I used to hate short stories. To me, the short story was a pale imitation of the novel—essentially, an unfinished thought, a weak, impotent, and even lazy gesture at what could have been greatness. To me, the short story was worthy of the seventh grade and the Readers Digest at best.
Then I went to college.
I doubt my older friends were thinking about academia when they said, “college is about experimentation [wink, wink],” but I started to experiment with the genre of short stories. Furtively, I began reading collections I had heard about in high school. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by the genius Roald Dahl; by the time I got to Vonnegut and Bradbury, I was hooked. Soon I learned that, like many other things in life, size doesn’t matter. Short or long, it’s about how you use it. Short stories are concise, quick reads and some of the most powerful testaments to good literature. If you’re a short story snob like I was, give the genre another chance. Below are four of my current favorites, and links to read them online where available.
Title: “The Crowd”
Author: Ray Bradbury
Synopsis: This is a spooky one. After a man gets into a car accident, he notices something odd about the crowd that gathers around the scene.
Link: Not available online, but it is included in the creepy collection October Country.
Title: “Shooting an Elephant”
Author: George Orwell
Synopsis: If you like post-colonial literature, you’ll like this story. It’s a semi-autobiographical account of an incident Orwell experienced as an officer in the British army while stationed in colonial Burma. The sun may never set on the British Empire, but it certainly does on the Burmese elephants.
Title: “To Room Nineteen”
Author: Doris Lessing
Synopsis: In the vein of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, “To Room Nineteen” is the brilliant and beautifully woven tale of an ordinary housewife’s descent into madness. This is currently my favorite short story of all time. I was literally hooked by the very first sentence.
Link: Not available online, but it can be ordered by itself or found in The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After.
Author: Kij Johnson
Synopsis: This five-minute read both sickens and fascinates. It won the Nebula Award for science fiction/fantasy and is about the high price of friendship.
What are your favorite short stories?
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