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10 Great Short Stories And Essays About All Kinds Of Things

1. The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper by Mark Twain

Mark Twain is nearly always funny, but never more so, in my opinion, than when he’s talking about writing he doesn’t like. Cooper wrote Last Of The Mohicans and The Leatherstocking Tales. Whether you’ve read those (or love them) doesn’t matter–this is the best kind of venom, as only Twain could do.

2. My Father’s Brain by Jonathan Franzen

A fascinating, poignant essay about the author receiving a letter from his mother–the letter contains the details of the autopsy of his father’s brain. A brain which had been deeply changed by Alzheimer’s Disease.

3. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

If you have ever considered taking a pleasure cruise, you may want to read Wallace’s essay first. A Supposedly Fun Thing is about as good as it gets. I miss you, David. (Read Big Red Son as well).

4. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

All of humanity is dead except for five people. They are immortals, tormented forever by the computer who caused the genocide that wiped out the human race. They find a way to win, but the cost is pretty freaking terrible. I’m going to sneak in one more for Ellison here–The Whimper of Whipped Dogs. Read it!

5. The Summer People by Shirley Jackson

Everyone has read The Lottery. I think this is way better. And creepier.

6. The Santa Land Diaries by David Sedaris

A hysterical recounting of Sedaris’s seasonal job as a Christmas elf in a department store. If you are ever feeling down, reach into the Dave Sedaris grab-bag and you’ll be smiling in no time.

7. At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

Trouble in the Arctic, discovered by an unfortunate excavation team. Big trouble. In my mind, I pretend that Dan Simmons took this tale up much later in The Terror.

8. Stone Animals by Kelly Link

Kelly, I’m in love with you. A wonderful, bizarre story about a family in a new house, some unusual rabbits, and…well, you’ll have to see. Also by Link, check out Some Zombie Contingency Plans.

9. The Iron, by Henry Rollins

If you ever need to get fired up to go lift something heavy.

10. Match Wits With Inspector Ford by Woody Allen

I love some of his movies, but I love nearly all of his prose. This is a fantastic parody of Encyclopedia-Brown type sleuthing.



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  • ami May 31, 2010, 4:04 am

    Thank you for the recs Josh. I’ve been on a short story kick, but finding short stories on your own w/o a trusted recommendation can be a bit hit or miss (even when you read ‘best of’ type books). I love the way authors experiment with short stories and go off on wild tangents that they might not try with longer works.

    I’m going to look for these, love Sedaris and Twain, had no idea Woody Allen wrote shorts. Oh boy.

    BTW – will the book club read short stories?

  • Jim Lochner May 31, 2010, 9:38 am

    One of my favorites: “Unaccompanied Sonata” by Orson Scott Card. Read it in a 1979 copy of the now-defunct sci-fi magazine, OMNI. (I still have that particular issue in pristine condition, simply because of this story.) Imagine being a musical child prodigy and being told you could never make music again because you listened to Bach. Here’s the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unaccompanied_Sonata. I haven’t read the story in years (and it would be hell to find the copy of that magazine in one of my boxes). But it has haunted me for over 30 years. A life without any music whatsoever…my idea of hell on earth.

  • Heather May 31, 2010, 10:41 am

    Henry Rollins. . . . Angry Hank is GOD! Screw Clapton, God is HENRY ROLLINS! And maybe Brian Setzer, too! Must. . . find. . . . The Iron. . . . Henry. . . . . ::SIGH::

  • Lynn May 31, 2010, 10:59 am

    Interesting! I’m always fascinated by people’s favorites.

    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  • Heather May 31, 2010, 12:58 pm

    OK, found the Rollins, read it, re-read it, read it some more, and will be printing it out and sharing it with my local football coach at my school, who is always looking for new ways to inspire his boys and influence them to not be a bunch of fickle mushheads who are all brawn and no brain and call other guys “fags” without really knowing why, or how truly offensive it is, and why REAL STRONGMEN don’t NEED to call each other ugly names! Found a cool web site in the process too, and have suddenly become. . . .INSPIRED. . . . . Thanks, Josh, you rule!

  • Elisabeth Eilir Rowan June 1, 2010, 12:53 am

    I love ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. I played Chaosium’s campaign adventure ‘Beyond the Mountains of Madness’ (a roleplaying-in-the-classic-pencil-paper-and-dice sort of way) last year and it was grueling. It was based on that Cthulhu Mythos story.

    (I’ve devoted 19 years of my life to playing a weekly roleplaying game based on Lovecraft’s works. [I suppose that makes me a geek, but it’s fun and a good social outlet.] I love his stories. He knew how to do suspense and horror perfectly.)

  • albert camus June 5, 2010, 6:47 am

    “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macumber” – E Hemingway needs to be on your list

  • Leni June 9, 2010, 12:15 pm

    Interesting selection, I never thought S. Jackson came up with something crippier than “The Lottery”. I will try to find if there is a free copy of it on the internet.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 9, 2010, 12:55 pm

      I was surprised too. I’d love to hear what you think if you track it down!

  • Removals Richmond August 16, 2010, 1:03 am

    These are really worth while reading. I’ve already know some of them but there still new to new here. Thanks for sharing them.