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These Classic Stories Are So Short, You Have NoExcuse Not To Read ThemWhat's that? Your job leaves you with scarcely enough time or energy to cook occasional healthy meals, let alone loseyourself in a great book? We're sure you're busy, but we're incredulous, especially considering your fervent opinions on"The Mindy Project."
We needn't remind you of the multitudinous benefits of reading - some of them obvious, some of them surprising - but wewill anyway: Books can make you more empathetic. They can keep your brain sharp, and even stave off Alzheimer'sdisease.
Still not ready to hop on the Infinite Jest bandwagon? Fair enough. But we urge you to start somewhere. According toForbes, the average reading speed for an American adult is 300 words per minute. So we did a little math, and found 12short stories that, for the average American adult, should take less than 10 minutes each to read. Check a few out onyour lunch break! Who knows, you may discover something you like.
"The School" by Donald Barthelme The entire story is a dramatic monologue, and shows off Barthelme's token humorand excellent experiments with form. Read it here. Length: 3 minutes
"Symbols and Signs" by Vladimir Nabokov Nabokov's prose is no doubt poetic, and his language enjoyably playful.Whether you've already read Lolita or Pale Fire. or are hesitating to pick them up, this short story about a delusional boy,his family, and his peers' attempt to buy him a birthday present, is sure to entertain you. Read it here. Length: 7.5minutes
"Orientation" by Daniel Orozco Orozco is a contemporary short story writer whose first collection finds beauty (orhorror) in the details of people's prosaic lives. This specific story, which is popularly anthologized, involves first-dayorientation at a Dunder Mifflin-like office job. Read it here. Length: 7.5 minutes
"Wants" by Grace Paley Ever pithy, the Bronx-born Paley writes here about a woman's brief run-in with her ex-husband,and the resolution it inspires. It's prototypical of the author, who often pens short stories set in New York City aboutdomestic relationships. She also frequently discusses immigrant life in America (her parents, from the Ukraine, spokeRussian and Yiddish). Listen to Walter Mosley reading it here. Length: 8 minutes
"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin Chopin's The Awakening is a quintessential work of feminist literature, about awoman who feels restricted by the confines of her marriage. The same themes are at play here; it's more than worth alook. Read it here. Length: 3 minutes
"The Looking-Glass" by Anton Chekhov Chekhov has been called the "father of the modern short story," writing with astyle that yielded to his characters, rather than vice versa. In "The Looking-Glass," a woman feverishly attempts to seekhelp for her husband, sick with typhus, but is met with a surprise. This particular story nods to the author's day job as aphysician. Read it here. Length: 5 minutes
"A Lack of Order in the Floating Object Room" by George Saunders Saunders's latest short story collection, TheTenth of December. was a finalist for this year's National Book Award. It's not hard to see why; his stories, some of themscience fiction, some of them literary realism, often portray the human spirit at odds with a consumerist culture. This storywas included in his application to Syracuse University's M.A. program, and was his ticket in. Read it here. Length: 6.5minutes
"Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood Atwood, the author of The Handmaid's Tale. shows off her token snark in thisvery short story, which takes the reader through all of the different ways in which a fictional couple, John and Mary, couldpossibly end up. Hint: It's not so happy. Read it here. Length: 4 minutes
"A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty Welty was a Pulitzer-winning author from the South, known for writing about southernlife in America. The Atlantic published "A Worn Path" in 1941. It tells the story of an old woman walking a long distancefrom her home to the center of town. Read it here. Length: 10 minutes
"The Last Night of the World" by Ray Bradbury Of course, Bradbury is best known for his dystopian book about bookburning, Fahrenheit 451. but fans should be familiar with his short stories as well, collected in such books as The IllustratedMan and The Martian Chronicles. "The Last Night of the World" is a tender, simple story, originally published in Esquire. Thefirst line alone is universally intriguing: "What would you do if you knew this was the last night of the world?" Read it here.Length: 4.5 minutes
"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway Hemingway's writing can be minimalistic, a quality that lends itselfwell to short stories. In fact, Washington Post 's books editor, Ron Charles, has said that Hemingway's short stories arebetter than his novels. You've probably read, or at least heard about, "Hills Like White Elephants," a cryptic conversationbetween a man and a woman. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is another classic, in which two waiters prepare for the end ofthe evening. Read it here. Length: 5 minutes
"How to Become a Writer" by Lorrie Moore Moore's pithy and hilarious writing has won her both attention and criticalacclaim, and "How to Become a Writer," a story originally published in her first collection, Self Help. is no exception. It's afunny chronicling of the hurdles an aspiring writer has to clear, including backup plans and confused college roommates.Read it here. Length: 8.5 minutes
[Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of excellent, classic short story writers. Alice Munro. Raymond Carver. DavidFoster Wallace and Doris Lessing are notable exclusions, as their stories tend to exceed 3,000 words. If you haven'talready, we encourage you to explore the aforementioned writers, and beyond!]
