Beyond Poe: canonical short stories
September 20, 2009 5:13 PM   Subscribe

What are the world's most acclaimed short stories?

These are short stories you'd call part of the Canon with a capital C. The short stories that influenced people to write more short stories, and more. I'm not looking for novellas - I'm referring to things like Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", with a similar sort of length.
posted by Bleusman to Writing & Language (66 answers total) 166 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
posted by shrabster at 5:18 PM on September 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry. The Lady or the Tiger?
posted by mollymayhem at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gift of the Magi comes up in pop-culture pretty often, no? Raymond Carver's 'Cathedral' is often cited.
posted by GilloD at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2009


We all come out from Gogol's 'Overcoat'
posted by soma lkzx at 5:20 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Araby by James Joyce.
posted by decagon at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2009


A couple that seem to be taught, without fail, in most courses on short stories: "Shiloh"-- Bobbie Ann Mason, "A Good Man is Hard to Find"-- Flannery O'Connor, "The Lottery"--Shirley Jackson, "You're Ugly Too"-- Lorrie Moore... Just a couple of the biggies by women. It happens that when I was doing my BA, this was all my professors were interested in assigning. That was some time ago, so maybe the Canon looks different now, but when I teach the short story I usually assign these among others.
posted by Poeia8Kate at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, def. something Carver. The Horse Dealer's Daughter by D.H. Lawrence and The Dead by Joyce.
posted by eve harrington at 5:29 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"
posted by emelenjr at 5:30 PM on September 20, 2009


The Most Dangerous Game.
posted by lalex at 5:30 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


All Summer in a Day.
posted by kylej at 5:31 PM on September 20, 2009


Also, Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut...
posted by shrabster at 5:31 PM on September 20, 2009


Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl.
posted by pompomtom at 5:34 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nine Stories by Salinger and the collective works of John Cheever. He's the prototype for New Yorker short fiction. Also, Chekhov, to whom he is sometimes compared.
posted by Marnie at 5:38 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Seconding "Araby" and "The Dead" by Joyce; in fact, several of the stories out of Dubliners are justly considered absolute classics of the genre.
posted by scody at 5:47 PM on September 20, 2009


A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:49 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


2nding the Dubliners, plus Jack London's To Build a Fire.
posted by JaiMahodara at 5:53 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Old Mortality" by Katherine Anne Porter. "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. (don't be fooled by the references to the latter as a novella; it really isn't.)
posted by OolooKitty at 5:53 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Vonnegut claimed that Ambrose Bierce's An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge was the best short story ever written [ref].
posted by i love cheese at 5:57 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Welcome, Kate! Yes: I was in college recently and the short story was definitely something they were using to promote female writers.

Now that you mention it, always The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
posted by JaiMahodara at 5:57 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not a literary expert, but Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants must be up there.
posted by battlebison at 6:01 PM on September 20, 2009


Putting the short into story.
posted by Magnakai at 6:02 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not a literary expert, but Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants must be up there.
It really is. It really, really is.

Up there, I mean.
posted by Magnakai at 6:04 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Of the stories in that Salinger book, I think "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is the most frequently taught. From Carver, "A Small, Good Thing" or the title story from Cathedral. O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" is just behind "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." John Updike's "A&P." Cheever was admired by all but I don't remember him ever being taught, and I'm not sure in any event which story would be Canon -- "The Swimmer?"

For people interested in formal experiment (in the 1980s and 90s, when I was taking writing courses) Donald Barthelme and John Barth, though I'm not sure one story was the most canonical. Maybe that would be David Foster Wallace now.
posted by escabeche at 6:12 PM on September 20, 2009


A Rose for Emily.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:20 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner.
posted by Spinneret at 6:21 PM on September 20, 2009


Don't forget Alice Munro -- i hope this doesn't sound pretentious, but I really think she's crafted a new kind of realism.
I also second the votes for Carver and O'Conner, but my choices would be "Cathedral" and "Revelation," respectively.
posted by keener_sounds at 6:22 PM on September 20, 2009


The Things They Carried.
posted by ColdChef at 6:23 PM on September 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Seconding "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and Cheever's "The Swimmer", which always give me the chills.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:30 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


For Cheever, probably "The Enormous Radio".

