The short story genre is often eclipsed by the allure of sinking one’s reading teeth into the lengthier novel. Yet despite the genre’s lack of popularity with mainstream readers, the short story form remains the standby for teaching young readers and hopeful writers alike.
First and foremost, I am a lover of literary fiction, which readily shows in my short story collection Such is Life. I highly suggest getting acquainted with the short story genre of contemporary realism. Literary short stories can teach aspiring writers a lot about how to effectively craft fiction in a relatively short amount of time. Now how sweet is that?
Not to mention, the continued rise of Kindle shorts will inevitably continue to lead to more readers making the decision to download shorter works. For all the hustle and bustle of modern life, it really does surprise me that more people don’t read short stories. Perhaps it is because English teachers (which I once was) beat the life out of the genre when it comes time to teaching students how to do literary analysis.
Like many who read and write voraciously, I maintain a long list of books that crawled inside my mind and soul and somehow changed who I was, whether in terms of outlook on the world or in terms of the power of wielding words effectively on the page.
I first visited this list back in June 2012 when my blog barely had any readers. Now that I’m re-visiting my goals for this blog, I wanted to re-post my list. Watch for future posts where I analyze passages from these stories for short story spotlight posts where I explore literary elements in context.
10 Short Story Examples of Excellence
- “Carnal Knowledge” by T. C. Boyle
- “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor
- “Janus” by Ann Beattie
- “Killings” by Andre Dubus
- “The Hellhole” by Annie Proulx
- “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff
- “Mrs. Sen’s” by Jhumpa Lahiri
- “Rock Springs” by Richard Ford
- “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
- “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
The stories above, in addition to countless other short stories, novels, essays, and memoirs have shaped the writer I am still becoming.
What works have most influenced you as a writer?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
Image Credits: Old Typewriter by Petr Kratochvil and Child And Books by George Hodan
Oh there are so many great short stories I have read that I don’t know which to choose. Many lie buried in my consciousness and will probably pop out after I’ve replied to your post. But here is my list of 10 stories:
Nightfall by Isaac Asimov
Umbriel by Donald Wollheim
Pickman’s Model by Lovecraft
The Body by Stephen King
Ervool by Fritz Leiber
The feather Pillow by Horacio Quiroga
The River Styx Runs Upstream by Dan Simmons
The cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
The library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
Journey to the Seed by Alejo Carpentier
The Body is definitely a good one, but The Shawshank Redemption is probably my favorite King story. Asimov is one of many authors I need to read more of.
You really have me thinking now. Short stories might just be the ticket for me. Maybe I need to invest more time in reading some of them so I can decide if they might be something I want to write for myself. 🙂
Cheryl, since you like science fiction and fantasy, the short stories of Ray Bradbury could be a great starting point. When it comes to marketing, short stories aren’t the most popular of genres, but those who love them are tried and true followers of the genre.
As a lover of storytelling it stands to reason I would enjoy short stories. I actually overlooked that as an opportunity to learn how to write. I have since learned it’s value and the many awesome works that are in that form (such as yours). This was a great thought provoking post for me. 🙂
Susan, the great thing about short stories is the massive variety. Plus, shorter page counts, it’s much easier to expose yourself to a wide variety of styles and techniques as opposed to reading novels.
The short stories I studied and tried to learned from are much older than your list – “The Killers” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Hemingway; “A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner; “Why I Live at The PO.” by Welty; “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” by Salinger – being examples. But, the points you make about short stories are all good ones. Attempting to write good short stories feeds right into going after longer works later on. In fact, there are lots of examples of well known novels that contain the essence of short stories written earlier.
Another aspect of the short story form that you mention is that a collection of them can be packaged up and sold as a sort of teaser to whet reader appetites for your longer works. This is not new. Faulkner was a prolific short story writer. He used short stories published in “The Saturday Evening Post” among other magazines to put bread on the table while he wrote his novels complaining all the way about having to “go whoring” with his short stories.
