“Good” and “bad” are all right as mood descriptors (we gueeeesss), but a little simplistic, don’t you think? After all, we are complex beings filled with ever-changing emotions that cannot be easily explained! If you’ve ever cry-napped an afternoon away or hate-eaten an entire freezer full of DiGiorno, then you know what I mean.
Short stories are perfect for the mini tempests inside us all, because they’re perfectly bite-sized. So fuel the fires of your Real Housewives–induced murderous rage-smile as long as you’d like—or, better yet, drown your sorrows in one of these pitch-perfect short-story collections. Because we all know another mood is just around the corner.
Your Mood: Whimsical—but in a Björk way, not a Zooey Deschanel way
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, by Aimee Bender
In a single collection, you get a boyfriend de-evolving into a salamander, a woman giving birth to her own mother, a man without lips, and a mermaid (among others). It’s an eccentric parade of characters and situations that will make you want to climb into Bender’s brain and get your Entertainment Weekly subscription forwarded there. Still, no matter how fantastical their premises, each story has an emotional payoff that feels all too relatable. Sure, we haven’t all been in a relationship with someone who has lost his lips—but we’ve all felt love, disappointment, hope, and grief. Bender wraps all that up in weird. And it’s great.
Your Mood: Wishing something interesting would happen
Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman
If you’ve ever spent even a second wondering why you never received your Hogwarts letter, or you were super pumped for the arrival of the next season of Sherlock, then yes. This is the one. It’s dreams and nightmares and magic and reimaginings of your favorite stories, like The Matrix and The Chronicles of Narnia. Gaiman is a master, and although some fans report this collection to be a bit uneven, the endings of many of these stories will stick with you like you’ve stepped in someone else’s gum. It’s a must-have if you love Gaiman.
Your Mood: Vaguely sad but you don’t want anyone to know
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
Olive might not star in every single one of Strout’s stories, but the titular character is a huge, captivating presence regardless. She’s a fun contrast to the writing style, which in and of itself feels like New England—restrained and haunting, with a dense, low-hanging fog over it. Olive is that Grandma we all know, the brusque and abrasive kind who every now and then sidelines you with a rough hug you never saw coming. Many of these pieces hinge on concepts of deception and acceptance that are heartbreaking in their simplicity. You want to root for Olive. And even if you don’t, she’ll kinda keep nudging at you anyway.
Your Mood: Suspicious of basically everyone
The Lottery: And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
It’s almost unfair to include The Lottery alongside other stories, because it’s such a tough act to follow. Do you remember where you were when you first read it? Nothing seeps into your bones quite like the ending. That being said, the rest of Jackson’s collection is no slouch, either. There are moments of hilarity, but for the most part, it’s a cross-section of humanity with an undercurrent of cynicism. Many of the stories flirt with darkness—Jackson’s characters are liars, braggarts, gossips, ’fraidy cats and murderers (just like us!).
Your Mood: Intellectually frustrated but also oddly compelled by reality TV
Girl with Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace
Not a ton of people with moral scruples up in this book—and the titular story will leave you feeling a little gross. Well, to be fair, all the stories will make you mildly uncomfortable. Still, if you’re super-smart, you’ll understand that a lot of it is metafiction. But even if you’re just a regular type like the rest of us, you’ll at least pick up on how dexterous Wallace is as a writer. The pieces all differ greatly in both tone and style, so you’ll never get bored. It’s a great starter DFW read if Infinite Jest scares the bejeezus out of you.
Your Mood: Nostalgic for your high-school goth phase
The Best Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe
Forget your Saws and your Final Destinations. So obvious! Poe is the classic choice when you want to spook yourself without all the spatter. In this collection—which includes some of his more widely recognized stories, like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”—people are getting buried alive, going mad, and seeking revenge like crazy. It’s dark. Plus, many of these stories have twist endings, which are satisfyingly creepy in a “The call is coming from inside the house!” kind of way, only better and sometimes in Latin. “Requiescat In Pace!” to you too, Poe, you little Prince of Darkness.