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Poll: Best Short Stories?

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, author of Harrison Bergeron and much more

Today: the best of the brief. The best short stories.

In many ways I prefer short stories to novels. When they succeed, I think they work better than long fiction, and a brilliant, perfect short story contains a standard of craftsmanship and thought and articulation that even great novels don’t necessarily have to have.

There’s just not enough time for filler in a short story. If an author is trying to impart a message in a brief piece, it might be reflect in every single sentence. This is why, for me, short stories can be so haunting and unforgettable. Whatever the mood of the piece, it is sustained throughout and the effect lingers.

Mark Twain famously said that if he had more time he would write more short stories.

Today I want to start a list of the best short stories ever in fiction. No genre or era is off limits. These are, as always, simply my preferences. It’s the beginning of the short story canon according to Josh, and I’m going to do my best to throw in some oddities that you may never have heard of.

Feel free to agree, disagree, scoff, or ignore the list entirely.

And of course, add your own favorites. Maybe you’re the one who actually knows the best short story?

  • The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
  • Stone Animals by Kelly Link
  • The Nose by Nikolai Gogol
  • The Horla by Guy De Maupassant
  • The Summer People by Shirley Jackson
  • A View of The Woods by Flannery O’Connor
  • The Witch by Anton Chekhov
  • The Mist by Stephen King
  • Exodus by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Westward The Course of Empire Takes Its Way by David Foster Wallace
  • To Build A Fire by Jack London
  • I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
  • We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
  • Tlon, Ugbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges
  • The Angry Clam by Erik Quisling
  • Cannibalism In The Cars by Mark Twain
  • The Torturer’s Apprentice by John Biguenet
  • In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
  • The Girl With The Black Eye by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Way Down Deep In The Jungle by Thom Jones
  • At The Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft
  • The Vane Sisters by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Atomic Supernova by Scott Wolven
  • The Pit by Joe R. Lansdale
  • Dread by Clive Barker
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
  • The Most Dangerous Game by Connell
  • Duel by Richard Matheson
  • Night Journey by John Barth
  • The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl
  • The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
  • The Silent Men by Albert Camus
  • A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver
  • How To Tell A True War Story by Tim O’brien
  • The Blue Rose by Peter Straub
  • Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Okay, that’s a good start. I know I’m missing some obvious ones, which I’ll leave to you wondrous readers to add.


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  • Frank Roberts June 21, 2011, 12:23 pm

    Hills Like White Elephants, and Big Two-hearted River, by Hemmingway; The Jilting of Granny Weatherall, and Barn Burning, by Faulkner; anything from The Illustrated Man or The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury; anything by Harlan Ellison (his titles are the best ever); the Simple stories, by Langston Hughes; Pigeons From Hell, by Robert E. Howard (one of the scariest stories ever); the whole of The Siege of 318: 13 Mystical Stories, by Davis Grubb (Stephen King stole freely from him); anything in Fireflood and Other Stories, by Vonda McIntyre; Soldier Boy, by Michael Shaara; anything from Fire From the Wine Dark Sea, by Somtow Sucharitkul; the whole of The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, by Breece D’J Pancake. Too many more to name!

  • Patrick Tracy June 21, 2011, 12:25 pm

    “Red Dog Down” by Dennis Etchison. Had the honor of hearing it read by the author a few years ago. Knocked me out.

  • Mike Sharkey June 21, 2011, 1:41 pm

    Josh, I too think the short story is in many ways superior to long fiction. Kind of like a 10 course tasting dinner. You just get an idea, a feeling, and then its gone.

    My favorite short story authors… Hemingway. Carver. Fitzgerald. Kafka.

    In the Penal Colony is one of the best, agreed.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 22, 2011, 7:02 pm

      Glad to hear it. If we keep reading, hopefully the medium won’t die out entirely.

  • Boris Bachmann June 21, 2011, 6:07 pm

    A friend lent me his copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Stories To Be Read With The Door Locked” – some great, great short stories. Richard Matheson’s “The Distributor” was pretty creepy. There were others, but I can’t remember which: http://www.iblist.com/book68201.htm

    • Josh Hanagarne June 22, 2011, 7:01 pm

      I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Hitchcock. Some of those are going to make it into the October horror blitz.

  • Jim Janney June 21, 2011, 9:44 pm

    “Casey Agonistes” by Richard McKenna. Starts with “You can’t just plain die. You got to do it by the book.”

    “The Hole in the Corner” by R.A. Lafferty. Almost all his stories are good, but I particularly like this one.

    “My Boyfriend’s Name is Jello” by Avram Davidson. Or any of his Eszterhazy stories.

    Pretty much anything by Saki or John Collier.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 22, 2011, 7:01 pm

      I’ve never heard of any of those. This is fantastic.

  • Juergen June 22, 2011, 2:13 am

    I love this one: Ki Do (The Way of the Trees) by Sarah Thomas. Online at Strange Horizons: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2008/20080331/trees-f.shtml

  • Steve M June 22, 2011, 6:49 am

    A few from my list of favorites:

    “The Hermit’s Story” by Rick Bass
    “The Swimmer” by John Cheever
    “Saint Immanuel the Good, Martyr” by Miguel de Unamuno
    “Ward No. 6” by Anton Chekhov
    A number of stories by Tolstoy including “The Bear Hunt”, “Where Love Is, God Is”, “What Men Live By”, and “God Sees the Truth, But Waits”
    And for packing the most meaning into the fewest words, the parables of Jesus, particularly “The Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son”.
    Finally, in the course of reading to my granddaughter, I have rediscovered those gems of short stories, the various fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.

  • Spencer June 22, 2011, 3:16 pm

    I could not agree more. I have recently fallen in love with the short story genre. The best I can think of right now off the top of my head are Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work and Bang Crunch Stories, both collections, both excellent. I have read many more. I also just got a book on Flash Fiction. I will review it when I get a chance.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 22, 2011, 6:58 pm

      I’ve never heard of either one of those. Will look them up. I’ve got some awesome flash fiction books.

  • josh June 23, 2011, 1:26 am

    anything by chekhov, he’s the king

    • Josh Hanagarne June 23, 2011, 9:19 am

      I just read The Witch yesterday at lunch. You’ve got good taste and a good name.

  • a guy September 16, 2011, 5:56 pm

    “The Dead” and “Araby” by James Joyce. The former, a tour de force of everything it meant to be Irish at the turn of the 20th century and a very well written yet powerful narrative. The latter, a coming of age story done as no one but Joyce could have done.

  • Sadie September 30, 2011, 9:04 am

    I think ‘The Lady or the Tiger’ is an amazing short story.

  • Saad October 24, 2011, 6:53 pm

    Flowers For Algernon. By Daniel Keyes

  • taku November 2, 2011, 11:02 am

    the ledge by lawrence sargent hall

    • Josh Hanagarne November 2, 2011, 11:49 am

      Never heard of it, thank you! I’ll see if I can track it down today.

  • Albert July 5, 2012, 2:49 am

    Hi, thank you very much, I know this is an old thread, but thank you anyway.

    By the way, can you tell some good psychological thriller short stories?