Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beth's Ten Favorite Short Stories

Apparently, there's been all kind of talk in the literary world about celebrating National Short Story Month. Some writers think that because poetry gets its own month-long celebration in April, then short stories should get the same. And apparently, many are using May as a kind of unofficial short story celebration. So, even though I don't think short stories really need their own month, I've decided to participate in my own way with a brand new list!

I am a big fan of the short story form. A really good short story can have the same emotional punch as a novel or poem, and I often find that my all-time favorite ending lines in fiction tend to come from short stories. Here is a list my ten favorite short stories, in no particular order.

Beth's Ten Favorite Short Stories

1. "Babylon Revisited," by F. Scott Fitzgerald: There's a reason this story is considered the best short piece of fiction written by The Fitz. Fitzgerald really pooled together all his feelings about the end of the celebratory Jazz Age in this one. It's haunting, beautifully written, and humanizes every single character. And the last sentence is a doozy. Soooo good.

2. "A Temporary Matter," by Jhumpa Lahiri: Lahiri is probably the best short story writer of the last twenty years. Her writing is impeccable. If you can read this story about the end of a marriage in the face of tragedy without getting choked up, you might not be human. This story stuck with me for a long time after I finished it.

3. "For Esme - with Love and Squalor," by J.D. Salinger: I've mentioned before how much I love Salinger's Nine Stories, particularly this story. A story about war and peace and memory, it's ridiculously good.

4. "The Sojourner," by Carson McCullers: This story rarely makes it at the top of the list when critics list McCuller's best work, but I'm a huge fan of it. It's got another killer ending line (in fact, the tone of the story reminds me a lot of Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited"). I'm not sure why most of my favorite short stories seem to be about men realizing they can't get back their happier pasts, but what can you do...

5. "Pop Art," by Joe Hill: I only read this story a couple months ago, but it's already managed to make my list of favorites. Sure, stories about the loss of a childhood friend are a dime a dozen, but how many of them are about the loss of a childhood friend who happened to be an inflatable person? And how many of them are so wonderfully understated and tragic and wonderful as this one?

6. "Zoanthropy," by David Benioff: There's really no reason why I should like this story as much as I do. Benioff is a good writer, but he's not exactly Hemingway. And then there's all the weird stuff: lion hunters and spying on neighbors and a super-awkward narrator. But for some reason, I enjoy the story so much while I'm reading it that I can't really make myself NOT like it.

7. "The Minor Wars," by Kaui Hart Hemmings: There's really nothing more I can say about this story than I did in a past entry, but obviously, it had to make this list. Like "Zoanthropy," it's one of those stories that I enjoy reading so much it almost hurts. I think Hemmings just hits all the right notes in this one.

8. "Lull," by Kelly Link: This story is quite possibly the single strangest thing I've ever read. It's a story about storytelling, built up around layers of narrative. There's demons and aliens and a kind of haunted house in it, but there's also that beloved theme about wanting to return to an idyllic, if not exactly real, past. The first few pages make me want to write fan letters to Kelly Link.

9. "Murder Mysteries," by Neil Gaiman: Surprise, surprise; Gaiman made the list. Like Link's "Lull," this one is as much about storytelling as it is about anything else. The title comes from its central story about the first murder investigation in heaven, but there's a hell of a lot more than just that going on here. I don't really like heaven and hell and gods and angels entering into my reading life too much, but Gaiman always manages to push all the right buttons. This is one bad-ass short story.

10. Every story in Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona, by Ryan Harty: This is a major cheat since there's eight stories in this collection. Harty's wife, Julie Orringer, is a much more loved author in the literary world, but for some reason, I am more of a fan of this guy. It's probably because this book's stories touch on a lot of my favorite literary tropes - brothers, parents and children, lonely dudes looking to reconnect with their lives; this book has them all. Harty's writing always looks effortless, and his characters break my heart over and over again. The biggest standouts here are "What Can I Tell You About My Brother," "Crossroads," "Don't Call It Christmas," and the extremely gut-wrenching piece about family and robots and death, "Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down." I think everyone should read that last one. It's really quite wonderful.

Well, there you go, everyone. I'm sure I'll be kicking myself for leaving stuff out in the next few days. You can probably check the comments over the next few days to see some additions.


  1. 1) I just read "Babylon Revisited" and it's incredible. I guess after he wrote it Hemingway said something along the lines of "Scott, we get it. You and Zelda screwed things up. Get over it." My professor told me that.

    2) You mentioned "For Esme- with Love and Squalor" before. I don't know if I commented on it, but Lemony Snicket has a villian named Esme Squalor in his Series of Unfortunate Events. You should check it out. It's filled with Literary reference and I'm sure that's no coincidence.

    3) Man, Neil Gaiman is the best ever. I guess right now Twitter is doing an event where everyone reads one book and talks about it on Twitter. Currently it's American Gods. You should read his Sandman series. It's sixty plus issues of early 90's comics, but it's totally worth it.

  2. Hemingway: Always bringin' down the Fitz.