Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (Vintage, $15). Only when I first read Baldwin did I see how emotionally direct stories can be while never approaching sappiness. It's as if every one of his stories is something Baldwin felt he needed to write, that he was more interested in being honest than in wowing the reader with his cleverness.
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15). What I love about Paley is that she writes such voice-driven stories while still giving us a sense of the larger events happening around her characters. The politics of her fiction extends so naturally from the people she depicts that I never feel she's spoon-feeding me any opinions.
All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones (Amistad, $15). Every one of these stories blows me away. Jones writes with precision, heart, and such a tremendously deep sense of history and politics. I must have read this book a dozen times, trying to figure out how he managed to give every one of these stories the heft and scope of a novel.
Transactions in a Foreign Currency by Deborah Eisenberg (available in a collection from Picador for $23). I once bonded with someone over our love of Eisenberg, and he articulated perfectly what I admire most in her writing: It's as if, in each story, she takes us on a tour of a house, showing us every room, every photo on the walls, every item in the drawers — only for us to discover that, all along, there's been a secret attic no one knew about.
Ours by Sergei Dovlatov (out of print). A Russian dissident who immigrated to New York City before the fall of communism, Dovlatov wrote stories filled with warmth, intimacy, wit, and enormous compassion.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Vintage, $16). It's hard to choose just one Munro collection because every one of her books has been hugely influential to me. I love Munro for her brilliant psychological acuity, her emotional generosity, and her deceptively simple sentences: They're gorgeous but never showy.
— Molly Antopol's debut story collection, The UnAmericans, was published in February by W.W. Norton. Last year, the San Francisco–based author was named a '5 Under 35' winner by the National Book Foundation.