Here’s a quick literary tidbit: the modern short story is an art form pretty much developed by American writers. This is not to say that the first short story was written by an American, far from it. However, the short (anywhere between 5 and 50 pages), carefully sculpted piece of fiction that we today call a “short story,” became art because of 19th Century Americans like Poe, Twain and Gilman, and 20th Century writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and O’Connor.
I’m a big fan of the short story. Although I’ve read short stories throughout my life, I sort of “discovered” them when I first read J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. Each of these tiny masterpieces had a huge effect on me. It was much later, in college as an English major, that I learned about the significance of the short story in American (and World) Literature. These days I can get my weekly short story “fix” from one magazine. I have been a subscriber of The New Yorker magazine for about 25 years (with one small break during “the lean years”). Though I love to read the in-depth articles and profiles, the “Shouts and Murmurs” humor pieces and the “Critics’ Notebooks,” what I really look forward to is the new short story included in every issue. Each story is a little gem. Some are by writers I’ve never heard of, but most are by quite accomplished fiction writers (this week, by the way, a new short story by Haruki Murakami is available, even for non-subcribers).
The New Yorker online also has an amazing Fiction Podcast in which a current writer is asked to choose a classic story from the The New Yorker archives, read it aloud and discuss it. I’ve been listening to these since they started the series in 2007 (I cannot believe it’s been over four years). You can listen to Anne Enright read and discuss a Cheever classic, Orhan Pamuk on Nabokov, or hear a contemporary writer, Junto Diaz, admire the work of another contemporary, Edwidge Danticat.
Another great place to hear a short story read out loud is at Selected Shorts which also has a podcast. This weekly radio broadcast features celebrated actors reading/performing a great short story. Here in western North Carolina we can listen each Saturday morning on WCQS.
Of course, you may want to actually read a short story out an actual book. Well, if this is the case, then Fontana Regional Library has got you covered! Here’s a short (in no particular order and not in any way comprehensive) list of books of short stories by masters of the form:
- Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
- Local author, Ron Rash, has two books of short stories: Burning Bright and Chemestry, and Other Stories
- The Yellow Wallpaper, and Other Writings, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
- Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe
- Dubiners, by James Joyce
- The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Other Stories and Sketches, by Shirley Jackson
- Where are You Going, Where have You Been?: Selected Early Stoires, by Joyce Carol Oates
- Collected Stories, by John Cheever
- Collected Stories, by Raymond Carver
- Many other great writers have complete collections published, which can be searched by title: “Collected Stories” or “Complete Stories.”