The short story is sometimes an under-appreciated art form. Within the space of a few pages, an author must weave a story that’s compelling, create characters readers care about and drive the story to its ultimate conclusion — a feat that can be difficult to accomplish even with a great degree of savvy. Yet these authors have mastered the art of the short story, turning condensed pieces into memorable works of literature that stick with readers long after they’ve finished. So if you’re looking for something to read between classes, get you into literature or just keep you entertained, pick up one of these short stories.
Sad and Shocking Tales
These short stories prove that it doesn’t take a whole novel to leave you stunned and still thinking about a narrative weeks after reading.
- "Signs and Symbols" by Vladimir Nabokov: First published in The New Yorker, this short story tells the sad tale of an elderly couple and their mentally ill son.
- "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O’Connor: A manipulative grandmother is at the center of this tragic and shocking story about coming to terms with who you really are.
- "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway: A writer on safari in Africa is close to death and looks back on his life regrettably in this short tale.
- "The Fly" by Katherine Mansfield: This short story deals with some heavy themes, like death, truth and the horrors of war.
- "In the Penal Colony" by Franz Kafka: An elaborate torture and execution device that carves a sentence into a prisoner’s skin before death is at the center of this famous short story by Kafka.
- "A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka: Exploring themes like death, art, isolation and personal failure, this work is one of Kafka’s best and, sadly, most autobiographical.
- "The Lame Shall Enter First" by Flannery O’Connor: In this tragic story, a man’s idealism and self-interest cause him to ignore the needs of his grieving son– with sad consequences.
- "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson: First published in 1948, this short has been ranked as one of the most famous short stories in American literature– despite its negative reception in some places.
- "The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams: This story asks readers to consider whether or not it is ethical to hurt someone for their own good and, more importantly, whether one should be ashamed to enjoy the experience.
- "The Rockinghorse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence: This twisted tale will stick with you long after you’ve read it, documenting the strange relationship between a spendthrift mother and her son, who only longs to make her happy.
- "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An early work of feminist literature, this story follows a young woman as she descends into psychosis, becoming obsessed with the pattern and color of the wallpaper.
- Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates: This short story was inspired by the murders committed in Tucson, Arizona, by serial killer Charles Schmid.
If you’re looking for more than just one great short story, check out these must-reads.
- I, Robot by Issac Asimov: Made into a variety of movies and inspiring many other writers, this collection is an essential read for any sci-fi fan.
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Containing 13 short stories, this Pulitzer Prize-winning work details the lives of Olive and those inhabiting the small Maine town she calls home.
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: Nominated for and winning numerous literary awards, this collection of stories about the Vietnam War is moving– perhaps even more so because many of them are based on the author’s own experiences.
- Dubliners by James Joyce: Over the course of fifteen short stories, readers will gain insights into Irish middle-class life at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Nine Stories by JD Salinger: Containing some of Salinger’s most famous short works like "For Esme– with Love and Squalor," this collection is a great way to connect with the well-known author.
- Steps by Jerzy Kosinski: In a series of short vignettes, Kosinski will shock, disgust and creep you out. Whether you like the book or not, you won’t walk away unmoved.
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: This Pulitzer-winning collection captures the difficulties of Indian-Americans caught between one culture and another.
- Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver: Themes of segregation and unhappiness are the center of this collection of short stories on American life.
Pop Culture Classics
You’ve more than likely heard of these famous short tales– even if you’ve never read them.
- "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain: This colorful tale about a man and his famous jumping frog earned Twain fame and acclaim and is well worth a read.
- "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi " by Rudyard Kipling: If you never enjoyed the tale of this dedicated mongoose as a child, pick it up today.
- "The Body" by Stephen King: Adapted into the movie Stand By Me, this short tale documents both the depth of friendship and the horrors of misfortune.
- "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving: You’ve more than likely seen one of the film adaptations of this famous tale, but see how they compare with the original for the full experience.
