Posted June 23, 2014 by in Book Lists

Summer Reading: Short Stories for Busy Readers

The words “summer” and “reading” are essentially the two greatest words in the English language to most of us. When we put them together, we probably think of the beach or a cozy corner somewhere. We imagine gigantic book covers with long arms; they are holding glasses of lemonade and sweating on a tropical coast somewhere far away. Many of us have extra time in the summer. There are vacations to be had; there are travels to be made. For the lucky, summer is a time reserved for relaxation. To these privileged people, go out and tackle that Pulitzer-winning tome by Donna Tartt poolside or give Greg Iles’s Natchez Burning a try while sunbathing.

This post, though, is for the unlucky. It is for those stuck at home—those working the 9 to 5 and saving vacation days until chilly winter days take over.

You don’t have a lot of free time, but there are a few unclaimed minutes each week. Let’s fill them with some great short stories. Read one while at the doctor’s office. Read two when that drive-thru line is going nowhere. They aren’t as big as what your friend is taking to the beach, but they might be just as good (or better). Grab one of these short titles, and you won’t be disappointed:

Karen Russell’s “Haunting Olivia”

Young Olivia is dead, but that doesn’t stop her little brothers from trying to find her in an underwater cave. Russell is known for her magical realism tales, and this is one of her strangest. There are gigantic crabs, ghosts, and nighttime illuminations. “Haunting Olivia” is a meditation on youthful innocence and guilt.  Read it when you are in the mood for something that is, quite literally, out of this world.

Phil Klay’s “Redeployment”

Alert: “Redeployment” is the best story of 2014, told from a first-person point-of-view. It’s also a portion of one of the best books of the year (see our review). Klay’s soldier narrator returns home to his wife and dog in an America that is unlike the one from which he left. People are no longer just people; instead, they are potential enemies. The narrator can’t walk down the street or try on clothes without feeling discomfort. The war changes him; it makes him harder yet more vulnerable. Also, at home, things are changing, especially with the care and health of his dog. The narrator has to decide if his dog should have an honorable death or one that comes naturally but with suffering. “Redeployment” is a story of survival. Prepare to support your jaw because it will be hanging open throughout most of the story.

Jess Walter’s “Anything Helps”

Jess Walter is a popular novelist, but his 2013 collection We Live in Water proved to contain some of his best work. “Anything Helps” is about a homeless father named Bit. Bit has more problems than just being homeless. He gets kicked out of a shelter, and he can’t see his son who lives in a foster home. The latter is the one that seems to press on Bit the most. To help, he comes up with a plan. He wants to buy his son the latest Harry Potter book. The problem: he doesn’t have any money. Bit creates a plan and puts it to work quickly. The end is devastatingly sad, but it’s also oddly comforting. “Anything Helps” is a good read for anyone still needing a Father’s Day fix, or for anyone who is a dad or, better yet, has (or has had) a dad.

Dan Chaon’s “The Bees”

“The Bees” is terrifying. Alcoholism leads a man to believe that he can really escape his past. Well, surprise, he can’t. His past literally comes back to haunt him and takes away everything he has. There are ghosts. There are nightmares. There is a Poe-esque feeling. There is violence. And, oh, there is death. Don’t read “The Bees” in bed (you’ll know why soon enough).

Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Aquarium”

Aleksandar Hemon’s fiction doesn’t do a lot for me. Don’t get me wrong; I respect it. It’s just a little too neat for my personal taste. His non-fiction is much better. “The Aquarium” is his most emotional and best work. Hemon’s story tells about his youngest daughter, Isabel, who is not even one year old when his narrative begins. She is diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. Hemon describes the illness’s progression and his family’s handling of her sickness. One of the most striking aspects of “The Aquarium” is how Hemon’s other daughter, three-year-old Ella, responds to her sister’s condition. Ella is kind to Isabel and shows so much love when visiting her in the hospital. Back home, Ella creates an imaginary brother who does what Isabel can’t. I can’t imagine having the bravery to pen what Hemon does here. Keep tissues nearby because you will need them, but don’t let the sadness keep you away. If there were ever a story to best illustrate the theme of familial love, this is it.


Enjoy these reads next time you have a few minutes to spare.  You won’t regret it.  Did I miss another great short story?  If so, what is it?  Sound off in the comments.

Summer Reading: Short Stories for Busy Readers 5.00/5 (100.00%) 1 vote

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. He currently teaches junior English in Tennessee. His fiction appears (and is forthcoming) in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, and Used Gravitrons. He is a contributor to Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is working on his debut novel.