Every time I travel, I carefully choose the book that will accompany me through airports and hotel rooms. It’s rare that I go on trips where I’ll have abundant downtime: My family vacations have always been the “race around a city until you see everything” type rather than the “lay on the beach and relax” version.
But even on the busiest trip, the thought of traveling without a book is horrifying. Who wants to be stuck on a plane for two hours with nothing to do but sip a plastic cup of soda and stare at the back of the seat in front of you?
One solution is to pick a fast read, but I’m rarely in the mood for a quickie romance novel, and let’s be real, it’s a pain to lug around a book that you’ve already finished when you are trying to pack up to go home. It’s worth mentioning at this point that I happen to be one of those insufferable people who continue to pretend that e-readers don’t exist.
This, my friends, is the short story’s moment to shine.
Short stories are perfect for travel, because you can read a few, set the book aside for weeks or months, and then dive back in without having to recall complex webs of characters or plot details–so if you don’t finish the book during your trip, you won’t have that vague, lingering sense of guilt that comes with neglecting a good story. Plus, short stories don’t sacrifice the rich nuance of a good tale–like poetry, they simply compress it.
I’ve chosen some volumes of short stories (and one book of essays!) that won’t let you down the next time you need a book for those busy trips or times when you just can’t commit to a whole novel.
“Varieties of Disturbance” by Lydia Davis
You might recall seeing Lydia Davis’s name on a book if you’ve got any French works on your shelf. She’s famous for writing a lauded English translation of Proust’s “Swann’s Way,” but what many people might not realize is that she is also the author of some wonderfully peculiar short stories, including one that hazards a guess at what dating Franz Kafka might be like. (Spoiler: He’s an overthinker.)
“Dubliners” by James Joyce
Let’s not read Ulysses and say we did. And instead, let’s read “Dubliners.” The slim volume of stories follow an arc from birth to death, and each contains an epiphany. The stories are easy to read but dense with allusions to Ireland’s political history, so they beg rereading, preferably with Google ready on your iPhone.
“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri
In addition to a number of stellar short stories, this volume contains a novella so emotional and moving that one of my college professors actually apologized to my class because we were all so attached to a character who meets an unfortunate fate. It’s a beautiful glimpse into Indian American culture.
“Street of Crocodiles” by Bruno Schultz
Alternatively called “Cinnamon Shops,” Schultz’s work is so profoundly influential that that two countries are actually fighting over a mural he painted while enslaved by a Nazi officer. Only two small volumes of short stories survived World War II, and both offer bizarre and dreamlike tours of Drohobycz, a once-Polish town that fell into Ukraine as borders shifted.
“Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim” (or anything) by David Sedaris
Technically these are essays and not short stories, but David Sedaris is a riot. You’ve probably read “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by now, but you can never go wrong with adding another collection of his essays to your packing list.
“The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke
BBC recently adapted Clarke’s epic fantasy novel (“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”), but for the times you can’t haul an 800 page book around, tuck this volume of short stories into your bag. The volume includes stories about characters from the Strange and Norrell novel, as well as stories that continue to build out the past and future of her version of an England warped by magic.
“Who’s Irish?” by Gish Jen
Wickedly funny and insightful, Jen’s stories deal with the confounding aspects of blended identities, delving into the confusing aspects of what it means to be Chinese American.