Three short story collections to pick up during your next coffee break

I have a confession to make: sometimes, I’m not in the mood for a novel. Sometimes, I want to sit down with a cup of coffee (preferably in a gorgeous mug from Sound Ceramics) and read something start to finish. Something short and sweet. Or, more likely, just something short and complete.

That’s when I reach for a short story collection. Over the years I’ve compiled a list of favorites, and I get so many requests for short fiction recommendations, that I thought it would be good to share out my top 3. And so, without further ado…

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw

I first read this collection a year ago, and since then I have often found myself thinking back to the strong female protagonists and the undeniable sense of place that Philyaw creates. This collection is a really stunning debut from Philyaw, and she immediately became one of my favorite new voices on the scene.

Delicate Edible Birds, by Lauren Groff

Like Philyaw’s collection, Groff’s features strong, complex female protagonists. However, Groff’s stories span a wider range of time and place, offering some fun variety throughout (though admittedly a little less cohesion). The title story, especially, is guaranteed to stick with you for a long time.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

Sometimes you just need to laugh. Queue the ever-amusing David Sedaris. I’ve read several of his collections and this is hands down my favorite. I’m always so impressed at David Sedaris’s ability to pinpoint everyday situations and experiences, and explore them for nuggets of insight and empathy that we can all identify with (and laugh at).

I’ve partnered with Sound Ceramics to pair these spectacular collections with Mug #12, one of my very favorite of their wares, made from red stoneware and an elegant white glaze. It holds beverages 8 -12 ounces of your favorite beverage – the perfect amount for a short story. Be sure to check out this and other one-of-a-kind mugs at

Review: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

I’ve read a lot of short stories already this year, but so far The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is my favorite collection, hands down. And I think the reason I enjoyed them so much is that, like most of my favorite literature, these stories are really driven by and focused on characters – in this case those characters are strong, dynamic, Black women of all ages, professions, and perspectives. From a woman learning to accept love in “How to Make Love to a Physicist” to four sisters grappling with the death of their mostly-absent father in “Dear Sister”, these stories really show off Philyaw’s range of character voice and perspective.

But I should also mention that character development isn’t the only thing that makes these stories really memorable. I also keep finding myself contemplating the ways that Deesha Philyaw was able to capture the nuances of Southern culture throughout these stories – even in those stories which took place outside the South. The influence of the South shows up through the subtle details of setting/place, religion, food, dialogue, and so much more.

In short, these are beautiful stories that have so much to offer readers and which are a truly brilliant debut from Deesha Philyaw.

Learning to Read with George Saunders

This time two years ago, I was wrapping up the finishing touches on my thesis to complete my Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction. At the time, I thought I’d gained a deeper knowledge of what it takes to effectively write a story (a novel, a screenplay, a poem, etc.). But from a distance of two years, I look back now and think that what I really gained, was the ability to read a story more effectively.

Now, I think there is a lot of overlap between what it takes to read well and what it takes to write well, but I also think writing well is dependent on reading well. And what George Saunders does in his newest book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is help readers read better. By dissecting stories from four Russian authors, he helps us to better understand the ways a good story works. What is it about a story that compels us to keep reading? And yes, through that close reading, Saunders is subtly teaching us about writing, too – about plot, characterization, story structure.

At times, Saunders offers some insightful writerly advice based on his own journey, practices, and studies. But for me, the value of this book is really that it forces us to slow down, to read more closely, and to consider the work we’re doing as we read. And in that sense, I think Saunders achieves his goal of providing “a master class in writing, reading, and life.”

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