Larry, “A Rose for Emily” would definitely be in my top 15! I haven’t read much Welty, but have liked what I’ve come across, nor have I read many short stories by Faulkener. Sigh… the list of great reads never ends! Being able to pull off a cleverly short story takes so much skill. I can only hope to achieve some of the magic the great ones have managed.
Well, if you have Flannery O’Connor on your list, I must go back and read that short story!
One of my favorite short story writers is S.Y. Agnon. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966, and I understand that made quite a few writers jealous.
I see Asimov and Bradbury in the comments – those are writers I read back in my teens. I think of Arthur Conan Doyle as a master of the short story. Then some of the Russian writers, such as Gogol or Chekhov.
I am not a writer but one of my favorite short stories is A Clean Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway. I am a big fan, my all time favorite book is A Moveable Feast. I think I’ve read it 10 times.
At last, I find a female Hemingway fan! Of course, he wrote tons of short stories. My favorite novel of his would be For Whom the Bell Tolls.
I love, love, love The Sun Also Rises.
I love that story. I randomly refer to “subtext” in conversations and then sight A Clean Well-Lighted Place as if a story they have never heard of and will probably never read explains it all. It’s just such a beautiful piece.
Thanks for this post, Jeri. I don’t read fiction, but I can see where getting my toes wet via the short story genre would be a good exercise. Cheers!
Doreen, perhaps is there was a short story collection about adventures in chocolate you might be tempted to give more fiction a try 😉
I am always amazed at how much impact a short story has. I think it really forces us to be conscientious with word choice. Nice post!
Millie, your insight on short stories is certainly spot on. Now that I am working on my first novel, I find I may be too economical with words at times since I’ve been conditioned and trained to write short stories.
I don’t really read a lot of fiction, but some of it can be really good I recently read the story, “Red Harvest” by Dashiell Hammett. It was pretty entertaining, I couldn’t put the book down.
I love the short story. Lately, that has been where I live.
Speaking of Bradbury, I was excited earlier this year when I found out that my daughter was reading his story “A Sound of Thunder” in her freshman English class. One of my all time favorites is “Rollerball Murder” by William Harrison. Imagine a world where the public requires death in sports to remain entertained. And then I finally read “We can Remember it for you Wholesale” by Phillip K. Dick. The story is so far different than both of the movies that have been made from it.
It seems to me, that you can have a stronger impact on the reader with the short form. There is such shorter space to draw them into the story. The reader is also willing to imagine more because it is a shorter commitment, which in turn draws them deeper into the story.
Jon, Phillip K. Dick is yet another writer I’ve heard lots about but have yet to read. It’s good to hear your daughter gets to read “A Sound of Thunder.” I taught tenth grade, so the Bradbury story I taught was “There Will Come Soft Rains.” It’s a great example of characterizing a house after a nuclear bomb has gone off.
I don’t think I’ve really given short stories a burl. It would make more sense as I don’t read as much as I would like. I think it is time to try out your suggestions 🙂
Becc, if you do read one from my list, I would say give “Where are you going? Where have you been” by Joyce Carol Oates a try.
I definitely do not read as many short stories as i should. But after seeing this post it’s something I want to look into. And to your reply to Geek Girls post, I also highly recommend Ray Bradbury’s short stories. I’ve read a few and loved them all.
Johnny, there are definitely short stories for all tastes. I really do hope you give them a try. My favorites fall under literary realism, though I do enjoy Poe every now and again as well.
I haven’t been much of a short story reader… But now you have me thinking! I’m really getting into reading Native American stories so maybe I’ll check Amazon for something in that genre.
Dan, if you like stories with Native American themes and characters, consider looking into the work of Sherman Alexie.
I think your assumptions about why short stories aren’t very popular is spot on. Not only were they beaten to death in grammar, middle and high school as ways to dissect literature and pick it apart, but most people look for reads that will engulf them in a longer story. I did always like the way short stories were written with greater detail though. Almost like the author could afford to describe every single aspect of the story, characters and settings.
Kelly, at times teaching literature definitely felt like pulling teeth because students of course want to read for entertainment. Another issue comes to play with feelings toward reading assigned pieces and also needed to cover so many of them. Hopefully, I won a few students over to the genre and I hope to be able to do the same with this blog.
