The Short Story
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
LeGuin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
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
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?