- "The Telltale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe: There are few out there who haven’t read or at least heard of this classic tale. Over a few short pages, Poe builds the suspense as a murderer begins to feel the guilt of his crime.
- "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury: This work is the most re-published sci-fi short story of all time, documenting with great aplomb the devastating consequences of the "butterfly effect."
- "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber: The most famous of Thurber’s stories, inspiring the term "Mittyesque," focuses on a man who is bored with his mundane life and escapes through a series of grand, heroic fantasies inspired by his surroundings.
- "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell: Adapted into a movie starring Ice-T, the literary version of this story is perhaps more serious and compelling than the pop culture it has inspired.
These classic authors may have gotten famous for their longer works, but their short stories can often be just as compelling.
- "Three Questions" by Leo Tolstoy: While Tolstoy may be better known for his epic novels, this short story in the form of a parable about a king searching for the most important questions in life shows he mastered the medium of the short story as well.
- "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This magical realist story focuses on a couple who have found what they believe to be an angel in their front yard– for better or for worse.
- "Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe: This classic tale of gothic horror will have you hanging on to every last detail.
- "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: In this satirical, dystopian story society has finally achieved equality by handicapping the most intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society.
- "The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol: This short satirical work tells the tale of a St. Petersburg official whose nose decides it’s had enough and leaves his face to start a life of its own.
- "The Diamond As Big as the Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Included in a short story collection and published on its own, this story documents the lengths one family will go to in order to keep their secret source of wealth a hidden.
- "The Looking Glass" by Anton Chekhov: A marriage-obsessed young woman begins to see her future life being played out in her looking glass in this short tale.
- "The South" by Jorge Luis Borges: Considered by Borges to be one of his best short stories, this story centers on a man who is on his way home after a near death experience.
- "The Swimmer" by John Cheever: This story may have been originally conceived as a novel, but it holds up well as a short story, blending realism and surrealism as it explores life in suburban American.
- "To Build a Fire" by Jack London: Known for his epic tales about man in nature, this short story doesn’t disappoint as a man and dog are pitted against the wilderness in a battle for survival.
- "The Nightingale and the Rose" by Oscar Wilde: This story uses the form of a fairy tale to look at love, sacrifice and relationships.
Great short stories are still being written today. Here are a few from the past 20 years that may are well worth a read.
- "Meneseteung" by Alice Munro: While the narrative devices used in telling the story might be confusing at first, readers who persevere will be rewarded with a rich tale spanning several decades.
- "The Happy Man" by Jonathan Lethem: In this story, a man has the ability to make visits to hell despite still being alive, something that confuses and frustrates both he and his family.
- "The Second Bakery Attack" by Haruki Murakami: Bizarre and almost dreamlike, this story seems simple but will have you thinking back to it after you’ve finished.
- "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx: You’d have to be living in a cave not to have heard of this cowboy love story. This narrative is just as moving as the Oscar-winning movie it inspired.
- "The Story" by Amy Bloom: Like metafiction? Pick up this self-reflective, playful story that takes a look at the idea of storytelling itself.
Short stories are often the perfect format for setting up shocking twist endings. Here are some of the best twisty short stories ever written.
- "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant: Popular for its twist ending and the inspiration for many other writers, this short story is a must-read for anyone interested in the genre.
- "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Beirce: Made into a Twilight Zone episode, this classic short story is set during the Civil War, where a man is about to hang for being a Confederate sympathizer.
- "The Monkey’s Paw" by W. W. Jacobs: In this terrifying tale, readers will learn to be careful what they wish for– it might not always be what they want.
- "Pastoralia" by George Saunders: Winning Saunders an O. Henry Award in 2001, this story focuses on a man who is stuck in a life he hates in a dystopian future.
- "Man from the South" by Roald Dahl: In this short story, a mysterious man offers a bargain for lighting a lighter on the first try. Win, you get a new car. Lose, he gets to take your finger.
- "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry: This sentimental story has a twist with a lesson about the true meaning of gift giving.