Everyone has their favorite short stories, whether it be in the form of a book or through an assignment by your English teacher. Nevertheless, when sifting through hundreds of stories that are considered “the best”, there always seems to be some common threads with each collection. Is it simply down to taste? Does everyone have different tastes? Could every person on the planet like different things (and therefore, not be on board with anything commonly considered as “the best”)? Or is it down to some other factor; something more complex – such as how we can interpret stories based on our own understanding of life and people around us.
20 Best Short Stories and Collections Everyone Should Read
1. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor:
If you need a collection of stories to read, there are few better places to look than this book. Not only will it keep you occupied for days or weeks, but it also has an introduction by none other than the great creator of ‘The Complete Stories’ himself – Mr. Flannery O’Connor.
2. Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa:
Who can forget the tales of a samurai in medieval Japan, or a man who murders his wife and gets away with it? All this is quite common when you read stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who spent most of his life writing characters that were nothing short of despicable. They are not for everyone, but if you like dark stories about friendship, love, and betrayal
3. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James:
Maurice James was a scholar and a medievalist, but he also wrote stories of ghosts. This compilation is jam-packed with ghostly happenings and spooky moments. It is a delight for horror and ghost movie fans and the stories won’t take long to finish either!
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4. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell:
The world of 1984 where Big Brother is always watching, but really doesn’t do much at all other than that. In his dystopian nation, Winston Smith fights against the state, but is prevailed upon time and again. It’s a tale of love, hatred, and passion that you will never forget.
5. Florida by Lauren Groff:
Florida is a part of America you don’t often get to see in the media today. This story by Lauren Groff takes place somewhere in Florida and tells the tale of a family; their trials and tribulations, their joys and sorrows, their heartbreaks and happiness.
6. Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King:
Stephen King is a genius, and this compilation of short stories should be held as proof. If you want to read something by the Master of Horror, look no further! The title might say ‘dark’ but there are some funny moments in here too!
7. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri:
Jhumpa Lahiri is a writer who knows how to tug at your heartstrings with ease. Reading her work will send you on an emotional rollercoaster as you come to terms with the fact that some people deal with loss and grief in completely different ways, but no way is wrong or right – it’s just a personal choice defining who you are as a person.
8. Dracula by Bram Stoker:
Dracula is the vampire’s vampire! The original vampire story from 1897, ‘Dracula’ tells of the world’s most famous bloodsucker and his reign over the earth. This is a scary read, but you won’t be able to put it down.
9. The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton:
If you like mysteries and thrillers then look no further than this story from GK Chesterton. It takes place in London where the main character Gabriel quits his job at Scotland Yard and ends up in a group of anarchists. However, he is soon found out and his life changes for the worse from that point on!
10. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway:
Hemingway’s story about the struggle between man and nature has been picked apart and analyzed countless times, but it still manages to keep the reader hooked. This is one of Hemingway’s best stories and has been described as “one of the greatest novellas of the Twentieth century” by The New York Times.
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11. A Good Man Is Hard To Find And Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor:
If you like dark and depressing stories, then look no further than this story by Flannery O’Connor. The titular story has been anthologized countless times and is also the inspiration behind many movies – including one of my favorites – ‘The Shawshank Redemption.
12. Blow-up and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar:
If you like bizarre stories, then Cortázar is the writer for you. This collection of short fiction has mind-blowing tales that are sure to keep you entertained!
13. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James:
Henry James was a masterful storyteller and this compilation of short stories will prove just that. ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is a classic ghost story and won’t take more than an hour or two to finish – but don’t say I didn’t warn you that it might be too scary for some people!
14. Fire Watch by Connie Willis:
Fire Watch is her first collection of short stories and it’s a winner! It takes place in the world of ‘Doomsday Book’ (one of her other well-known books) but stands on its own two feet as a great collection of short stories. This is a must-have for any fan of Connie Willis!
15. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien:
This book will have you re-thinking war and conflict forever. It’s a short read but the impact is something that would stay with you for years to come!
16. “Symbols and Signs” by Vladimir Nabokov:
Nabokov is a genius and this collection of stories proves just that. Some of the stories are disturbing but it will make you think about symbols in a new light!
17. The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil:
If you’re a fan of long novels then look no further than ‘The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. This book was originally published in two volumes, but don’t let that stop you from indulging in this incredible read!
18. A Distant Episode by Gaito Gazdek:
Gaito Gazdek is a brilliant writer and I have enjoyed all his books so far. This collection of short stories is a brilliant read and a great way to get into some Polish literature, especially if you’re a fan of the Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz (‘Quo Vadis’)!
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19. “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver:
My favorite Raymond Carver story is definitely ‘Cathedral’ and I think it actually was his own favorite too. This short story shows the relationship between a couple and is heart-breaking and emotional – but if you like stories with a twist, then this would be perfect for you!
20. The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington:
Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter and writer – and this collection of her stories is fantastic! I was introduced to these stories by the graphic novelist/artist Bryan Talbot, who has drawn some adaptations of Leonora’s short fiction. He also wrote an introduction for the book ‘Leonora Carrington: The Complete Stories’.
This is just a shortlist of some of my favorite short stories. I will be creating more lists that are themed, so if there’s any theme you want to see then let me know!
Who are your favorite writers? Are there any books/short stories you really enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!