Probably on some lists (just to widen the gyre): Ursula K. Le Guin with either "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" or "The Word for World is Forest". Ray Bradbury, "There Will Come Soft Rains" or "All Summer..." (the object of something like over a dozen AskMes). Asimov, "Nightfall". Borges, not always a particular story, but his collections Labyrinths or Ficciones (maybe "The Library of Babel" or "Death and the Compass", but it's been a while). Several works by Calvino, such as "The Argentine Ant" or "The Baron in the Trees", although these are really novellas, as is the key work Invisible Cities.
posted by dhartung at 6:42 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Luciferase in Bruce Sterling's Visionary in Residence.
posted by bru at 6:43 PM on September 20, 2009


"El Aleph", "El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan" or "La Biblioteca de Babel", by Jorge Luís Borges.
"El perseguidor", "Instrucciones para subir una escalera" or "Conducta en velorios" by Julio Cortázar.
posted by signal at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you want to look into Latin American literature, two celebrated authors of short stories are Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. In particular, Márquez's A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings and Borges' The Library of Babel are well-regarded.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 6:58 PM on September 20, 2009


Nightfall by Isaac Asimov
posted by francesca too at 7:10 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates
"Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" and "Eyes of a Blue Dog" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)" by Junot Diaz
"Daisy Miller" by Henry James
"Spring in Fialta" and "Vane Sisters" by Nabokov
"Lady with a Dog," "The Steppe," and "Ward No. 6" by Anton Chekhov
"The Birthmark" by Hawthorne
"People Like That Are the Only People Here" by Lorrie Moore (summary only)
"The Balloon" by Donald Barthelme
"Dirty Wedding" by Denis Johnson
posted by zoomorphic at 7:27 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Flannery O'Connor is who comes to mind first, as others have mentioned.No one's mentioned William Trevor, so I will. All of his short stories are excellent. Eudora Welty and J.D. Salinger are probably considered "canonical" short story writers.
dhartung mentioned Calvino's "The Baron in the Trees", which is a great short novel, but not really a short story. "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler" is like a group of short stories, but not really, either. "Cosmicomics" is a collection of his short stories.
posted by Red Loop at 7:38 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rock Springs by Richard Ford popped up a lot when I was in school.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:49 PM on September 20, 2009


Leningen vs. The Ants.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:55 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another one - "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:26 PM on September 20, 2009


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:47 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Way You'll Never Be by Ernest Hemingway
posted by cascando at 9:25 PM on September 20, 2009


The James Dean Garage Band by Rick Moody
posted by cascando at 9:26 PM on September 20, 2009


""Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison.
posted by Cyrano at 9:37 PM on September 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Landlady by Roald Dahl
posted by holloway at 9:47 PM on September 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


To do some French, German, and Italian ones:

Boule de Suif and La parure ("The Necklace") by Guy de Maupassant

Mateo Falcone by Prosper Mérimée

Le képi ("The Képi") by Colette

Unordnung und frühes Leid ("Disorder and Early Sorrow") by Thomas Mann

Vor dem Gesetz ("Before the Law") by Franz Kafka

Das Bettelweib von Locarno ("The Beggarwoman of Locarno") by Heinrich von Kleist

Luna e GNAC ("The Moon and GNAC") by Italo Calvino

Il gioco segreto ("The Secret Game") by Elsa Morante

Also, an amazing American short story that is, in my opinion, the best short story ever written in English by anyone: "The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams.

The second-best American short story is, again in this one writer and former teacher's opinion, is "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" by Delmore Schwartz.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:13 PM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dickens' A Chrismas Carol.
posted by marsha56 at 10:19 PM on September 20, 2009


Lu Xun inspired a number of imitators and a general surge in patriotic writing; his best-known short stories are perhaps A Madman's Diary and Kong Yiji.
More recently Chongqing-born Taiwanese writer San Mao influenced a generation; her most well-known collection is Tales of the Sahara.
posted by Abiezer at 10:53 PM on September 20, 2009


in scifi (the "metaphysical") subtype of: Arthur C. Clarke, The Nine Billion Names of God.
It is really short. But really poignant as well, and superbly worked as a piece of literature.
as this site lists, the story won the following awards:
Winner of the 2004 Retro Hugo Award for Best Short Story
Placed seventh in the 1971 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll for short fiction
Placed eighth in the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll
posted by megob at 2:28 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


E.M Forster's "The Machine Stops" - maybe the earliest dystopian prediction of the internet age.
posted by rongorongo at 2:38 AM on September 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Perhaps "Metamorphosis" by Kafka also.
posted by rongorongo at 3:52 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"One of These Days" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's all of his work, minus the magic-realism aspect, summed up in a few short paragraphs.
posted by Brodiggitty at 5:55 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison won a Hugo, a Nebula and is one of the ten most reprinted stories in the English language.
posted by 256 at 5:56 AM on September 21, 2009


Nine Stories by Salinger has well, nine great short stories. I especially like For Esme....With Love and Squalor
posted by tumples at 6:12 AM on September 21, 2009


I love short stories!!! I grew up reading them, and it's my favorite literary format.

