short story recommendations?
May 28, 2008 3:53 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite short stories or short story collections, anthologies etc.

Hi all. I'm interested in writing short stories, but really need to read more of them before I dive into this. What are some of your favorite short stories, anthologies or collections that I should check out?

I'm a reporter and write for a living, and wrote a book a few years ago (haven't tried to publish it, i'd like to try to write it again sometime to make it better) and want to begin writing fiction more seriously. I'd like to start with short stories but I haven't read very many, and that's a problem when one wants to write them!

help me out!
posted by Salvatorparadise to Writing & Language (54 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Any of Ray Bradbury's collections are worth reading and readily available.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:02 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

As far as I'm concerned, Ted Sturgeon is God of the short story, and there's a good series of anthologies. Microcosmic God and Thunder and Roses are fine places to start, but I think you can hardly go wrong.

Second in the pantheon is Harlan Ellison; Paingod and I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream are excellent collections. The latter is darker and bleaker.

Both Sturgeon and Ellison are pegged as science fiction, but that does short service to the breadth of their work.

Also, some will turn up their nose, but I think you could do a lot worse than Stephen King's Skeleton Crew. I think he's excellent in short stories and he really makes the words count. I think the shortest is just 5 pages, but they nearly all shine. Mrs. Todd's Shortcut is one of my favorite stories from anyone.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:08 PM on May 28, 2008

I am a big fan of Gabriel García Márquez's short stories. Some of his books that have been translated into English are Strange Pilgrims, Innocent Erendira and Other Stories (Innocent Erendira is a novella, and the book contains other stories as well), and Collected Stories.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 4:20 PM on May 28, 2008

T. C. Boyle.
posted by fixedgear at 4:22 PM on May 28, 2008

It really depends on what you like to read, but check out The Art of the Tale and the Anchor Book of New American Short Stories.
posted by drobot at 4:23 PM on May 28, 2008

I feel the same way about Joyce Carol Oates that Wolfdog feels about Ted Sturgeon. Where are you going, where have you been? was my entire reason for writing for a very long time.

I also suggest her short collection called "Heat"- worth the purchase for the title story alone. I had the pleasure of watching her read Heat live at a local event in Portland, and it was incredible.
posted by haplesschild at 4:27 PM on May 28, 2008

Welcome to the Monkey House (Vonnegut) really entertained me a while back. A friend of mine also strongly recommends Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett, but I've not rad it.
posted by phunniemee at 4:28 PM on May 28, 2008

posted by phunniemee at 4:28 PM on May 28, 2008

2nding T.C. Boyle (particularly Greasy Lake & other Stories).
John Cheever.
Updike (I'm partial to Pigeon Feathers).
posted by lilnemo at 4:30 PM on May 28, 2008

An anthology of short stories that I've recently fell in love with is The Reasons I Won't Be Coming by Elliot Perlman. Each story is beautifully written and they break my heart a little more with each read. Yeah, I like sad stories.
posted by blithely at 4:30 PM on May 28, 2008

William Gibson's 'Burning Chrome'.
posted by pompomtom at 4:35 PM on May 28, 2008

The Complete Saki
The Stories of Paul Bowles
40 Stories by Donald Barthelme
Boule de Suif by Guy De Maupassant
The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

But I think that easily the greatest collection of English-language short stories ever printed is:

The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:36 PM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the new Miranda July is, I was surprised to discover, really good.

No One Belongs Here More Than You
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:37 PM on May 28, 2008

I've always loved Flannery O'Connor's short stories. Even if they're not quite your cup of tea, they're full of stuff to wrestle with, both thematically and stylistically. Also--sorry if this is trendy, but--I think "Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules" ed. David Sedaris is a cool mix of short stories to start out with.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:42 PM on May 28, 2008

Aside from some already mentioned, the Best American series is usually pretty reliable. Try starting here or here. If you don't mind things on the literary side of pulpy, I also highly recommend McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories and McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales.
posted by Madamina at 4:42 PM on May 28, 2008

Tobias Wolff
George Saunders
Flannery O'Connor
John Updike
posted by billysumday at 4:50 PM on May 28, 2008

The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction is the anthology that got me going (link is to the edition I have; there's a later edition). What keeps me going now is The New Yorker (Harper's also has top-notch fiction). I've also started buying collections by authors I don't know, based on reviews in the NYT Book Review and Poets & Writers magazine. Some of these I like, and some I don't, but all are worth reading.
posted by booth at 4:54 PM on May 28, 2008

+1 for Roald Dahl.

