Short stories are the perfect choice when you want to sample an author’s work, or simply don’t have the time for a lengthy novel. (In some cases, when you read a short story collection you can skip around and go back to the book whenever the mood strikes—there’s no loss of continuity or having to remember who did what in earlier stories.)
However, that doesn’t mean that a short story is quick and easy to write! On the contrary: The writer often has fewer words, fewer characters, and fewer settings to work with, yet still has to have a story that’s compelling, tightly plotted, and fully formed. Many noteworthy authors have written short stories including: Herman Melville, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Joyce Carol Oates, among many others.
Here are a few of the best short stories to read right now—and the reasons why we love them!
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway
For the ultimate short story, look no further than Hemingway and his famously sparse use of language. In this example of Hemingway’s classic writing style, the main character, Harry, is injured and stranded on an African safari. Harry drinks too much, berates his wife, and begins to realize the true worth of the life he’s lived as he waits for a rescue plan that will never come.
Photo from US Historians
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
Big game hunter General Zaroff is in pursuit of the ultimate quarry—shipwrecked sailors trapped on his island. Also published as “The Hounds of Zaroff,” this well-known plot has inspired numerous television show story lines and was adapted into a movie in 1932.
Photo from Wikipedia
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
Irving, the godfather of the American short story, created an iconic character that still frightens readers today: The Headless Horseman. One of the earliest examples of American fiction, this haunting short story has become a Halloween favorite.
“A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker
A unique psychological study of how infatuation becomes obsession, this story is told from the perspective of a woman anxiously waiting for a call from her date. Parker skillfully uses language and tone to express the unstable, desperate thoughts of the protagonist.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain
A colorful tale about the gambler Jim Smiley, his famous frog, and his ultimate comeuppance, this story was Twain’s first big success as a writer. Amusingly told, the story features the ungrammatical dialogue and unique characterizations that would become Twain’s hallmarks.
Photo from Indiana University
“Kew Gardens” by Virginia Woolf
Sometimes compared to post-impressionist painting, this short story begins with a detailed description of a flowerbed, zooms out to include visitors to the royal botanical Gardens in London, then zooms back in to follow a snail as it makes its way through the flowerbed.
“The Sphinx Without A Secret” by Oscar Wilde
Part of a collection by Wilde of semi-comic mystery stories, this particular short story centers on two old college friends who meet after some time apart and the mysterious woman that one of them loves. She claims to have no secrets—but is it true?
There are many other well-written short stories that deserve to be read—too many to list here! But when you’re in the mood to read something short and sweet…or maybe not so sweet…this list is a great place to start.
Photo from Goodreads
Title photo from Bonnybbx