A Good Short Story Is Not Hard to Find: One Librarian's Favorites

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By Shaileen B.

Don't call me Ishmael—not today. Today, in honor of National Short Story Month, I'm celebrating fictional works that don't resemble great white whales. Today I'm celebrating fiction that's leaner, more compact, combining the suspense of the novel with the lyric intensity of the poem. Let's hear it, today, for a genre that's been around apparently forever; think of Scheherazade, telling just one more Arabian Nights tale each night, just one more. Let's hear it for the short story!

Finding a good short story is easy—there are so many. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Hemingway Cover"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway. Is it about one old man or everyone? I love this story's delicate transitions, steps down into a dark night of the soul.
  2. "Goodbye, My Brother" (in this book) by John Cheever. You don't want to keep this brother: he sees nothing but flaws. Cheever denounces him with a brilliant passage that begins, "Oh, what can you do with a man like that?"—half story, half song.
  3. "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor. On a road trip in Florida, a self-righteous granny and her family run into killers. Just when you think this story can't get more surprising, it does, with a change of heart.
  4. Carver Cover"What We Talk About When We Talk about Love" (in this book) by Raymond Carver. Put two couples together with some gin and some memories, and what they don't say about love looms large.
  5. "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens" (in this book) by Lorrie Moore. Moore tells the truth as crookedly as she can—through jokes, metaphors, and profoundly confused protagonists. Is Aileen really mourning the death of "her sweet, handsome cat," or is it something else?
  6. "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro. When Fiona, who has dementia, falls for a man who is also demented, past and present crisscross for Grant, her once-philandering husband. Munro's story skips around in time, obeying not the calendar but the logic of the heart.
  7. "Jon" by George Saunders. He may not be Huck Finn lighting out for the Territory, but he's just as endearing. Raised in a dystopia where people think in terms of commercials, teen Jon follows his girlfriend "Out."
  8. "The Rabbit Hole as Likely Explanation" by Ann Beattie. The narrator's mother, who suffers from dementia, isn't the only character who escapes reality through mental gaps in this mischievous work.
  9. Russel Cover"Haunting Olivia" by Karen Russell. This story is like the marina where the child narrator snorkels nights, looking for his dead kid sister. They're both full of ghosts and gorgeous imagery, and you surface hopeful, sea-changed.
  10. "The Cheater's Guide to Love" (in this book) by Junot Díaz. Six years might be a long time to get over a break-up, but it's not a long time to remake your personality. We follow Díaz's unreliable narrator year by sad, funny year till he arrives at reliability — a clearer vision of love and himself.

What are your favorites? Please leave a comment!

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