Short stories are lovely little gems of fiction. Some people think they鈥檙e 鈥渆asier鈥 than novels, but while they鈥檙e more accessible, crafting an amazing short story is a surprisingly difficult task. Think of it as painting a miniature instead of a mural: You need to capture the same human truths, but by using a smaller brush. This week鈥檚 book club features new marvelous moments that are all wonderful miniatures in their own ways, and there鈥檚 something for everyone: those of us who love a strange, transgressive experience; those who are looking from something deeply human and emotional; or the kid in all of us who鈥檚 just looking for a laugh.

1. Large Animals by Jess Arndt ($16): All the stories in Arndt鈥檚 debut collection are more than a little weird, but in a good way. Both the stories and the characters within them refuse to be pigeonholed. They merge surreal aspects with real issues, masculinity with femininity, and language with unnamed feelings. They also create a space for queer narratives and for amorphous bodies; identity is malleable and often strange or undefinable.

鈥淭here was a haze over the boardwalk,鈥 Arndt writes in 鈥淢oon Colonies,鈥 a story set during a wild time in Atlantic City. 鈥淚 couldn鈥檛 tell if it was the heat or the breeze up, sucking aloft those clouds of sand. I felt clammy pressed in between the two of them. A live of sweat slurred along my chest binder. There was a time when I was sure I would get surgery, when I stayed awake late staring at the plaster wall. I鈥檇 made an appointment with the surgeon even, checked the box: payment plan. A giddy, raw feeling. How could it not mean change?鈥

Arndt鈥檚 characters long for different lives and carry burdens they feel don鈥檛 quite belong to them. They deal with parasites, turmoil, mislabeling, and weeds. They have visions and hallucinations, drink, and take drugs. All this disorientation leads to a tumultuous, potentially confusing, but ultimately rewarding reading experience: Kirkus says, 鈥淩eading Arndt is like walking toward a shimmering desert mirage and being met with a cloud of acid instead of an oasis of cool water.鈥

2. The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively ($25): If Arndt鈥檚 stories induce a feeling of bodily disconnect, Lively鈥檚 stories center around the theme of communication and connection between people. A previous winner of the Man Booker Prize (for her novel Moon Tiger), Lively finally makes a triumphant return to the short story form. Her work plays with perception; when two people can interpret the same event in very different ways, effective communication is key.

The title story details the relationship between the swamp hen and slave girl Servilia in the days before Mount Vesuvius erupts in 79CE. Unexpectedly narrated by the hen, it shows how the two kept creatures are the only members of the household able to understand each other when disaster strikes: 鈥淲e looked at each other, bird and girl鈥 No language passed, but perfect understanding. Something I had not come across before with that species.鈥

Other stories include a riff on Pride and Prejudice, tales of ghosts and con artists, and a host of situations where lovers or spouses realize they鈥檝e never completely understood each other. Sometimes they come to a happy resolution, cutting through apprehension and false assumptions. Sometimes the lack of connection has a devastating effect. Ultimately, they encourage us to read each other, and to always get the other person鈥檚 side of the (short) story.

3. Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. EVER. edited by Betsy Bird ($17): It鈥檚 the most tired argument you could possibly have about comedy, but it happens over and over again: 鈥淲omen aren鈥檛 funny.鈥 Try again! To stop this conversation in its tracks, Funny Girl helps convince us (and, more importantly, kids and teens) that women are not only funny, but hilarious. Editor Betsy Bird has collected pieces from 25 funny and accomplished ladies for this anthology, an eclectic mix of topics and styles with a linking thread of pure glee.

Among the short stories are personal essays, multiple-choice questions, and pun-filled comics to keep you entertained, as well as advice from professional comedians about how to be your funniest self. There are titles like 鈥淭he World鈥檚 Most Awkward Mermaid,鈥 鈥淭ell Your Future With Mad Libs鈥 and 鈥7 Things I Thought Were (Think Are) Funny but Were Really Kind of Sad, and That All Happened to My Little Brother.鈥 And, of course, there are discussions about what鈥檚 particularly funny (or aggravating, but you have to laugh) about being female, including periods, dresses, and bra shopping, but the book has a more universal appeal. Friends are funny. Families are funny. Life is funny.

Mostly, at the heart of the book is a message: There鈥檚 a great value (even a superpower) to humor in helping a woman remain well adjusted. As Bird鈥檚 intro puts it, 鈥淚 knew that according to all the magazines and stuff I heard, I was now supposed to be flailing on the floor, berating myself. My self-esteem, by all logic, was meant to plummet. I was supposed to care deeply what other people thought of me, and I did (sorta kinda), but it鈥檚 hard to be down on yourself when you find yourself funny. Or when you find the kernel of humor in dire situations.鈥 Amen to that.

What stories are just the right size? Tag us in your next tiny read @BritandCo.

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