Introduction

“A novel wants to befriend you, a short story almost never.” This one-liner, by the great Joy Williams, master of the form and seductress of the page, explains why I wasted so much of my reading life ignoring short stories, deterred by their haughty high-handedness; they didn’t need me, so I didn’t need them.

What a fool. I could blame my English teachers, or the school syllabus of the early 1990s, but if I hadn’t been so short-sighted I could have picked some up for myself. After all, that’s why I avoided an English degree, and nearly didn’t do English A-Level, figuring I didn’t need to study books to read books.

It took a story by Mary Costello, an Irish writer with a new novel out, handed out at an evening writing class, for me to come to my senses, and now I approach the form with the zeal of a reformed smoker. I press collections on friends, silently judging those I can’t sway with my choices before remembering I don’t really like recommending books; reading is too personal, each plot appealing in different ways at different times in someone’s life.

This will be my excuse if you don’t like any of the following stories, but if you do I am here for book chat over coffee or something stronger even, or especially, when I should be doing something else.

P.S. Being reminded how much I love Alice Munro this week made me feel bad for not including her, but it’s just too hard to pick one story. So I’ll cheat and point you to a bonus collection instead, Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage, although everything she’s written is genius.

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