Short Stories for Distracted Minds | Wyatt’s World

A long novel can provide the perfect escape, sometimes a weeks-long fall into story, character, and place. But other times such needed focus is in short supply, and what readers really crave are brief pieces that can recenter their thinking—like boot camp meditation. Here are five collections to do just that.

    • The Dinner Party: And Other Stories by Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown).
      Known for his novels—such as Then We Came to the End, a National Book Award finalist—Ferris here turns to shorter pieces, offering 11 finely honed investigations into character, loneliness, and chance.
    • Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley (Harper).
      After her prize-winning novel, The Past, Hadley returns to short stories, crafting exquisitely formed gems that subtly explore how the ordinary becomes almost unbearably resonant.
    • Fen: Stories by Daisy Johnson (Graywolf).
      This debut collection is set in the uncertain spaces of England’s Fenland, a once watery landscape taken from the sea through technology. In keeping with its changeable locale, these pieces mix the fantastical and real, stressing place and language.
    • The Purple Swamp Hen: And Other Stories by Penelope Lively (Viking).
      In this wide-ranging compilation, the award-winning Lively sends up bright stars of stories. A Roman hen living in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius narrates the title piece; another is connected to Jane Austen. All demonstrate Lively’s brilliant skill and insight.
    • Men Without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami; tr. from Japanese by Philip Gabriel & Ted Goossen (Knopf).
      Readers know to turn to Murakami for his addictive and odd amalgam of the strange and familiar. In seven stories, he proves his skill once more, this time in a callout to Ernest Hemingway, focusing on men whose lives are full yet are somehow alone.
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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at

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