These are some of my favorite short stories. They’re not necessarily the most entertaining stories I’ve read, but I remember them fondly after many years. I’ve read lots of genre stories—sci fi, mysteries or westerns—that were more exciting, but they weren’t as memorable for me as these. I’m sure that I’m forgetting some obvious ones, so I’ll continue to add any that come to mind.
“The Pelican” by Edith Wharton
Mrs. Amyot, a widow in debt, gives lectures to support herself and child. She’s a natural speaker, and comes from a family of female intellectuals. Her lectures are of dubious quality, and her audience is more interested in them as social events.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton.
“The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol
A poor government clerk, Akaky, gets teased at work over his ragged overcoat. He tries to get it repaired, but the tailor declares it a lost cause. Akaky lives on a strict budget to save up for a new one.
The beginning of this novella-length story can be read in the Amazon preview of The Overcoat and Other Stories.
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London
A man is traveling on foot in the Yukon with a husky. He’s headed for a camp where there’ll be companions, fire and hot food. It’s –75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots. There’s a limited amount of time for him to get a fire going.
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator, Montresor, tells the story of how he sought revenge against a man, Fortunato, who insulted him. He was careful to hide his feeling of ill-will toward the man. They meet one evening at a carnival, after Fortunato has been drinking. Using Fortunato’s knowledge of wine as bait, Montresor says he has paid full price for a shipment of Amontillado that might not be genuine. His target insists on lending his expertise immediately.
Read “The Cask of Amontillado”
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
The news is broken to Mrs. Mallard that her husband has been killed in a train accident. She weeps wildly, then goes to her room to process her grief over the next hour, experiencing a range of emotions.
“Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor
Mrs. Turpin and her husband are in a doctor’s waiting room. Mrs. Turpin is racist and judgmental, and she converses with a few of the other waiting patients. Among them is a young woman reading a book, who looks at Mrs. Turpin intently. (Summary)
Flannery O’Connor has lots of great stories, so it’s hard to pick a favorite.
“Sandkings” by George R. R. Martin
Simon Kress lives alone outside the city. He likes unusual and exotic pets. After his last trip his animals died, so he goes looking for something new. He finds a shop, Wo and Shade Importers, where the proprietor introduces him to sandkings, an insect-sized life-form with a hive mind that fights wars with other colonies.
This is a longer story, but it didn’t feel like it to me.
“Barney” by Will Stanton
A scientist and his assistant have gone to a deserted island for an experiment—to attempt to increase the intelligence of a rat, Barney. Unfortunately, the assistant proves to be a problem and has to be let go.
This is one of the first short stories I remember from school. Read “Barney”
“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
Mrs. Maloney’s husband comes home from work in a bad mood. He eventually tells her that he’s leaving her. She is dazed by the news. She automatically starts getting supper ready. She selects a frozen leg of lamb from the deep freeze.
“The Long Sheet” by William Sansom
Four groups of captives are being held in a long rectangular metal structure with skylights. Three feet off the ground, running through all the cells, is a long white sheet soaked with water. The warders tell the captives that they will be released when their section of sheet has been wrung bone dry.
What’s your favorite short story? Let us know in the comments.