If you want to write good short stories, it is important to read them, too. Here are some suggestions:
- Margaret Atwood: Dancing Girls
Atwood writes about the complexity of human relationships with a rare intensity which mixes humor and violence, laughter and pain. Her characters feel real and relatable, and I have to admit I was hooked from the very first page. Some of the main topics Atwood focuses on in this collection are the failed communication between men and women, and also the tough choices they are sometimes forced to make. The surreal elements in her stories are a distinctive feature of Atwood’s superb storytelling.
- Frode Grytten: Song of the Beehive
Grytten’s collection focuses on the inhabitants of several apartment blocks in a small town in Norway. Each story is about one person who lives there, and every narrator has a very distinct voice. It’s a great portrayal of the micro-universe consisting of different people living together in a small place with limited contact with the rest of the world. What could possibly go wrong?
- Raymond Carver: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Every short story writer has been told to go read Carver at one point. I have to admit I was stubborn at first, and refused to give it a shot precisely because of his admirable reputation. Of course, after reading his stories, I realized there is a reason why he is one of the most celebrated short-story writers in American (and world) literature. Carver accomplishes more in the span of one page than some other authors in an entire novel. A must-read for all writers.
- Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories
Moore writes about the gulf between men and women, about having one’s heart broken and about eternal craving for intimacy. It is both a funny and a deeply moving collection, portraying men-women relationships with an astonishing accuracy. It is a huge collection, truth to be told, but it is also a a page turner, so you will probably read it sooner than you think.
- Lydia Davis: The Collected Stories
Lydia Davis is one of those writers you either love or hate. Her short stories are really unlike any other and belong to their own category. Davis writes about things so ordinary you would never considered them to be a good sorce of inspiration for writers, and them she twists and turns them until something unusual and extraordinary comes out. Strange in the middle of ordinary really sounds like her writing motto.
- Alice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
A Nobel Prize winner, Munro has written an emotionally affecting, bitter-sweet collection, which is my favorite book of hers so far. The themes range from the underestimated effect of small unkindnesses built up over many years to the disappointment that is a result of a poorly-made compromise. Munro’s characters often times seem to be living perfect lives: until you scratch the surface, of course.
- Flannery O’Connor: A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
Connor’s wonderfully gloomy outlook on life is reflected in her stories, which are often grotesque and comic at the same time. This is a deliciously twisted and dark collection. O’Connor takes bizzare and turns it into a piece of art. She writes about ridiculously wise children and insane adults, about self-fulfilling prophecies, about deaths, secrets, assaults and deformities. This is one of my favorite collections on this list.
- Isabel Allende: The Stories of Eva Luna
While Eva is lying in bed with her lover, she answers his request for a story “you have never told anyone before” in twenty-three short stories which are contained in this collection. Her world is magical and poetic, full of extraordinary imagery of love and sadness. Allende’s stories focus on eternal themes: the suppressed memories of first love, aging and death, greed and revenge. All in all, it is a great read for those who enjoy the South American mystical realism genre.
- Ernest Hemingway: The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories
This collection contains ten of Hemingway’s most acclaimed short stories. To me, Hemingway’s stories always felt pure, almost sublime in their simplicity and remarkable storytelling. If you get past occasional misogynism (after all, Hemingway was a notorious womanizer and this is obvious in his writing), you will find a rare beaty in his stories, where not one word is a surplus.
- Neil Gaiman: Fragile Things
If you read other Gaiman’s work, you know it is impossible not to be hypnotized by his magical storytelling. This collection is no different. It proves that Gaiman is equally brilliant in his short fiction as he is in his novels. His stories continue to send shivers down the spines of readers of all ages. Fragile Things, a collection of short stories but also poetry, will shock and terrify you, but also make you laugh. This weird and magical collection is an excellent read for the lovers of fantasy genre
- Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque
One of the oldest entries on this list has earned its place among contemporary authors by its eternal themes of murder, passion and obsession. I really love the title of this collection, it is probably one of my favorite book titles ever. Some readers may find laughing at foreigners and their customs a bit repulsive, but don’t let that put you off this wonderfully dark classic.
- Anton Chekhov: Selected Stories
Chekhov is one of the several writers on this list whose area of expertise were precisely short stories. And expert he was: the tragedy in his writing, the nihilism that often permeates his stories, the little moments of sad life for these belonging to the lower social class do not overshadow the profound beauty of Chekhov’s writing. His characters feel very real and colorful and amazingly human, and so they make up for author’s eternal pessimism. If you want to write better stories, reading Chekhov and studying his story structure is a way to go.
- James Joyce: Dubliners
Dublin is one of my favorite cities in the whole world. That being said, Joyce’s Dublin is a very different city from the one I know and love. The collection reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century and offers glimpses into Irish middle class. Joyce writes about love and routine, violence and longing for escape, religion and epiphany. If you are one of those people who reject Joyce because of his difficult, Modernist novels, such as the Portrait, this collection paints a different picture of him and puts him firmly among greatest short story writers of all time.
- Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities
This dreamy collection written by an acclaimed Italian writer feels more like poetry than prose. It abounds in powerful imagery full of symbolic meaning. One could say that the protagonists of this collections are, in fact, the cities themselves, which are different versions of the same city that doesn’t exist. It is impossible to say what this book is about – every reader comes up with a different interpretation. I would say that this is probably the most difficult read on this list because of the extensive symbolism, but it is definitely worth the effort.
- Haruki Murakami: After the Quake
I have previously written about my love for Murakami, and this mesmerizing collection is no exception. It containes of six stories, all set at the time of the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan. The surreal themes, which are familiar to those who have read other novels from the same author, are also present in this collection. The earthquake acts as a catalyst for his characters, which then start rethinking their lives. Murakami is not afraid to dig into the psychological consequence of the traumatic crisis, resulting in this wonderful collection.
Do you agree with my list?