5 Must-Read Short-Story CollectionsA Taste of Honey
By Jabari Asim
This first collection from cultural critic Jabari Asim ( Why Obama Matters and The N Word ) is a clear-eyed, warm-hearted,often humorous portrait of a sometimes tough time gone by. The 16 linked stories are set in Gateway, a Midwestern citynot unlike Asims hometown of St. Louis. Four stories are narrated by Crispus Jones, a charmer barely old enough tocross the street by himself. The youngest of three boys, Crisp is sometimes humiliated (his brother Shomberg, 12, is a
particular tease), but he gets revenge in his dreams: I undid the days disasters and rewrote them to suit my mostfervent desires. I had control. Everyone listened to me, and there was no end to my handsomeness
By Robin Black
The opening lines in the title story in Robin Blacks first collection show how daring a storyteller she is: If I lovedyou, I would tell you this: I would tell you that for all you know I have cancer. And that is why you should be kind to me. Iwould tell you that for all you know I have cancer that has spread into my liver and my bones and that now I understandthere is no hope.
In 10 stories, Black ranges from the voice of a 10-year-old who develops a bond with a new classmate who waskidnapped in Italy at 3, to a 70-year-old portrait painter who finds her enthusiasm flagging, to a philandering husbandwhose only daughter, blinded in a childhood accident, binds him to his past. Blacks assurance and command arematched throughout by the subtlety with which she builds intricate layers of emotional residue and follows the circuitouspathways of memory.
The Best American Humorous Short StoriesI have tried to keep a certain unity of aim and impression in selecting these stories. In the first place I determined that thepieces of brief fiction which I included must first of all be not merely good stories, but good short stories. I put myself in theposition of one who was about to select the best short stories in the whole range of American literature, but who, justbefore he started to do this, was notified that he must refrain from selecting any of the best American short stories thatdid not contain the element of humor to a marked degree. But I have kept in mind the wide boundaries of the term humor,and also the fact that the humorous standard should be kept second--although a close second--to the short storystandard. (Edited by Alexander Jessup.)
THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN AND HIS WATER LOTS (1839)
George Pope Morris
THE ANGEL OF THE ODD (1844)
Edgar Allan Poe
The 10 Best Short Stories You've Never ReadOne thing that's great about short stories is how quickly they can ruin your life. Maybe you start reading one over yourlunch break and, if it's the right one, before that peanut butter cup you brought for dessert even has a chance to finish itsmelting shape-shift into some kind of sugary cement, the whole world has been destroyed around you and then rebuilt,and nothing is quite the same again.
This happens whether you like it or not. Great stories practice this violent beauty on you in a variety of ways: some bymaking an absurd world familiar (or vice versa), some with a slow burn, some with a voice that colonizes your thoughts.Some do it quietly, almost without you even noticing, and some do it with high wire acts of imagination or intellect thatmake you into a breathless witness.
The trick, then, is finding the right story, one that is capable of such a thing. This is no easy task. Tastes differ, of course,and it can be confusing to spot the small boat of a great story on the wide sea of fiction. What any reader can offer you interms of guidance is actually the same thing that any good writer can offer you with the story itself: a way of saying, Thisis what moved me and made me feel strange and alive in some way; here, why don't you give it a try?
