were well-received when they were published in the Middle Ages. Short stories saw a particular increase in popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries with the emergence of talented short-story writers such as Chekhov, Hemingway and Borges. In today’s age of short attention spans and constant rapid influx of information, short stories flourish. Their portable format makes them easy to fit into busy modern life and they continue to enjoy popularity to this day.
But it’s recent smash hits in short story collections that are propelling short-form fiction into the book charts. The most popular collection that comes to mind is Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. The Japanese writer originally wrote the short stories as a play but adapted and published them as a collection in 2015. The premise of the collection is incredibly unique: those who visit a mystical coffee shop in the backstreets of Tokyo and drink the coffee from a special seat can go back in time to see a loved one. However, there are numerous rules that each of the four customers must comply with in order to go back in time. The collection was so incredibly popular that Kawaguchi released a sequel entitled Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café. Other notable short story collections from recent years include Salt Slow by Julia Armfield, Grand Union by Zadie Smith and Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine.
Short-form collections are not just typical of fiction; we are also seeing their prominence in non-fiction. Collections of essays are curated to offer various perspectives on a topic, making them an effective way of promoting an intersectional approach. A few such collections are: Gender Euphoria (edited by Laura Kate Dale), which discusses the joy of being trans, non-binary and intersex; Disability Visibility (edited by Alice Wong), which gives a voice to the disabled experience; and It’s Not About the Burqa (edited by Mariam Khan), in which Muslim women discuss their experiences to propel the conversation further than simply discussing the burqa.
Several celebrities have also tried their hand at writing short-story collections. For example, Tom Hanks published his short story collection, Uncommon Type, in 2017. The seventeen short stories cover a range of topics from immigration to divorce to bowling. James Franco’s anthology, Palo Alto, is a collection of stories about Californian teenagers struggling to fit in. The collection was later adapted into a film starring James Franco himself. Tim Burton has also published an anthology of short stories and poetry entitled The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. The collection has Burton’s typical macabre style and follows a series of misfit children.
Here are some short-story collections coming out in 2022 that we think you should keep your eye out for:
The first book we recommend is the debut collection, We Move, by Gurnaik Johal, which will be out in April. Mapping West London, Johal explores the interconnected lives of his characters from different generations and their attempts at connection through music, food, faith and family. In October, Graywolf Press is translating Manuel Muñoz’s collection, The Consequences, for a UK audience. The stories are set in California’s Central Valley in the 1980s, and look at the violent and difficult challenges faced there, such as dealing with immigration officers, violence and class tensions. Archipelago Books is also translating Moldy Strawberries, by Caio Fernando Abreu. The collection, originally written in Portuguese, consists of eighteen short stories set in Brazil during the 80s, when many suffered from military dictatorship and the AIDS epidemic.
With short-story publisher Scratch Books, publishing its first collection in March this year, the renaissance of short-story literature is far from over. Scratch Books will provide segments on its authors’ creative processes, giving its readers an insight into how each short story was formed and developed. Its first publication, Reverse Engineering, will feature seven stories by Jon McGregor, Sarah Hall, Chris Power, Irenosen Okojie, Jessie Greengrass, Joseph O’Neill and Mahreen Sohail. In our modern world of technological distractions and hectic schedules, the short story’s digestible and convenient presentation is sure to flourish within the publishing industry over the coming years.