Posted by: Jeanie F | March 25, 2011

Top Ten Short Stories

In yesterday’s Guardian Book Blog, Chris Power poses the question, “Is the short story really the novel’s poor relation?” Power goes on to defend the short story, saying:

The short story, by contrast, acknowledges the vastness and diversity of life by the very act of focusing on one small moment or aspect of it. The story is small precisely because life is so big. Novelists are expected to tie up loose ends, whereas the short story writer can make a virtue of ambiguity.

I love the short story for many of the reasons Power discusses – the focus, the intimacy, the brevity. I sit in awe of those who can communicate so much in so few words.

As I thought about Power’s post, it caused me to reflect on some of my favorite short stories. Here’s my Top Ten, although they aren’t listed in any particular order – I think they’re all fantastic!

1. “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien

2. “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker

3. “Nawabdin Electrician,” by Daniyal Mueenudin

4. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” by Flannery O’Connor

5. “Orientation,” by Daniel Orozco

6. “The Book of Sand,” by Jorge Luis Borges

7. “Brownies,” by ZZ Packer

8. “Summer, Boys,” by Ethan Rutherford

9. “Where I’m Calling From,” by Raymond Carver

10. “Free Radicals,” by Alice Munro

What short stories do you love?


  1. “Summer, Boys” is so wonderful – and I recently had the same reaction (sitting staring ahead) to “Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events” by Kenneth Moffett (which is available online at McSweeney’s) from BASS 2010. But my favorite 10 of all time? No, I don’t think I could do that. Too many! And the list would shift depending on my mood. There’s this trio of flashes from the Sudden Fiction series – International and New – which I’ve declared my favorites: “Blue” by David Brooks, “The Puppies” by Dean Paschal, and “Incarnations of Burned Children” by David Foster Wallace – but then someone relatively unknown comes along and writes “I Use Commas Like Ninja Stars” (by Sam Nam, available online at Smokelong – oh, please, go read it, right now!) – and it changes everything. I said just a few days ago that Commas might be my favorite written work of all time. Tomorrow it might be something else. And another story that meant a lot to me, but wasn’t perfect (there was a scene that really dragged), also relatively low-key, where does that fit in? And what about the science fiction authors from my youth, no, don’t sneer, many of them, Arthur C. Clarke and Harlan Ellison in particular were extremely adept at creating emotion.

    No, I can’t do a top-ten list. But I enjoyed reading yours!

  2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short story I will never forget. Amazing and powerful. I really like the definition of a short story you posted. It can pack such a powerful punch in a short space. Have you ever read any of the infamous six word short stories? They’re quite incredible, too.

    • The Lottery is one of the most shocking stories I ever read! I LOVE it – thanks for reminding me about it. I have read some of the Six-Word Memoirs – in fact, I think I posted a link to the website here on my blog. They’re pretty amazing!

  3. How about “The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever. His book of short stories is the greatest I have read.

  4. That’s new to me, Tony. Is that the title of the collection?

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