In that spirit and in no particular order, here are ten short stories you might've missed that ambushed me withtheir odd wonder:
This curious, masterful story is about a set of brothers who work as managing engineers overseeing the Chernobyl powerstation on April 26, 1986, but, as with most of Shepard's work, it's also about the invisible planets of loss that our personallives orbit. It is both an education and an elegy. Shepard's forthcoming novel of the Warsaw Ghetto, Aaron Only Thinks ofHimself. promises more of the same.
Titania and Oberon, the immortal Queen and King of the Fairies, live under a hill in a modern city park. To save theirmarriage, they adopt a mortal toddler and begin to raise him, only to discover he has developed terminal leukemia. Whatfollows, set in a fairy den and an oncology ward, is one of the best (and, somehow, realest) short stories ever written, ahaunting exploration of love and death that has followed this reader, at least, into marriage, parenthood, and nearly everysubsequent day spent on this earth.
One of the newest voices on this list, Vijay tells the story of Indian children mining the ore used to construct Olympicstadiums in China with remarkable poise and vision. While the inherently political nature of the story is certainly importantand the writing is ruthless in its detail, to approach "Lorry Raja" in only that way is to miss the quiet power of Vijay's prose,as well as its ability to look honestly into the subtleties of family and the scales of desire without denying beauty where itlurks.
Published in 1975 at the peak of The Troubles in Ireland, Kiely's unlikely story of a small country park and the two youngpeople who spend a few afternoons together in it is sly, funny, and tremendously affecting. A lesson simultaneously in
understatement and heart, this story is really about the near misses of the lives we almost live, as well as what time doesto the things that could've been. Long forgotten by most, author Colum McCann miraculously resurrected it for The NewYorker 's fiction podcast, and it is best experienced in his wonderful voice.
5. "Some Other, Better Otto" by Deborah Eisenberg (The Yale Review )
It's difficult to say exactly why this story--the reflections of intelligent, grumpy Otto about his aging partner William, his ownaging, his uneasy relationship with his family, the sanity of his troubled sister, loneliness, and the new baby of his upstairsrenter--is as wonderful as it very much is. The story is, in the end, a testament to the power of a whole person--caustic,funny, articulate, alone, lost and found, cruel and loving--given life on the page. Originally published in The Yale Review.eager readers can find it in The Best American Short Stories 2004 anthology.
Also published in 1975, sixteen years before she would be awarded the Nobel Prize, this is Gordimer's story of therelationship between Austrian geologist Dr. Franz-Josef Von Leinsdorf and a mixed-race Johannesburg shop girl, an affairthat is illegal in apartheid-era South Africa. One of the most overlooked pieces of Gordimer's writing, this is also one of thequietest, and most effective. The uneasy dynamics of race, class, and power (especially when it comes to love and sex)are nimbly explored here, and build to a devastating end. It was similarly saved from obscurity, this time by author TessaHadley, for The New Yorker 's fiction podcast.
"Spring in Fialta is cloudy and dull," begins this amusing and heartbreaking story, perhaps the most underappreciatednarrative Nabokov ever wrote. Waiting behind Nabokov's admittedly long and wry sentences is the plainly moving story ofa love affair pursued through the years. Every detail works together here to render Nabokov's testament to theillusiveness of love and memory, and a reader's patience is richly rewarded. Those interested can find it online, or in theexcellent anthology of love stories, My Mistress' Sparrow Is Dead .
By turns funny, disturbing, canny, and inventive, this novella takes the form of fictional episode summaries of the famousshow (but if the show, as one reader puts it, were directed by David Lynch). Machado, another new voice in Americanfiction, manages to create an engaging, strange, and wholly original story that draws into conversation sexual violence,popular culture, and our own weird-feeling relationships therein.
While this very short, very tricky story purports to be about the birth of the tribal language used to print the first Bible inthe Americas, it is really about the death of it, and the way history itself is a colonizing narrative. Shattuck's facility withprose makes this a funny, winning story, even as it is a bitter and sad one: a clever and unique creation that will stay withyou long after you're done reading.
10. "Painted Ocean, Painted Ship" by Rebecca Makkai (Ploughshares )
This humorous, deceptive story, loosely descended from Coleridge's most famous poem, follows an unreliable Englishprofessor as a single compound error (mistaking a bird, then a stu...