Short and Sweet: The Short Story Lists, Redux

During our first dinner out together, over nachos and Dos Equis in a Tex-Mex place, the woman who would soon become my true love and later my wife said two things that made me realize that she was more than just beautiful and easy to talk with.  First, she told me her father was a professor of English literature and that he taught her to love books.  Second, she told me she was enrolled in an adult education course called, “The Short Story.”  While our story, which continues with no signs of stopping 30 years after that meeting, would be better suited to a novel, the short story form continues to intrigue us both.  Unlike the sprawl of the novel, where digressions are expected, and multiple story lines may be risked, the typical short story is single minded.  It is the literary equivalent of Brunelleschi’s single-point perspective, where all lines converge at a point.  Although some writers break the rules and introduce complex structures or reach across months, years or decades to tell their short stories, most confine themselves to a single main character, or a single event, and spend their energies pulling out all the strands of story and character, only to tuck them, albeit transformed, neatly back into place by the end (usually).  After he retired, my father-in-law brought us into his home library and told us he had set aside the books he wanted to keep and we could take anything that remained.  One of the books I took and still treasure is a short story anthology he had used to teach freshman English called The Expanded Moment.  This phrase described so many of my favorite stories, which don’t plumb the depths of an entire life but of one of life’s many crucial instants, like the instant when a man realizes he is eating nachos with the woman he will spend his life with.

The purpose of this post is to introduce my newly-revised short story meta-lists.  One is organized by rank (with the most-listed stories at the top) and the other is by chronology.  (See Links at end of post.)  The revision was sparked by a commenter’s concern that some of the literary works I’ve listed as short stories are actually novels or novellas.  I’ve removed some of the offenders (A Christmas Carol, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde), but kept others (Heart of Darkness, Metamorphosis, The Death of Ivan Ilyich) because they are frequently included on lists of Best Short Stories as well as lists of Best Novellas.  So I apologize to those who feel I’ve not gone far enough in culling the herd. The other reason I decided to revise was my lingering disappointment that the original lists were so heavily weighted towards English-language stories and so lacking in contemporary writers. So I went back to the Internet and found more lists that addressed these two problems somewhat, although the English-language bias is still evident.

In the course of compiling the revised short story lists, I began reminiscing about some of my personal favorites, many of which I first discovered in my wife’s bookshelves.  I found that there were some stories and collections I remembered easily, while in other cases, I have only vague memories of a story that moved me but whose plot and characters are now only hazy ghosts.  I tried to find some of these lost favorites (e.g., a very funny story in an Eastern European sci-fi anthology about a man who runs a red light) by plugging what I remembered of the plot into Google, but the Internet failed to work its magic.  So, I qualify the following lists of favorites as ‘the ones I can remember.’

Some Favorite Short Stories:
The Birthmark, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (US, 1843)
The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol (Russia, 1935-1836)
Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville (US, 1853)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy (Russia, 1886)
The Open Boat, by Stephen Crane (US, 1897)
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (Poland/UK, 1899)
The Dead, by James Joyce (Ireland, 1914)
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (Austria-Hungary, 1914)
The Doll’s House, by Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand/UK, 1922)
Babylon Revisited, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (US, 1930)
The Jilting of Granny Wetherall, by Katherine Anne Porter (US, 1930)
Silent Snow, Secret Snow, by Conrad Aiken (US, 1934)
Death of a Traveling Salesman, by Eudora Welty (US, 1936)
June Recital, by Eudora Welty (US, 1947)
A Perfect Day for a Bananafish, by J.D. Salinger (US, 1948)
Unready to Wear, by Kurt Vonnegut (US, 1952)
A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor (US, 1953)
Teddy, by J.D. Salinger (US, 1953)
Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut (US, 1961)
Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O’Connor (US, 1961)
In the Region of Ice, by Joyce Carol Oates (US, 1966)
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by William Gass (US, 1968)
I Could See the Smallest Things, by Raymond Carver (US, 1980)
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver (US, 1981)
Cathedral, by Raymond Carver (US, 1983)
A Father’s Story, by Andre Dubus (US, 1983)
Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett (US, 1996)

Some Favorite Short Story Collections:
The Collected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (US, 1832-1849)
The Collected Tales and Sketches of Nathaniel Hawthorne (US, 1832-1853)
The Queen of Spades and Other Stories, by Alexander Pushkin (Russia, c. 1890)
Great Short Works of Herman Melville, by Herman Melville (US, 1853-1891)
Dubliners, by James Joyce (Ireland, 1914)
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson (US, 1919)
Babylon Revisited and Other Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (US, 1920-1937)
Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger (US, 1953)
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor (US, 1955)
First Love and Other Sorrows, by Harold Brodkey (US, 1958)
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (US, 1923-1961; pub. 1987)
Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1962)
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (US, 1964)
The Past Through Tomorrow, by Robert Heinlein (US, 1967)
Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut (US, 1968)
Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, by Alice Munro (Canada, 1974)
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, by Grace Paley (US, 1974)
Secrets and Surprises, by Ann Beattie (US, 1977)
The Stories of John Cheever, by John Cheever (US, 1978)
Night Shift, by Stephen King (US, 1978)
What We Talk What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver (US, 1981)
Cathedral, by Raymond Carver (US, 1983)
The Elizabeth Stories, by Isabel Huggan (Canada, 1984)
The Old Forest and Other Stories, by Peter Taylor (US, 1985)
Transactions in a Foreign Currency, by Deborah Eisenberg (US, 1986)
Only the Little Bone, by David Huddle (US, 1986)
Rock Springs, by Richard Ford (US, 1987)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (US, 1941-1988)
Dusk and Other Stories, by James Salter (US, 1988)
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien (US, 1990)
The Effigy: Stories, by Joan Millman (US, 1990)
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler (US, 1992)
Runaway, by Alice Munro (Canada, 2004)
The Best American Short Stories (US, annual publication) (especially 1969, 1973, 1978, 1983-1989)
Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (US, 1987, 1993)

And here are the revised short story meta-lists I mentioned above:

The Best Short Stories of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
The Best Short Stories of All Time – Chronological

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