The Short List

I love diving into a novel, but as a writer, I have a special fondness for short stories. They shouldn’t exist, really, it seems that rarely does anyone read them but other short story writers, literary journals, and students that are forced to against their will. Occasionally, a gem like Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth will crack the best-seller list, but for the most part, short stories are relegated to a niche market.

Short stories are a marvel, a little world that you can jump into and out of in an hour, certainly in a day. They provide a glimpse into the true heart of humanity, and then they pull you out and leave you wondering, wanting more.

As Graham Greene said in The End of the Affair, “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” This is what a short story does; it picks a moment and expands it and illuminates it, and in doing so, reveals the essence of the character, of the character’s life, of life itself.

Short stories are notoriously difficult to get right. I read many short stories, for fun, for craft, for guidance, for classes, but mostly because I am searching for that elusive wow. That story that makes my heart beat a little faster, that when I finish it, I can’t move or breathe because I am that amazed. When I find one, I will keep a list here. When I can, I will provide a link to the story itself. Happy reading!

First, the classics:

A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Flannery O’Connor)- This is the one that started it all for me, my first “wow”. I think we read it in every class I have ever taken, but it never gets old. It’s that good.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (Joyce Carol Oates)

The Burning House (Ann Beattie)

Cathedral (Raymond Carver)

Hills Like White Elephants (Ernest Hemingway)

The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)

All Summer In a Day (Ray Bradbury)

White Horse (Margaret Atwood)


If I Loved You I Would Tell You This (Robin Black)

The Guide (Robin Black)

Harriet Elliot (Robin Black)

The Tornado Bandit- Anne Corbitt

The Great Frustration (Seth Fried)

Those of Us in Plaid (Seth Fried)


Bad Return (Aimee Bender in One Story)

Stone Mattress– Margaret Atwood (New Yorker)

Girls Only- Karen Shephard (One Story)


Open Season- Paul Griner

The Sleep- Caitlin Horrocks

Flight- David Lombardi

Soldier of Fortune- Bret Anthony Johnston


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