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The Short Story

January 8, 2017

The first literature class I got to teach, in 1984, was a sophomore-level class called “The Short Story.” I was allowed to pick my own anthology, and I read many of the stories in it for the first time.

Since then I’ve taught short stories for many years of my life–but since 2008, when I started this blog and quit commuting to a suburban Columbus college, I hadn’t written much about them. That is, until a friend of mine, still an adjunct at the state university in the town where we grew up, asked me which stories I would teach from the anthology she has to work with for a class that will meet for the first time two weeks from the day she found out she was going to teach it.

Making the list for her was so much fun for me that I thought I’d share it here, as a list of essential short stories most readers would love:

Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Bradbury, August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains
Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (and Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank)
Chekhov, The Darling
Chopin, The Story of an Hour
Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Ellison, Battle Royal
Faulkner, A Rose For Emily
Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper
Hawthorne, Young Goodman Brown
Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants
Jackson, The Lottery
Joyce, Araby
Kincaid, Girl
LeGuin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
Mason, Shiloh
de Maupassant, The Necklace
Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener
Oates, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
O’Brien, The Things They Carried
O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find
Poe, The Cask of Amontillado
Updike, A&P
Vonnegut, Harrison Bergeron
Walker, Everyday Use
David Foster Wallace, Everything is Green
Wright, The Man Who Was Almost a Man

As I said to my friend, these are the most famous ones, the ones you don’t want to miss, the ones most rewarding to teach.

I picked “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for O’Connor because it’s fun to ask college students questions about the grandmother, whose motives usually get overlooked when a young person first reads the story.

The ones by science fiction authors are particularly easy to teach because SF is so much about ideas–“August 2026” is one of my favorites, because you go through and ask about details and the picture builds up. Whose are those shadows on the wall outside? Where is the dog?

I once wrote a blog post about “Araby.” I see it as a story about being made to feel stupid for wanting what you want, and it’s probably my favorite short story ever.

“The Necklace” and “The Cask of Amontillado” have inspired memes, so if students know about those, they will recognize the story. I especially love the Amontillado memes, about luring a person you don’t like into the basement with the promise of something nice.

I love each of these stories. Do you love any of them?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Rohan permalink
    January 8, 2017 3:46 pm

    What a wonderful list. I love many of these, including “Araby” (though I think my own favorite short story is the somewhat less short “The Dead”) — and there are a number here that, despite their fame, I have still never read! Every short story anthology I’ve used has a somewhat different table of contents and because I don’t read short fiction widely on my own, this has meant my accumulated knowledge of them is rather idiosyncratic. Science fiction is my biggest blind spot: can you believe I have not read LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omalos”? One story I really like that isn’t here is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Interpreter of Maladies”: I have also found that it teaches really well. “The Story of an Hour” is one I often use to kick off short fiction units, as it can be read aloud at the start of a class meeting.

    • January 8, 2017 10:45 pm

      Yes, every short story anthology has a slightly different table of contents. I suspect that at some point, I used an earlier edition of the anthology my friend “inherited” because so many of the stories are familiar.
      Like so many short stories, “The Interpreter of Maladies” is available online:
      I hadn’t read it before; thanks for mentioning it!

  2. January 8, 2017 8:08 pm

    What a great list! If you are interested in blogging more about short stories, you might want to check out this blog. He has a short story reading challenge that lasts all year. Just FYI.


    • January 8, 2017 10:47 pm

      Thanks–there are some additional links in his post to other short stories.

  3. Jonna permalink
    January 8, 2017 10:26 pm

    Great list!

  4. January 9, 2017 11:56 am

    What a great list. I love this. And many of these are just fantastic.

    • January 9, 2017 2:18 pm

      They are; that’s why I took the time to link to each one, so if anyone hadn’t read one or two of these, they could do it easily.

  5. January 9, 2017 3:09 pm

    Good list! My first encounter with Araby is a tale about being made to feel stupid for not understanding the story. There is irony in there somewhere I am sure 🙂

  6. January 11, 2017 6:34 am

    I haven’t read any but I believe the Hemingway’s in a collection I’ve got and I plan to read The Yellow Wallpaper and the Chopin (thank you for the links!) I like short stories but I’m not very ‘good’ at them so reading your post has been very insightful.

    • January 11, 2017 9:23 am

      One of the most basic questions to ask yourself after you read a short story is “what changed?” Anyone can be good at that, with practice.

  7. Jenny permalink
    January 11, 2017 10:56 am

    I love short stories and when I was younger I used to read anthologies all the time, so I have read almost all of these, but I hadn’t read “Araby” or the David Foster Wallace. What glorious choices. “Araby” absolutely glows. I almost couldn’t pick a favorite from these, though I’ve read the Bradbury ten or fifteen times and the Jackson and the Gilman almost as often. I’ve taught the Maupassant almost every year in my intermediate French class. And I can remember feeling like Harrison Bergeron when I was a mother of very young children, with things crashing in my ears and interrupting my thoughts all day. 🙂

    • January 11, 2017 12:42 pm

      Any day I introduce someone who hasn’t read Araby to the story is a good day!
      I hadn’t thought of Harrison Bergeron that way, although it’s so true. My kids read that story in HS and we used to talk about it in the context of the “no child left behind” laws, which we called “no child gets ahead.”

  8. February 23, 2017 9:12 am

    Just catching up on past posts in my InBox. I love short stories and have read a few of these. I had read quite a few stories before this, but the first specific one to grab and hold my attention evermore was Guy de Maupassant’s The necklace. I have never forgotten it. I love the Gilman – also the Bierce and Carver. But I’d say that this list leans pretty heavily towards American (the likes of de Maupassant and Chekhov notwithstanding). I’m always sorry to see the Americans, English and well-known Europeans on these sorts of lists but never Aussies for example. We’ve had some great short-story writers. The best-known and probably most anthologised one is Henry Lawson’t The drover’s wife.

  9. February 23, 2017 9:14 am

    BTW I’d call Heart of darkness a novella rather than a short story – but I guess it’s all in one’s definition!

    • February 23, 2017 9:39 am

      Yes, I thought about that, but ultimately went with the anthology’s classification without comment, because the novella as a genre seems to me to have largely disappeared, subsumed by the “story.”

      • February 23, 2017 3:54 pm

        Oh, do you think so? That’s not the sense I get here, down under. We talk about novellas a lot. Sometimes people talk about long form story, but even then they tend to be differentiated from novellas. One of our literary mags even runs what they call The Novella Project. Interesting, eh?

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