Carmen Maria Machado's 6 favorite story collections

The National Book Award finalist recommends works by Sofia Samatar, Julia Elliott, and more

Carmen Maria Machado.
(Image credit: Tom Storm)

Beasts and Children by Amy Parker (Mariner, $16).

Emily Dickinson once said, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." These 10 gorgeous interconnected stories about broken families are pure poetry — human, muscular, and disquieting.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang (Lenny, $26).

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Though Sour Heart is only her first book, Jenny Zhang has already established herself as one of our most brilliant contemporary writers, having produced a breathtaking body of work that stretches across half a dozen genres. Sour Heart is a short-story collection and bildungsroman in fragments that gives tender, ferocious attention to the lives of young Chinese-American women.

Tender by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer, $24).

When Tender was published last spring, I had been waiting for a short-story collection from Sofia Samatar for what felt like 10 million years. Samatar is a novelist, poet, scholar, and author of science fiction and fantasy stories, and this book combines previously published award-winning short fiction with two new pieces, a novella and a story, that give life to the breadth and width of her astonishing imagination.

The Wilds by Julia Elliott (Tin House, $16).

I once burned a pot of marinara sauce because I started reading The Wilds while waiting for the sauce to heat up and didn't stop until the smoke alarm went off. Julia Elliott's stories are Barry Hannah by the way of George Saunders, and the results are sorrowful, genre-defying, and very, very funny.

What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Riverhead, $26).

This debut collection is a real stunner — one of the best of 2017. Lesley Nneka Arimah's prose is lovely and effortless, and her 12 stories leap from genre to genre while always showcasing her masterful understanding of human frailty.

White Dialogues by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio, $16).

These 11 cerebral, uncanny stories marry horror, pop culture, metafiction, and cinema, and the result is a collection unlike any other in recent memory. If you like David Foster Wallace, Godzilla, or both, you need this book.

Carmen Maria Machado is a Philadelphia-based critic and writer of speculative ­fiction whose debut short-story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was recently named a finalist for a National Book Award.

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