Recently I read and enjoyed the following:

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susana Clarke

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut (Okay, that's a lie. I read it along time ago.)
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:54 PM on May 28, 2008

I'm assuming you already have the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction? It's pretty much standard, I know we used it in my Short Stories class...
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:08 PM on May 28, 2008

Jorge Luis Borges--this one book has every short story he ever wrote, and what he's able to do in the space of a couple pages is consistently amazing.

Most books by Italo Calvino are short stories, and even a couple of his longer works, like Invisible Cities and ...if on a winter's night a traveler are more collections of similar short stories than actual novels.
posted by LionIndex at 5:16 PM on May 28, 2008

Most of my favorites have been named, but here are two I didn't see:

Alice Munro
Lorrie Moore
posted by trip and a half at 5:19 PM on May 28, 2008

i am an English major, and have taken two different courses related to the short story. i love short stories.

one of my favourite short stories: "the foghorn" - Ray Bradbury

a collection i think you need to read: "the secret lives of people in love" - Simon Van Booy
posted by gursky at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2008

Seconding the Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, it's great and has been used in quite a few of my short story classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

There are a lot of great suggestions here, I'd also add:
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
Throw Like a Girl by Jean Thompson
Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill
The Best of Tin House
The Best American Short Stories (especially the one from a few years back edited by Lorrie Moore)
The Wonders of the Invisible World by David Gates
The Point and Other Stories by Charles D'Ambrosio
CivilWarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders
Emperor of the Air by Ethan Canin
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

I'll stop there but I could go on and on.
posted by jodic at 5:44 PM on May 28, 2008

Someone at work brought this week Sartre's Le Mur (The Wall, I think), and I was blown away by the stories, particularly L'enfance d'un chef.

As a boy I loved Jack London's stories, as I recall. I think those would be very fine examples for someone who's beginning to write short stories.

Also, you could read Bukowski's prose as a collection of (sometimes) connected short stories.

Asimov may be more appreciated by nerdy types, but the dude could write.

Oh, and don't forget García Márquez's short stories. I remember this collection of stories called La increíble y triste historia de la Cándida Eréndira y su abuela desalmada (Innocent Erendira), which is just as awesome as his longer works.

I'll also add my vote for Nabokov, Dahl, and Chekhov.
posted by papafrita at 5:48 PM on May 28, 2008

Salinger's Nine Stories and anything by Raymond Carver are must reads.
posted by katie at 5:49 PM on May 28, 2008

Flannery O'Connor. This one would probably be at your local library.
posted by belau at 5:52 PM on May 28, 2008

I think The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction is the most comprehensive collection out there. It's got 135 stories, including most of the classics mentioned in this thread, and many others that are important and deserve shout-outs:

James Joyce's "The Dead"
Katherine Mansfield's "Bliss" (also check out her collected stories)
Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path"
James Thurber's "Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (see also The Thurber Carnival)
Herman Melville's "Bartleby"
Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

If nothing else, do read Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Joyce's "The Dead," and Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." They're pretty essential.
posted by quarked at 5:54 PM on May 28, 2008

Thirding Joyce's "The Dead" -- the last three paragraphs still bring tears to my eyes, even though I've probably read them a hundred times. The story stands by itself just fine, but it probably resonantes even more when read in the context of the rest of the stories in Dubliners (my other personal faves of which include "Araby," "A Little Cloud," "A Painful Case," and "Grace"), which is really an extraordinary collection.
posted by scody at 6:06 PM on May 28, 2008

One of my favorite short stories is Asimov's The Last Question
posted by alitorbati at 6:15 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of the suggestions above have been around a while. Alisdair MacLeod is more contemporary - pick up Island at your library.
posted by saucysault at 6:18 PM on May 28, 2008

Graham Greene's 21 Stories
Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women and Selected Stories
The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg
Ron Hansen's Nebraska
Charles Baxter's Through the Safety Net
Joy Williams' Escapes
and, as said, anything by Raymond Carver or Chekhov.
posted by eve harrington at 6:34 PM on May 28, 2008

Aimee Bender's short story books, Willful Creatures and The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 6:37 PM on May 28, 2008

How short? What genre? Here are some suggestions:

Saunder's CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber
2nding Saki
Raymond Chandler
posted by jabberjaw at 6:42 PM on May 28, 2008

^ I meant, Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber
posted by jabberjaw at 6:43 PM on May 28, 2008

Seconding Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things.

