The Books Briefing: Short Stories to Read and Reread This Weekend

Get ready for more original fiction from The Atlantic. Your weekly guide to the best in books.

Alvaro Barrientos / AP

In recent years, The Atlantic’s publication of short stories has only been occasional. But the magazine has harbored a love of literature since its very first issue—and thanks to our new fiction initiative, you’ll soon see short stories on our site on a more regular basis.

To that end, we’re starting with Lauren Groff’s new story, “Birdie,” in which a visit to a friend’s deathbed prompts a woman to reconsider a formative period in her life. Other stories from our archives also feature ways of reframing and retelling the past.

The narrator of Walter Mosley’s “Reply to a Dead Man” gets a message from his deceased brother that leads him to see his own life in a completely different way. In “Wolves of Karelia,” Arna Bontemps Hemenway imagines the memories of a real sniper from Finnish history—including scenes the man would prefer to forget.

In E. C. Osondu’s “A Simple Case,” a man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit attempts to talk his way out of jail. And in Louise Erdrich’s “Saint Marie,” a teen girl treks uphill to a convent on a quest that she sees as part vengeance, part salvation.

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

Four friends, a reunion, and an unexpected reckoning
“The women were drinking peach schnapps, telling stories about the worst things they’d ever done.”

📚 “Birdie,” by Lauren Groff

Information passed across the border of death
“My heart started beating rapidly a minute or two after the third time I read the letter. I could have sat there and guessed for a hundred years and never come up with what Seth had to say.”

📚 “Reply to a Dead Man,” by Walter Mosley

(Yuko Shimizu)

Justice inside a notorious prison
“Paiko cleared his throat and spoke for the first time. He was listening to his own voice as the words came out, almost as if the words were not his. His mouth felt like an instrument that was separate from the rest of him.”

📚 “A Simple Case,” by E. C. Osondu

Facing down the violence of faith
“Sister Leopolda … always said the Dark One wanted me most of all, and I believed this. I stood out. Evil was a common thing I trusted.”

📚 “Saint Marie,” by Louise Erdrich

A sniper’s story of love and death in Finland’s Winter War
“To make a perfect shot, you have to know every bit of the woods around you. You have to disappear into the air, to become the weight of the hard rime making the trees into statues.”

📚 “Wolves of Karelia,” by Arna Bontemps Hemenway

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

This week’s question comes from Kris: “My co-worker and I are ... looking for a decent list of books for her 12- and 14-year-old daughters to read. I swear I saw a superb list of recommendations from The Atlantic a few months ago for exactly this age group, but I cannot find it ... did I imagine this?”

The list you’re remembering might be this one, from a Books Briefing last April. While it’s aimed at a 16-year-old, it includes several books that slightly younger readers might enjoy, as well as some titles that your co-worker’s daughters can grow into.

But why stop at one list? If the girls enjoy fantasy, Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small series feature young women fighting to assert themselves in a Game of Thrones–like universe. Gail Carson Levine’s books are more whimsical but just as feminist, offering twists on traditional fairy tales. Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone begins a trilogy inspired by West African mythology and that resonates with contemporary politics; the most recent volume came out just last month.

If realism is more their style, Red Scarf Girl, by Ji-li Jiang, is a memoir of China’s Cultural Revolution that begins when the author is 12 years old. For the older sister, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give reflects on gun violence and police brutality through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl. You can find quieter day-to-day dramas in the work of John Green, whose most recent book, Turtles All the Way Down, follows a girl with severe anxiety, and Elizabeth Acevedo, whose novel in verse The Poet X is about a teen finding her voice through slam poetry.

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. The book on her favorite armchair right now is There There, by Tommy Orange.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team.

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