A Virtual Bookshelf by George Saunders, author of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life! Listen to George Saunders in conversation with Skylight's Alena Saunders on the Skylight Books Podcast

Unfortunately, some of these titles are not currently available to order. Check out your local library or used bookstore to get your hands on a copy of these great recs.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9781984856029
Availability: Not in stock. Available To Order.
Published: Random House - January 12th, 2021

Gorilla, My Love (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679738985
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - June 30th, 1992

These stories are funny and deep; Bambara is another master of voice.  When my wife Paula was on fellowship with Toni Morrison at SUNY Albany, Bambara came to do a reading and I was struck by the quality of her engagement with the students, and never forgot it (and am only now realizing how much that visit informed my future teaching).  She didn’t do the usual Visiting Writer thing of distancing herself from the students but instead threw herself among us with real warmth and curiosity.  These qualities are abundant in this wonderful collection.  Bambara was also an essential activist; to get a feeling for this side of her work, check out Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations (with an introduction by Toni Morrison).

Women In Their Beds: Thirty-Five Stories Cover Image
By Gina Berriault, Peter Orner (Foreword by)
Possibly out of print. Email or call to check availability and price.
ISBN: 9781619029613
Published: Counterpoint - October 10th, 2017

Tobias Wolff recommended this book to me many years ago and I was blown away by it.  Berriault does something magical with identity, often by initially withholding it – we will sometimes be in character’s mind for quite a while before we find out who she is – what age and so on.  When I first read this book, it had the effect of reminding me that, really, this is true: we are souls first, and minds – a seventy-year-old can occasionally manifest as a teenager (and vice versa).  One of the stories in this book, “The Stone Boy,” is an American classic.

City Folk and Country Folk (Russian Library) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780231183031
Availability: Not in stock. Available To Order.
Published: Columbia University Press - August 15th, 2017

I am a big fan of the Russian writers but only recently became aware of this novel, which is somehow funnier and more real than many of the “big” books by male writers – it helped me make the connection between that time and ours.

Silences Cover Image
By Tillie Olsen, Shelley Fisher Fishkin (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781558614413
Availability: Not in stock. Available To Order.
Published: Feminist Press - April 1st, 2003

Olsen’s short story, “I Stand Here Ironing” is one of the greatest ever written but all her life she struggled to find time and space to work.  This book explores that very issue – how forces in the world work to silence certain writers, and what such writers can do in response.  It also contains an invaluable list of neglected 19th-Century women writers, many of whose books had gone out of print – the list caused many of those books to be reissued.

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374537418
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - April 3rd, 2018

If you’re interested in the idea that voice may be the thing that fiction offers uniquely, Paley is a writer for you.  Funny and wildly alive and deeply political in the most genuine of ways, reading her (even just a few sentences) always awakens my love for language and my faith in it as an agent of change.  Confession: I wrote the intro to this volume, which also serves as a great intro to her poems and essays.  The Collected Stories of Grace Paley is another way in, should you want to focus on just her fiction.