Also, Orson Scott Card's Maps In A Mirror is a nice collection. Not all of the stories are mind-blowingly great, but certainly many are.
posted by po at 6:56 PM on May 28, 2008

If you're into SF, I've generally found Gardner Dozois's annual Year's Best Science Fiction compilation to be, well, pretty much what it says on the cover.
posted by teraflop at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2008

In the vein of yearly anthologies like Best American Short Stories mentioned above, there's the O. Henry Prize collections, which come out annually and contain, say, twenty excellent stories from magazines published that year in Canada and the US. The great thing about these anthologies is that you're guaranteed to be exposed to a variety of voices, all uniformly strong (I was blown away by about half the stories in the 2000 edition, and only one out of the twenty didn't do much for me). Also, you can find them at second-hand shops--I'm now keeping an eye out wherever I go, giving me an excellent excuse to go into any used book places I see ("it's for the collection! so I have to!") and have recently picked up three volumes (I think I've got '98, '00, and '03) from three different shops. And like Best American, the series dates back nearly a hundred years, so there's always lots ahead (and behind) you yet to go. I'd suggest you pick up at least one volume of either of these collections if you want a survey of what's on the leading edge of good literary fiction today. I notice a lot of suggestions you're getting here lean toward science fiction, and I don't want you to think that genre writers are the only ones working in the short story form these days.

A friend of mine also strongly recommends Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett, but I've not read it.

I read it and liked it, so I'll second. I also insist on Alice Munro. The Atlantic Monthly called her the "living author most likely to be read in a hundred years" and her name comes up whenever good short fiction is discussed. Pick up her Selected Stories and work through them. My favourite is "Miles City, Montana" but take your pick. She makes you wonder why people bother writing novels when you can just pack all that into a single story. The reason, one suspects, is that many others can't. She is a miracle.

And as mentioned, get Alistair MacLeod's Island too, for both his previous collections in a single volume.

Happy reading!

"Meaning is what keeps a short story from being short" - Flannery O'Connor
posted by roombythelake at 7:11 PM on May 28, 2008

There are also some excellent suggestions in this MetaChat thread.
posted by elizard at 7:16 PM on May 28, 2008

Here are some of my favourites:
"The Empress of Mars" by Kage Baker
"The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds" by Neil Gaiman
"If There's a Hell I Hope You Burn There with the Others" by Casey Gray
"Beasts" by Jesse Lee Kercheval
"A Good Man Is Hard To Find" by Flannery O'Connor
"Practicing My Sad Face" by Marc Schultz
"Making Payments" by Jason Stoddard
"All Seated on the Ground" and "Firewatch" and "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know" by Connie Willis
"The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories" by P. G. Wodehouse
"A Rose for Ecclesiastes" by Roger Zelazny
posted by joannemerriam at 7:42 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fire and Ice by Rager Zelazny is another good one, as is any short story collection by Isaac Asimov--assuming, of course, you like sci-fi and fantasy.
posted by Caduceus at 7:58 PM on May 28, 2008

Stories Of Your Life And Others - Ted Chiang

Magnificent stuff.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:13 PM on May 28, 2008

Stories in the Worst Way, by Gary Lutz.
posted by hototogisu at 9:15 PM on May 28, 2008

also: short stories by dino buzatti are amazing.
posted by motdiem2 at 9:57 PM on May 28, 2008

The Collected Short Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. Since when does a short story collection win a Pulitzer and a National Book Award?
posted by Beardman at 11:17 PM on May 28, 2008

Have you checked out the selected shorts podcast? You definitely should.

My favorite favorites:
Refresh Refresh by Benjamin Percy
Charlotte by Tony Early (available online from but you have to be a subscriber)
What you Pawn I will Redeem by Sherman Alexie. Probably the best story I've ever read, by far.
posted by sully75 at 6:15 AM on May 29, 2008

The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction is an incredible collection of authors and some of their best, most representative works. Susan Minot's "Lust," Amy Hempl's "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried," Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl," Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," Gabriel García Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," etc. I go back to to it again and again.
posted by jesourie at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2008

Dorothy Parker!! (Collected Dorothy Parker, Penguin Modern Classics) (best to read the stories BEFORE the poems)
Audio of "Arrangement in Black and White"

Damon Runyon! (Collections mostly go under "On Broadway")

Tanith Lee - gothy feminist rewritings of myths and fairy tales, also sci-fi/speculative fiction - "Women as Demons", "Forests of the Night"

posted by runincircles at 1:16 PM on May 29, 2008

My favourite short story anthology is Black Water, a collection of fantastic literature edited by Alberto Manguel. That's 'fantastic' in the fantastical sense of the word (but also in the amazing sense too). A brilliant mix of mystery, horror, fantasy, magic realism, scifi, ghost stories, and many that defy categorization, from all around the world. I never tire of reading this collection and always find something new to amaze me.

