Best Short Story Collections

As someone who owns a lot of short story collections and anthologies, I’d like to mention some of my favorites.
Whether you love short stories or want to get an overview of them, any of these books will provide you with a great variety of stories.

This  hardcover anthology contains 40 short stories from 1917-2014. It has a beautiful, colorful dust jacket, and looks great on a bookshelf.

The highlights of this volume, for me, are:

  • The Gay Old Dog by Edna Ferber – A man promises his dying mother that he will put his life on hold until his sisters are taken care of. (A moving story, set a long time ago, about normal lives. I really like this type.)
  • Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald – A man tries to regain custody of his daughter after losing her for his drinking and other selfish behavior. (Always enjoy Fitzgerald’s stories, really need to get a complete collection of his.)
  • The School by Donald Barthelme – The narrator recounts all the experiences with death that his class has in a single year. (Barthelme’s stories can be too unusual for my taste, but this one is funny and quite short.)
  • Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro – The narrator tells the life of Flora, who lived on a farm with her sister and brother-in-law, and how she dealt with the twists and changes in her life. (I was amazed at some parts of this, there’s so much jammed into it.)
  • The Third and Final Continent by Jhumpa Lahiri – An Indian man moves to Boston after getting married, and adjusts to all the changes those things bring about. (So relatable and interesting even though i’m white and have never had to adjust to a different culture.)
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander – A couple of orthodox and secular Jews get together and gently argue some things and discuss Jewish life, leading to a game one of them made up as a child. (Convincing character delineation leading to a slap-in-the-face realization.)
  • The Semplica-Girl Diaries by George Saunders – A man chronicles the events leading to his daughter’s thirteenth birthday, mainly his desire to get her an expensive present that would be a status symbol to the neighbors. (I had heard about this one for a while. It lived up to the hype.)

This anthology contains 56 short stories from 1915-1999.  These are all top-tier stories. As the introduction points out, they’ve been selected 4 times: for initial publication, for an annual volume of Best American Short Stories of the Year, for the shortlist of this volume, and for final inclusion in this volume.

The highlights, so far, are:

  • A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell – When a man is found strangled in his bed, his wife is the prime suspect. (One of the more memorable short stories I’ve read.)
  • Wild Plums by Grace Stone Coates – A young girl wants to go pick plums with a poor neighbor family, but her parents object. (A laid back story of class-consciousness.)
  • The Farmer’s Children by Elizabeth Bishop – Two young boys have to sleep in the barn to watch the equipment while the hired hand is away. (Another moving story about ordinary people set years ago.)
  • Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?  by Joyce Carol Oates – A rebellious teenage girl meets a man in a parking lot, and he later shows up at her place when she’s alone. ( Great tension. I was riveted.)

I have a lot more to read in this one, but it’s already great.

There are no overlapping stories in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories and Best American Short Stories of the Century.

This hardcover book has 62 short stories with many titles that aren’t usually anthologized. This is a great second-hand find; I don’t think you can get it new anymore.

Some highlights include:

  • The Dead Man by Horacio Quiroga – While working on his banana plantation, a man falls on his machete. (A believable rendering of a man’s final minutes.)
  • My First Goose by Isaac Babel – A new Propaganda Officer – Jewish, educated and weak – has to find a way to fit in with a division of soldiers. (An engaging illustration of peer pressure and the cost of comradeship.)
  • The Jewbird by Bernard Malumud – A crow flies into the Cohen’s apartment seeking escape from anti-Semitic birds. (Interesting idea, nicely executed.)
  • The Door by E. B. White – A man walking in a building is confused, trying to find doors, and compares his situation to rats being experimented on. (An unusual, unsettling and confusing story worth pondering.)

Another second-hand gem that I love seeing on my shelf. This hard cover volume has 70 short stories and a charming dust jacket.

My highlights are:

  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy – Ivan has to go to the doctor after falling and hurting himself at home. (A teaser doesn’t communicate any of the power of this story. There’s a lot happening in it. Even though it’s on the long side, it wasn’t a chore.)
  • A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert – Felicite is a maid who loves the family’s children and becomes religious. (Another hard to summarize story about an ordinary person.)
  • The Saint Joseph’s Ass by Giovanni Verga – A little-valued donkey always works hard for its owners. (Not a widely-read story, but charming and moving.)
  • The Rocking-Horse Winner by D. H. Lawrence – A young boy can pick the winner of a horse race after working himself into a fervor on his rocking horse. (This one is probably more resonant if you can relate to the unspoken phrase in the house: “There must be more money!”)
  • Young Archimedes by Aldous Huxley – A landlord wants to exploit the talents of Guido, a young peasant boy, to make money off him. (I like the style of writing and the clever phrasing.)
  • Sex Education by Dorothy Canfield – Aunt Minnie tells the same story a few times of a frightening experience from her youth, but her perspective on it changes. (Nice effect of the reader’s judgment changing with the evolving perspective of the teller.)

I have a lot left to read in this anthology and the next, so I won’t give you any story highlights. I’m looking forward to it, though, because it has 82 stories by writers from various countries, many of which I’ve never seen before.

This anthology has the same virtues as the last one: lots of stories (78), writers with varying backgrounds, and many unfamiliar titles.

There are no overlapping stories in The Art of the Tale and The Art of the Story.

If you have any questions about these volumes feel free to ask in the comments.

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