May is short story month! Short stories present the perfect opportunity to check out a new author’s work or to revisit an old favorite. And just because a story is about 3,500 words doesn’t mean it can’t be as engaging and well written as a novel. At Writer’s Relief, we’ve reviewed enough short stories and novels to know it’s actually harder to write a tight, compelling, complete story arc using fewer words. Our researchers (and readers) have put together a list of 12 iconic short stories you simply must read—or reread!
12 Short Stories Everyone Should Read
“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe: The rich frolic without a care as a plague consumes the poor townsfolk. But when a masked stranger enters a party for the elite in society, death becomes the great equalizer.
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid: Mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and the advice this mother gives her daughter reveals that tension.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson: This story challenges the idea of keeping tradition for tradition’s sake. The idyllic setting also demonstrates that violence can happen anywhere.
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs: In this classic tale, the monkey’s paw will grant the holder three wishes, but with terrible consequences.
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry: This story of a young newlywed couple explores how selflessness is truly the greatest gift of love.
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin: The narrator discovers from a newspaper that his younger brother has been arrested in this compelling examination of family, addiction, and the healing power of music.
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor: In this Southern gothic short story, a family on a road trip across Georgia and Florida falls prey to an escaped convict known as the Misfit.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving: A new schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane comes to Sleepy Hollow and becomes very popular amongst the townsfolk. But the Headless Horseman haunts the town and disrupts Ichabod’s stay.
“Civil Peace” by Chinua Achebe: The story examines the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War and the “civil peace” that ensues following devastation and lawlessness.
“Minutes of Glory” by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: Post-independence Kenya is progressing, but when a young woman wants to leave her village to pursue a better life in the city, she is greeted with harsh realities.
“Big Two-Hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway: A two-part short story that explores how the destructive qualities of war can be countered by the healing and regenerative powers of nature.
“In a Grove” by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa: When the body of a young samurai is found outside Kyoto, many people come forward to testify about the violence. But the testimonies contradict one another, making it difficult to learn the truth.
More Short Stories Worth Reading:
- 43 of the Most Iconic Short Stories in the English Language
- Top 10 Classic Short Stories
- Bite-Sized: 50 Great Short Stories
Once you’ve read these iconic short stories, you may be inspired to write your own! And the researchers at Writer’s Relief will be ready to help you pinpoint the best literary journals for your work. Learn more about our services and find out how we can boost your odds of getting published. Then submit your writing to our Review Board today!
Question: Which short story will you read first?