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Originally published Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:01 AM

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Beyond Angry Birds: great cellphone reads

Short stories are perfect for reading on your smartphone (or tablet); in the space of a bus ride you can sample some fine short fiction.

Special to The Seattle Times

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... it is continuing to rain, and you continue to behave as if you were a tad bored ... But it might also be that while you were riding along like that, you heard or saw something beautiful, gay, or sad, something you will never forget.

— “In the Electric Train,” by Robert Walser

We know the old complaint: So Many Books, So Little Time! Those of us who don’t read (much) cite busy lives as the culprit, and yet somehow we still manage to steal a few precious moments for Fruit Ninja, Temple Run or the latest iteration of the Harlem Shake. Maybe you’re not up for reading an entire novel on your cellphone, but short stories are another matter. In the space of your daily bus ride you can treat yourself to entire oeuvres. Here are some outstanding recent story collections for various tastes, all available as eBooks from the Seattle Public Library.

The quote above is from “Berlin Stories”(New York Review Books Classics, translated by Susan Bernofsky), brief sketches in which the Swiss flâneurRobert Walser rambles through a succession of everyday scenes — train platforms, bustling boulevards — with an enchanting simplicity that reveals the eternal in the ephemeral. With gentle humor that’s far more devastating than snark, holy fool Walser points out curious bubbles and eddies in the stream of experience flowing around us. It’s the perfect thing to read on public transit.

Walser’s countryman Peter Stamm also writes with a disarming immediacy, luring us into his characters’ lives with spare, unassuming prose that unmoors us from our habituated views, revealing a stranger reality. Footfalls from the apartment above. A vacation destination that disappoints. A couple haltingly furnishing their new relationship. The situations depicted in Stamm’s “We’re Flying”(Other Press, translated by Michael Hoffmann) evoke the negative spaces of Raymond Carver or the quiet menace of Shirley Jackson, but with Walser’s light touch. Maybe it’s a Swiss thing.

The short mysteries in John Harvey’s “A Darker Shade of Blue” (Pegasus) deal in real crimes and victims whose vulnerability is all too palpable. Harvey has a knack for the telling detail, conjuring pushers, pimps and pedophiles, avenging angels and tarnished knights into stirring life — and sometimes bloody death — with a few deft strokes of his pen. These are bite-sized morsels of the best British crime writing around.

In the title story of Seattle author Kij Johnson’s“At the Mouth of the River of Bees”(Small Beer Press), a woman takes her dog and leaves Seattle, heading east until her progress is arrested (around Missoula) by a shifting river of bees. It is unexpected to be sure, but no more unnatural than the inexplicably disappearing monkeys, the storytelling dogs, or the woman-cum-fox also found in Johnson’s surreal menagerie. Less predictable than mere grown-up fairy tales, the curiously captivating stories in this collection map out a natural world that we perversely imagine ourselves to be outside.

Most tribute anthologies are about as inspiring as an obligatory retirement dinner, but when the late Ray Bradbury is the guest of honor it brings out the best. In “Shadow Show: All-new Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury”(Morrow), a staggering array of great writers offer up a spectrum of tales in all the master’s hues, from dreamy to nightmarish to wistful to grim. Standouts include Joe Hill’s “By the Silvery Water of Lake Champlain,” in which three children find the washed-up corpse of a legendary monster, and Neil Gaiman’s “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” with its haunting vision of a world losing his stories. Perish the thought!

David Wright is a Reader Services librarian at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Branch.

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