My suggestions. Most of the stories I remember having to read in school myself, others I discovered in other textbook anthologies:

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall, by Katherine Anne Porter [do yourself a favor and go find a copy of The Collected Short Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. She is a master of the format].
The Ransom of Red Chief, by O. Henry
Alibi Ike by Ring Lardner
The Open Window, by Saki (pen name of H. H. Munro)
Split Cherry Tree, by Jesse Stuart
Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil, and Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Purloined Letter, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe [As far as I'm concerned, Poe is America's first truly great fiction writer. Lots of people doen't know that he invented the modern Western detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue.]
The Shadow over Innsmouth and The Call of Cthluhu by H. P. Lovecraft
The Monkey's Paw, by W. W. Jacob
The Lady or the Tiger, by Frank Stockton
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
The Door, by E. B. White
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and The Private History of A Campaign That Failed, by Mark Twain
The Luck of Roaring Camp, by Bret Hart
To Build A Fire by Jack London
The Devil and Daniel Webster, by Stephen Vincent Benet
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber
The Bear, by William Faulkner
Why I Live at the P. O. and A Worn Path and Ladies in Spring by Eudora Welty
The Girls in their Summer Dresses, by Irwin Shaw
Desiree's Baby, by Kate Chopin
Paul's Case, by Willa Cather
Bernice Bobs Her Hair, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sonny’s Blues, by James Baldwin

And Nthing everything listed above.

Man, now I want to beg off sick from work and go home and dig out my short story collections.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:21 AM on September 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Gah! How could I forget?

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, by Stephen Crane.
Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut
The Story of An Hour, by Kate Chopin
posted by magstheaxe at 6:40 AM on September 21, 2009



The second-best American short story is, again in this one writer and former teacher's opinion, is "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" by Delmore Schwartz.


Came in again to post this, glad someone beat me to it. It's only too bad that he's just known for the one story -- in a just world, his whole body of short fiction would be as famous as Salinger's.
posted by escabeche at 6:55 AM on September 21, 2009


A good way to approach this would be to tally which stories are most anthologized. Search for "short story" on Amazon, and compare the tables of contents.

I would second the suggestions I've seen for Carver's "Cathedral", Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery", and Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find". I'd be hard pressed to pick a particular story by Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, or Stephen Crane, but they should be represented. I don't think anyone has mentioned Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Pet Dog", but it's definitely a major part of the short story Canon.
posted by paulg at 8:44 AM on September 21, 2009


How about this collection of mexican short stories in English? With stories by Rulfo, Paz, Fuentes and Castellanos, among others, you would struggle to find better examples, and better translated, of good mexican short stories. It has been selected as part of NEA's The Big Read program.

[Disclaimer: I edited this, and, while I'm proud of it, I don't earn a single penny from any sales of the book]
posted by omegar at 8:47 AM on September 21, 2009


I (finally) signed up a MeFi account just to post a link to Asimov's The Last Question.

Also seconding both Roald Dahl suggestions as well as The Hitchhiker, which can be found in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, all of which are great, especially the title story.

Neil Gaiman has also written some delightful short fiction, collected in, among others, Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things.
posted by devnall at 10:44 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I doubt it's part of any literary canon, but it's definitely part of the cultural canon: A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury.
posted by clorox at 11:35 AM on September 21, 2009


Alphonse Daudet's "The Last Lesson" was (maybe still is) taught in Chinese schools.
I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Maupassant's "Butterball (Boule de Suif)" yet.
posted by of strange foe at 1:21 PM on September 21, 2009


Oh my god. Sorry I'm late with this, but I can't believe I forgot to mention W. Somerset Maugham. At times, his stories are perfection realized.
posted by Red Loop at 2:38 PM on September 21, 2009


The Awakening by Kate Chopin.
posted by Majorita at 8:30 PM on September 21, 2009


The Best American Short Stories of the Century has a fairly exhaustive group of great stories.
posted by benzenedream at 5:41 PM on September 27, 2009


Honestly, William Gibson's "Burning Chrome" collection. Probably some things by Phillip K Dick, as well, but he's mostly novel length.
posted by talldean at 8:14 PM on September 27, 2009


For anybody still tracking this thread one other suggestion: look for those short stories mentioned in Harold Bloom's Western Canon. The short stories tend to crop up towards the (more recent) end - for example here in part 4. You will find many of the titles mentioned above but also a number of others that may be obvious omissions.
posted by rongorongo at 4:24 PM on September 30, 2009


« Older I need a referral to a plumber...   |  How do I build a basement vege... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.