The Books Briefing: Five Short Stories to Read This Weekend

Exploring the diversity of The Atlantic’s original fiction: Your weekly guide to the best in books

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Editor’s note: This week’s newsletter is a rerun.

We’ll be back with a fresh newsletter next week.

I often think of fiction as fact’s partner in the pursuit of truth. At its best, the genre is capable of rendering the worlds we’re unable to imagine, and also of revealing the ones hidden around us. Last year, The Atlantic recommitted itself to publishing fiction with greater frequency. Short stories continue to thrive alongside our important journalistic efforts, and we have begun 2021 intent on pushing the diversity of our pieces—not only regarding race, politics, and gender, but also in terms of style, perspective, and form.

In October, Nicole Krauss’s “To Be a Man” ruminated on masculinity and aggression from the perspective of a mother whose two boys are approaching adulthood. In November, we ran an unpublished story by the Gilded Age skewerer (and Atlantic Monthly contributor) Edith Wharton, which displayed her quintessentially American snark and sharp wit. Te-Ping Chen’s story “Shanghai Murmur” closed out the year in December with a tale of a girl who leaves China’s provinces for the metropolis of Shanghai. There she confronts the strictures of class and the limitations of desire.

In January, we shared two extraordinary pieces by two distinct new voices: “Discovery,” by Lauren Oyler, a writer known for her acerbic literary criticism, and “Early Retirement,” by the polymathic and uncompromising Brontez Purnell. Coincidentally, both stories, in all their myriad differences, contain very funny scenes of skin-care routines.

Read more of The Atlantic’s short fiction here.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

A collage of images, including body parts and trees

“To Be a Man,” by Nicole Krauss

“They are walking around Schlachtensee—a long, thin lake at the edge of the Grunewald Forest—discussing whether or not 80 years ago he would have been a Nazi.”

An illustration with a photo of Edith Wharton

“A Granted Prayer,” by Edith Wharton

“She sniffed about his threshold for traces of cigarette-smoke … she even invented an excuse for rummaging his drawers in the search for French novels and cards.”

A photograph of an urban landscape with shadows of flowers on top

“Shanghai Murmur,” by Te-Ping Chen

“She’d found an aperture onto a part of Shanghai that she’d almost stopped hoping she’d ever see, which soothed some of the growling in her chest.”

A multicolored grid with illustrations of parts of a hand

“Discovery,” by Lauren Oyler

“After I used a scientific-looking dropper to apply serum to my nose to decrease redness and ‘purify’ I thought, Great social revolutions are impossible without the feminine ferment.”

Theater curtains with a man's legs sticking out of them

“Early Retirement,” by Brontez Purnell

“From a distance, the hum of the highway sounded like waves crashing into land. In his bed, he would pull the covers over his head and imagine being in the ocean. Alone and at peace.”

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Oliver Munday. The book he’s currently reading is The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch.

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