If you’re in a reading slump, don’t have much time to read, or simply want to try out a new format, a collection of essays or short stories may be the perfect challenge for you! These bite-size works of fiction or nonfiction are a great way to get reading in at the end of the day, in the waiting room, or to explore an author’s many pieces of work.

Here are our recommendations for the Waterloo 2021 Reading Challenge prompt: read a collection of essays or short stories. Let’s get started!

Full Throttle: Stories by Joe Hill

A little door that opens to a world of fairy tale wonders becomes the blood-drenched stomping ground for a gang of hunters in “Faun.” A grief-stricken librarian climbs behind the wheel of an antique Bookmobile to deliver fresh reads to the dead in “Late Returns.” In “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” two young friends stumble on the corpse of a plesiosaur at the water’s edge, a discovery that forces them to confront the inescapable truth of their own mortality . . . and other horrors that lurk in the water’s shivery depths. And tension shimmers in the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert as a faceless trucker finds himself caught in a sinister dance with a tribe of motorcycle outlaws in “Throttle,” co-written with Stephen King.

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The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Arguably the most celebrated and revered writer of our time now gives us a new nonfiction collection–a rich gathering of her essays, speeches, and meditations on society, culture, and art, spanning four decades. In the writings and speeches included here, Morrison takes on contested social issues: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “black matter(s),” and human rights. She looks at enduring matters of culture: the role of the artist in society, the literary imagination, the Afro-American presence in American literature, and in her Nobel lecture, the power of language itself.

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The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager

Twenty-three of today’s living literary legends, including Donna Tartt, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Andrew Sean Greer, Laila Lalami, and Michael Chabon, reveal the books that made them think, brought them joy, and changed their lives in this intimate, moving, and insightful collection from “American’s Librarian” Nancy Pearl and noted playwright Jeff Schwager that celebrates the power of literature and reading to connect us all. A love letter to books and a celebration of wordsmiths, The Writer’s Library is a treasure for anyone who has been moved by the written word. 

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.

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Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World collects the personal dispatches from the front lines of one of the most daunting experiences any man can experience: fatherhood. As he conveys his profound awe at experiencing all the “firsts” that fill him with wonder and catch him completely unprepared, Fredrik Backman doesn’t shy away from revealing his own false steps and fatherly flaws, tackling issues both great and small, from masculinity and mid-life crises to practical jokes and poop. Alternating between humorous side notes and longer essays offering his son advice as he grows up and ventures out into the world, Backman relays the big and small lessons in life.

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Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. A gorgeously illustrated collection of twelve fairy tales by the author of The Hazel Wood and The Night Country!

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Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

In the bestselling tradition of bell hooks and Roxane Gay, Tressie McMillan Cottom’s freshman collection illuminates a particular trait of her tribe: being thick. In form, and in substance. McMillan Cottom has crafted a black woman’s cultural bible, as she mines for meaning in places many of us miss and reveals precisely how—when you’re in the thick of it—the political, the social, and the personal are almost always one and the same.

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American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures edited by America Ferrera

Actress America Ferrera invites 31 of her friends, peers, and heroes to share their stories about life between cultures. We know them as actors, comedians, athletes, politicians, artists, and writers. However, they are also immigrants, children or grandchildren of immigrants, indigenous people, or people who otherwise grew up with deep and personal connections to more than one culture. Each of them struggled to establish a sense of self, find belonging, and feel seen. And they call themselves American enthusiastically, reluctantly, or not at all.

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Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat

In these eight powerful, emotionally absorbing stories, a romance unexpectedly sparks between two wounded friends; a marriage ends for what seem like noble reasons, but with irreparable consequences; a young woman holds on to an impossible dream even as she fights for her survival; two lovers reunite after unimaginable tragedy, both for their country and in their lives; a baby’s christening brings three generations of a family to a precarious dance between old and new; a man falls to his death in slow motion, reliving the defining moments of the life he is about to lose.

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A Simple Murder by Linda Castillo

Together for the first time in print, A Simple Murder features six original short stories starring whip-smart chief of police, Kate Burkholder. While on vacation with her partner John Tomasetti in LONG LOST, Kate discovers that the old house where they’re staying is haunted by a girl who disappeared decades before… An abandoned baby is discovered on the Amish bishop’s front porch in A HIDDEN SECRET, and Kate is called in to investigate. SEEDS OF DECEPTION unearths the secrets of Kate Burkholder’s own Amish past―and lays the groundwork for her future career in law enforcement. In IN PLAIN SIGHT, Kate investigates what she believes is a straightforward hit-and-run accident―but soon uncovers a story of teenage passion that may have led to attempted murder.

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All book descriptions were borrowed from Goodreads.com.

Learn more about the 2021 Reading Challenge here.

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