Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay arguing that all literature should take the shape of a short story for it is the perfect length to read in one sitting and keep the attention span of the audience. If a reader must pause the book to read for another time, it breaks the magic between the text and the reader. Thus, all stories should be short, according the august Mr. Poe. Now, I do love big books that feel like they can go on forever so the love of the plot and characters appears to never end (e.g. The Harry Potter series). However, I agree with what Poe is stating here, because the conciseness of a short story holds the reader until the very end, being completely immersive. I am composing a list of my favorite short stories that I know you will love too. The themes and genres in this list are far and wide.
[This list is the none-spooky version, because I will be creating a “Spooky October Book List” that will contain Edgar Allan Poe short stories plus more! So, please stay tuned for that, as we all love the spookiness of October literature, art, and film.]
“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka
When I first read this short story my freshman year of college, I was stunned. This easily became my favorite short story and the subject of my semester’s final paper. Kafka writes about an artist in a cage in 1922 who seeks to ‘wow’ observers with his ability to fast. The artist continues to starve himself, but rapidly loses followers to other less meaningful, but more attractive, exhibits. There are so many symbols in this short story, that one could analyze it forever, constantly pulling out greater and greater meaning. I will say this: if you are interested in death and divinity, this is the story for you.
“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell
George Orwell writes this fantastic 1936 narrative essay thematically on imperialism and colonialism. The literal version of the story follows Orwell as a police officer for the British Raj in colonial Burma. A domesticated elephant escapes into the village creating chaos and danger. The police officer witnesses brutality and violence firsthand.
“The Hanging” by George Orwell
This short essay from 1931 also takes place in Bruma with George Orwell as a British Imperial police officer, taking a criminal to his execution. Orwell vividly describes all the events and stream of consciousness of the officer, leading up to the execution and after the execution. “The Hanging” depicts how desensitized humanity has become, for this criminal is no longer seen as a human.
“A Christmas Tree and a Wedding” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
This short story takes place in 1848 during a Christmas party and is narrated by a wallflower that feels awkward at the event. The party appears to be for children, but is actually for the wealthy host to discuss business with friends and neighbors. There is a great level of discomfort, as the narrator observes peculiar encounters that will soon lead to a wedding.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
As another one of my all-time favorite short stories, this one is a masterpiece of feminist perspective with a gothic scenery and creepy suspense written in 1892. The story follows a woman in the Victorian era that suffers post-partum depression. To make her happier, her husband and new born baby vacation in a summer house. The woman is entranced by a particular room in the house that has a horrible yellow wallpaper. Soon the woman is obsessed with the wallpaper, and a downward spiral into frenzy encapsulates the woman. The themes here are that women were severely oppressed in this era, and a woman that does not have a free mind will fall into hysteria.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
This story is a classic Southern gothic tale from 1930 that centers around a rich woman, Emily, whom lives an isolated life. The entire town gossips about her and wants to know what is going on behind closed doors. The story dives into Emily’s past, showcasing the many losses and sorrows she has felt, while unveiling a dramatic and shocking twist at the very end.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” reminds me a great deal of The Hunger Games, which may in fact be where Suzanne Collins conceived her idea for her hit trilogy. “The Lottery” is written in 1948 about a town that meets to partake in their annual tradition. The tradition remains unknown for the majority of the story, as the plot is very slowly rising to a climax (there is no falling action or denouement). The tradition is revealed at the end, arguing that humans follow tradition without thinking if it is beneficial for the individual or society as a whole.
“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving
This short story is written in 1819 about a man who’s wife is uncontrollably nagging and angry, while he is lazy and carefree. To escape his wife one day, he wanders up a mountain and falls asleep; when he awakes, nothing is the same as how it was during his pre-sleep, Revolutionary War days. This short story is written as a childish, tall-tale filled with whimsy, but if you dive deep enough, you will see it is a great historical story with loads of symbolism.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
This short story is about a woman that lives in poverty in 1884 and rents a necklace for a fancy ball she is invited to. She loses the necklace, and she and her husband must now work tirelessly to pay off their debts. Maupassant writes a character that believes she is born to be rich but is suffering in the life of a poor housewife, making you loathe her smug martyrdom. But, there is a wonderful twist by the hand of karma at the end.
“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne writes of a young man in Puritan New England in 1835, where sin and temptation hide around every corner. He leaves his house in Salem with his wife all decked in pink ribbons to walk in the woods all alone. Here, he meets the devil and falls into religious conviction, thus showing how humanity is weak and corruptible by nature, resulting in endless guilt.