If there's one thing I've learned from the hassle of my daily commute, it's the delicate pleasure of a short story. Complete, yet compact, they are long enough to be engaging while still short enough to fit into your routine.
So next time you find yourself with a few minutes to spare be sure to have one of these three collections ready. While one story may be the perfect length for a quick commute, I can't guarantee you'll be able to put it down once you reach your destination.
By Junot Diaz, Paperback, 224 pages, Riverhead Trade, list price: $15
Junot Diaz first drew praise for his 1996 debut Drown, a collection of 10 short stories that primarily revolves around communities of transplants from the Dominican Republic to the New Jersey suburbs — a story not unlike Diaz's own — in a way that is both heartfelt and cynical. Most of these stories are told from the perspective of Yunior, who never seems to be able to resolve anything and leaves the reader hanging with his heartbreaking unfulfilled potential. Perhaps the most enjoyable to read — though painful to experience — is "Boyfriend," which follows the hopelessly in love, and high on drugs, Yunior as he muses about his beautiful neighbor. Yet it is Diaz's ability to embed you in this world that leaves you hungry for more.
By Sherman Alexie, Paperback, 352 pages, Grand Central Publishing, list price: $13.99
Sherman Alexie's most recent collection blends short stories with poetry to the point where they're interchangeable. In this refreshing approach, he takes on topics ranging from masculinity to mortality, seen through the autobiographical perspective of his American Indian identity. The title story "War Dances" takes on Kafkaesque themes — cockroaches even play a central role — and deals with the fear and acceptance of impending death. Yet, from the opening poem "The Limited," where he reverts to poetry to respond to a malicious driver, Alexie breathes a haunting humor into his writing.
The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis
By Lydia Davis, Hardcover, 752 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, List price: $30
Be it two sentences or 20 pages, Lydia Davis' ability to delve into her characters, sometimes with no more than a turn of a phrase, makes this collection — a compilation of four previously published volumes — so enjoyable. Because the stories are so short, I found myself hanging on to each word searching for deeper meaning. She starts with thoughts rather than sentences — almost like captions to mysterious photographs: "you see how circumstances are to blame" or "a man in our town is both a dog and its master." Known for her ability to expose the psyche of her characters with little background, she offers powerful observations about her characters' inner thoughts and frustrations.
In the age of Twitter and texting we don't always have patience for more than 140 characters. With these three works you're free to indulge your impatience and skip around till you find something that grabs your attention. In any of these collections you'll be sure to find a good, quick read without having to adjust your schedule.
Miriam Krule is a writer and producer for TheAtlantic.com.
Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman, Lacey Mason and Amelia Salutz.