Also, thirding Saki's short stories- he's like a twisted Oscar Wilde, very edgy and darkly funny.
posted by Kirjava at 4:34 PM on May 29, 2008

I have a girlcrush on Edith Wharton....she has a fantastic ear for dialogue and life among the turn-of-the-century smart set.

Her short story ROMAN FEVER is the only short story I've read where the plot twist came in the last sentence of the story. I've shown it to a lot of people, and 90% of them have uttered an audible gasp when they got to the end.

Her story XINGU is an absolutely DELICIOUS comedy of manners, that's basically about how the ladies in a stuck-up book club get their comeuppance from the black sheep in the club. (I also have a soft spot for it because I adapted it for the stage about 3 years ago...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:47 PM on May 29, 2008

Ooh, fun question. I can't wait to sift through the responses and find some new treasures.

Jabberjaw already suggested it, but I'll second The Bloody Chamber. Luscious, chilling and riveting reworkings of fairy tales, often in ways you wouldn't imagine. This is one of my all time favorite reads.

Iconoclast31 mentioned my next recommendation, Aimee Bender. I'm very drawn to short stories with elements of the fantastic. If you have any inclination that way, you should check her out.

A virtual book club that I follow has been reading You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories that Held Them in Awe. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but I have found a lot of gems in there and anthologies are always a great way to discover new authors.

Alice Munro got a few mentions above, and I, too, think she's phenomenal. She writes about the lives of ordinary women in a way that's honest and compelling. I'm partial to Runaway, particularly the "Chance", "Soon" and "Silence" stories, which follow the life of a woman named Juliet.

Skull Full of Spurs may not be quite up to the same literary standards as the others, but it's ever so much fun! It's billed as a "A Roundup of Weird Westerns" and it's a mish mash of horror, fantasy and humor. It has taken me a while to work my way through it, because I just read one or two of the stories at a time, but I've enjoyed it so far.
posted by diamondsky at 11:34 AM on May 30, 2008

You really have to read Chekhov; his non-judgmental presentation of small slices of realistic life - without heavy moralizing - changed the direction of short story writing.

I also really like Kate Chopin's stories; they're smart, beautifully written and fascinating from a historical perspective. She started out doing "local color" pieces about her Louisiana Creole neighbors, but her stories quickly became much more. "A Pair of Silk Stockings" is a completely perfect short story about one afternoon in the life of a late 19th-century woman.

Hemingway's early stories are another must: start with In Our Time, his first, surprisingly experimental (and also highly influential) collection, and then go to Men Without Women. Forget everything you've heard about his macho celebrity image; the stories in those two early collections are some of the most sensitive bits of fiction around.

James Joyce's "The Dead" really is as good as everyone says it is.

Borges and Calvino and Carver too, yes.

I'll stop now.
posted by mediareport at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2008

You know, I've been thinking about your question. So I'm back at this late date to pass along some great advice an instructor gave me.

To be a writer, write. A lot. Just write.

And read. A lot. Rather than asking for story recommendations, just get one of those anthologies and see who you like. See who inspires you, who makes you want to write. Then buy collections of stories by those people and read them. Keep them close at hand for inspiration. (My instructor didn't recommend the following, but I am: Subscribe to The New Yorker or Harpers or a literary journal to gain exposure to new authors, some of whom might make it onto your inspiration list.)

And write.

It's working for me.
posted by booth at 7:28 AM on May 31, 2008

Oh, and how could I forget Tito Monterroso!

Here's what Carlos Fuentes had to say about his work: "Imagine Borges' fantastical bestiary having tea with Alice. Imagine Jonathan Swift and James Thurber exchanging notes. Imagine a frog from Calaveras County who has seriously read Mark Twain. Meet Monterroso."

It's been said that he wrote the world's shortest story, El Dinosaurio: Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí. And actually, given the context of his work and of Guatemala's history, it's quite a poignant story, spanning years of history and conjuring many memories.
posted by papafrita at 3:03 PM on June 5, 2008

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