▪ “A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories,” by Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In this short story collection about characters who work as cleaning women, public school teachers and emergency room techs, Berlin shapes the often gritty and harrowing events of her packed life into rich, darkly funny, seductive prose.
▪ “The Billion Dollar Dream: Stories,” by Robert Day (BkMk Press). This master writer effortlessly introduces compelling characters and then exposes the connection between hubris and consequences. Broken relationships unify these stories set in the Great Plains, Kansas City suburbs and France.
▪ “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living With Books,” by Michael Dirda (Pegasus). A bibliophile’s bonbon. Dirda collects 50 reflections on writers, reading, collectors, literary pets, writer’s block and more.
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▪ “Great Men Die Twice: The Selected Works of Mark Kram,” by Mark Kram (St. Martin’s Griffin). A few decades ago, when boxing had a much bigger audience, Kram covered all the top fights for Sports Illustrated, and this collection of his profiles, essays and deadline reports demonstrates that he was among the great prose stylists of a golden era in magazine journalism.
▪ “Half an Inch of Water,” by Percival Everett (Graywolf Press). Nine short stories of simple, direct writing of rural Wyoming that conveys a deep appreciation of untouched nature and horses.
▪ “How Winter Began: Stories,” by Joy Castro (University of Nebraska Press). These artful and economical stories examine the tightrope walked by characters who, operating under oppressive circumstances, often achieve poetic acts of revenge.
▪ “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks,” by Toni Tipton-Martin (University of Texas Press). This epic work of culinary scholarship about the invisible legions of African-American cooks who shaped what we consider American cuisine is also an engrossing read. Snapshots of 150 cookbooks by black authors from Le Cordon Bleu-trained Leonard Roberts to Pearl Bailey will leave you hungry to own them all.
▪ “Music for Wartime,” by Rebecca Makkai (Viking). This story collection ranges from World War II-era Hungary to the 1980s New York art scene, exploring themes of war, love, art and guilt.
▪ “Sweet Nothing,” by Richard Lange (Little, Brown). In this world-weary yet hopeful collection of stories, Lange doesn’t just ask readers to visit uncomfortable scenarios, he demands we take off our coats and stay for a while. With his lyrical yet matter-of-fact prose, he drills straight to the center of society’s fringe.
▪ “Tales of Accidental Genius,” by Simon Van Booy (HarperPerennial). One of the best living short story writers gives us a collection of six beautifully written stories and a novella that search for the genius in common places and everyday deeds by way of poetic prose.