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Three Great Books Of Short Stories

I love short stories.  However, there’s not much money in them.  Also, they take more time to write than many longer projects.  It’s true!  With longer books authors can vomit everything up onto the page, make a huge mess, and hope that more of it is good than bad.

Not so with short stories

Mark Twain said: If I had more time, I’d write a shorter story

When a short story wins a prize, you can usually find a theme in every paragraph, if not in every sentence.  There’s a level of craftsmanship that I don’t see often in any other medium but the short story.

With that in mind, here are three of the best of the best of the best.  Totally.

1. A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor was an odd one, but wow, could she write.  She’s one of those authors that graduate students love to write dissertations about.  I don’t know what a lot of her stories are getting at, but they all give me chills.

Start with the title story, A Good Man Is Hard To Find.  Equally powerful and bizarre is The Artificial Nigger.  But they’re all just fantastic.  Again: the word here is crafts(wo)manship.  Just perfect in every way.

2. The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka

Kafka’s topics and stories make O’connor’s look positively mundane.  This dude had issues.  Daddy issues, mommy issues, torture issues, existential craziness, and all manner of things that made him anxious.  The good news is, whatever compulsions and troubles he had resulted in some of the most unforgettable oddities of the literary universe.

My favorites are In The Penal Colony, A Country Doctor, The Great Wall Of China, and of course, The Metamorphosis.  That last one is a long short story, but worth the read.  It’s not every day that a young man wakes up to discover that he has turned into a cockroach.

3.  The Modern Library’s Great Tales Of Terror And The Supernatural by Just About Everybody

Halloween is almost here.  This collection is the best of the best.  This book is gigantic and will give you great spooky stories to read for years.  The Great God Pan, The Monkey’s Paw, The Most Dangerous GameThis is the who’s-who list of lots of dead people you may never have heard of.  But their stories you might know.

Aristocrats hunting men for sport.  An attack by a massive army of fire ants.  That monkey and its crazy paw, not to mention another creepy story about a black monkey with red eyes that shows up at inconvenient times.

There is nothing I like more than sitting by the fire in the autumn and reading ghost stories.  Nothing.  The Modern Library’s Great Tales Of Terror is one of my favorite things in the world.  It’s that good.



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  • Gordie Rogers October 15, 2009, 3:16 am

    Man, I love horror stories. It’s my aphrodisiac of choice. I will do a hunt for this on Amazon. Cheers, Josh.

  • Gordie Rogers October 15, 2009, 3:17 am

    Okay, that was dumb. You had the link already there. To make up for my stupidity, you don’t have to pay me back for the bar of soap.

  • Greg October 15, 2009, 4:44 am

    I’ve read another short story that centers on hunting men for sport. I think the title was “The Most Dangerous Game.” (Been a long time.) But it was just a phenomenal story. Highly recommended as well.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 9:50 am

      Greg, The Most Dangerous Game is the story from this book that I was referring to. Excellent.

      • Greg October 15, 2009, 10:19 am

        Yep. There it is. Somehow I missed the title. Great story.

  • Ben Overmyer October 15, 2009, 5:52 am

    I’d like to mention that The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, a collection of Robert E. Howard’s earliest Conan stories, is also a fantastic set of short stories. Howard has some very visceral writing.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 9:46 am

      @Ben: I loved Conan as much as I’ve ever loved anything. I”ll take a look at that book. Howard was the best.

  • Robby G October 15, 2009, 6:16 am

    I hear that Charles Bukowski has some good short stories. I really want to check them out and while I’m at it I’ll pick up that Kafka collection. Just ordered Women by Bukowski on Amazon, by the way. Josh you ever read anything by him?

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 9:49 am

      Robby, I’ve read everything by Bukowski. My favorite is Post Office, followed by Ham on Rye. Everything the guy did was genius. Even the poetry, and I don’t like poetry.

      • Robby G October 16, 2009, 5:41 am

        I’m jealous now because I only discovered him a few weeks ago and I already know that his stuff will influence my future work. He was definitely genius in every sense of the word.
        PS: Happy you finally came around to using a Reply plugin lol

        • Josh Hanagarne October 16, 2009, 7:11 am

          Robby, I’m surprised you’d never read CB. He’s right up your alley. LOL. I didn’t even have to use a plugin for the replies. I just changed one little WP setting. Pretending to be smart gets you only so far. People inevitably start filling in the gaps in your knowledge and suddenly you’re just another fraud:)

  • Ben (from TIC) October 15, 2009, 7:35 am

    Flannery O’Connor is in my top five of favorite writers. Her story, “The Enduring Chill” just knocks me out. It’s funny, sad, and redemptive. When I first read it, the ending came out of nowhere and punched me in the stomach. I half cried.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 9:48 am

      Ben, who are the other four?

      • Ben (from TIC) October 16, 2009, 5:33 pm

        1. Melville
        2. Faulkner
        3. Cormac McCarthy
        4. Flannery O’Connor
        5. Joyce Carol Oates

        Americans all, in no particular order, except for Melville.

  • Hazra October 15, 2009, 9:11 am

    I read the third book sometime back, and I really loved it. I love spooky stuff, so this one worked for me.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 9:47 am

      Hazra, glad to hear it. Did you have any favorites?

  • Heather October 15, 2009, 11:41 am

    Three of my all-time faves! Not one, not two, but you hit ALL FLIPPIN’ THREE! Josh, you so totally rock! Good Man is Hard to Find has got to be my all-time fave short story ever–that, and the one about the girl with the wooden leg who gets tricked up into that barn by the Bible salesman with ill intentions! And that horror collection! Awesomeness bound in faux leather! I’m totally with Gordie up there re: l’aphrodisiac du horreur! Mon Dieux! Glad to know I’m not the only one who gets all hot n’ bothered over the likes of “The Monkey’s Paw,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “Yellow Wallpaper.” Great picks, brother, great picks! 🙂 ::two virtual thumbs-up::

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 11:53 am

      Heather, thanks. Have you read The Dark Descent? It’s the other horror anthology that I love. Between it and the ML one, you wouldn’t need much else for a while.

  • Daisy October 15, 2009, 7:22 pm

    For spooky, try Surreal South. Short stories, all very powerful. shiver.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 15, 2009, 8:28 pm

      Daisy, I’ll look for it. Have you ever read any Joe Lansdale? Bumper Crop is about the creepiest collection by a single author that I’ve found. Weird Texas gothic.

  • Brian Heys October 21, 2009, 12:35 pm

    I’ve said it before, but I think Stephen King is a master of the short story. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that some of his stories represent his finest work.

    When you talk about craftsmanship coming across in short stories, you’re spot-on. You get a real sense of the artisan at work when you read a well-crafted short piece. King’s work exhibits this in huge measures.

    As you may know, I write short stories. I can agree with your comment that they can take a long time to ‘perfect’! I once had one that took me six months to finish, and it was only about 5700 words. I didn’t work on it full time of course – I just kept coming back to it, honing and polishing, until I was as happy as I could be.

    PS – There’s a short ghost story on my blog called ‘The Brink’ if you want to pull up a chair and light your fire again. 😉