Best books … chosen by Jay McInerney
Jay McInerney’s How It Ended, a volume of new and collected short stories, has just been published. Below, the Bright Lights, Big City author names his favorite story collections.
Dubliners by James Joyce (Prestwick House, $4). A bleakly beautiful collection of thematically linked stories, which progress from adolescence to maturity against the backdrop of early 20th-
century Dublin. Joyce developed his idea of the epiphany, a moment of inner revelation, in this collection, which ends with the haunting novella “The Dead.”
Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel (Norton, $15). These stories, set during the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, read like the vivid journal entries of a sensitive soul set down in the midst of a brutal war—which in a sense, they are. “My First Goose” is one of the greatest stories in any language.
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $14). It’s possible to argue that Hemingway’s greatest achievement was in the short-story form, which he changed forever with the publication of this collection in 1925. In these taut, elliptical stories, each word shimmers like a pebble at the bottom of a crystal-clear stream.
The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17). If Hemingway was influential, O’Connor was inimitable. She writes like an Old Testament prophet transplanted to South Georgia. The atmospherics are hot and humid, but her vision is ice-cold, the violence leavened with black humor and occasional glimpses of grace.
The Stories of John Cheever (Random House, $18). Cheever was suburban America’s first bard, a romantic and a fabulist disguised as a realist. Grounded in a meticulously rendered world of car pools and lawn mowers and country clubs, his stories were informed by a Calvinist sense of good and evil and a yearning for transcendence. One of the few story collections ever to enjoy a reign atop The New York Times’ best-seller list.
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver (Vintage, $15). Carver’s first collection, with its pared-down, colloquial language and its working-class settings, almost single-handedly revivified realism, and the short story itself, when it appeared in 1976. It remains astonishingly fresh and powerful to this day. Like Hemingway, Carver stripped away the cobwebs and taught us a new way to see and hear the world around us.