Annie Proulx is one if my favourite writers and really stirred an interest in me for short stories. She is such a great writer and her novels are really just short story collections under a different guise. That said , it wasn’t until I was writing them myself that I truly embraced them. Then I started looking at different styles, types of endings,- twist in the tail & do on. Very happy you are going to be featuring them Jeri.
A.K. three cheers for Annie Proulx. I could read her work all day every day. Her novel The Shipping News is also my list of favorite books.
As a devoted reader — and writer — of short stories, I wish everyone understood the pleasure of the format. I don’t think short stories are merely “samples” although they do serve as good advertisements for longer works. I like them for themselves.
Good short stories are perfect gems without an extra sentence.
Candy, you just may have the best short definition for the genre I’ve yet to come across: “Good short stories are perfect gems without an extra sentence.” I’m most drawn to the challenge they provide when it comes to writing concisely.
Great post! I have to admit to a preference for reading big robust stories, but I love listening to short stories on CD. They are how I get through tasks that are monotonous or uninspiring like house work or painting walls.They take me away just long enough for the task to get done. I’m curious about your list and will look for those writers and I see a few old favorites in the comments from other readers. Good for you for championing great part of literature that often gets overlooked.
Debra, I usually blast music when cleaning, but seeing how I have a library of audio short stories I collected when I was teaching, I should give them a play from time to time as well.
There is a series of short stories in a book titled “A Tile of Two Cities” not the classic work of course! It was originally printed in Italian and then translated into English and it has dozens of whimsical stories I love to read to look for inspiration!
It’s funny that you wrote a post about this because I have contemplating short stories and why I don’t attach myself to them anymore. All through out school and through college I loved reading short stories when they were assigned. They were quick, easy and I got get a whole story in during a short amount of time. (I love stories, beginning to end). But outside of school, I have never been one to choose short stories. I don’t even enjoy buying books that are a collection of short stories–no offense. I actually often do thinking I will get back into reading short stories and short essays, but I always find myself shelfing them away. I also have written several short stories and they aren’t too shabby. When I was looking over the stories I read, it hit me that I don’t like short stories because they are over too soon and I don’t get the chance to get too involved with the characters. This is what I like about novels. I can read one in a day, but I spend most of that day invested in the characters and the setting and I get lost in there. I like that.
Mary, Stephen King wrote an introduction for the Best American Short Stories anthology a while back in which he discussed how story stories, though a respected literary form, get the bottom shelf treatment at bookstores. I keep hoping that will someday change with the rise of eReaders and more and more people publishing short works. That’s great that you’ve written some stories. Who knows, maybe a novel is in your future as well 😉
A Clean Well-Lighted Place, The Lottery, Flowers for Algernon, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, just any Hemingway or Nabokov piece…
There are so many more than are eluding me at the moment. I guess I could come back and keep on listing…
I shared this on my facebook page too. Let’s see what more I get…
Dan, thanks for stopping by and thanks for the great list of stories. I love Nabokov and can only wish to achieve of quarter of his talent with putting words on the page.
Love seeing Boyle at the top of your list. I had been writing and reading for many years, but in 1987, when I came across Boyle’s “Descent of Man,” and read that opening sentence: “I was living with a woman who suddenly began to stink,” I instantly understood what was possible.
Tony, I love “Carnal Knowledge” but have yet to read much else by Boyle. He’s been on my list forever. Your comment makes me want to nudge him up to my TBR list for this year.
It’s strange how short stories are often seen as ‘less than” relative to the novel. it’s the same with small paintings relative to larger ones, although there are exceptions – the Mona Lisa being just one. I go through phases when I enjoy reading them – a little taste treat, with the whole collection not to be consumed all at once. I really like Raymond Carver, as well as Annie Proulx. And then there’s Alice Munro too. I’m also a big fan of david Sedaris, which is completely different of course. Good post jeri. Thanks
AK, I need to make a list of my favorite essays as well. David Sedaris would definitely be on that list. His talent for humor is so impressive, and I really love to listen to his works read aloud.