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Short and sweet

A recent conversation got me thinking about short stories. I've heard more than a few readers say they just don't really "like" short stories lately, and I have to admit that I've had a hell of a time getting through the ones that have appeared in the New Yorker. Notable exceptions to this rule: I read anything by T.C. Boyle and Alice Munro, because their stories are always compelling to me.

Here are some of my favorite short stories:

Selfhelp Amahl and the Night Visitors: A Guide to the Tenor of Love, Lorrie Moore: "Understand your cat is a whore and can't help you." Best. opening. line. ever.

Sorry Fugu, T.C. Boyle: A chef aims to seduce a restaurant critic. Well done.

Brokeback Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx: I loved this story long before the movie, loved it to the point that the image of the shirt within a shirt can still give me chills. Actually I like all the stories in this particular collection (Close Range). The one about the half-skinned steer will give you nightmares for a week.

The Dead, James Joyce: No, I'm not being an AP English suckup. I love this story and its final haunting lines.

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Ernest Hemingway: Anyone who knows me has heard me gripe about Hemingway's bull-goring, war-mongering testosterone-ridden novels, but this story is genius.

Love What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver: Everybody knows this one. If not, read it. Also worth reading: Cathedral and So Much Water So Close to Home.

How to Talk to a Hunter, Pam Houston: From Cowboys Are My Weakness, which also boasts the excellent Jackson is Only One of My Dogs.

Emperor of the Air, Ethan Canin: "Look up at the stars."

Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot, Robert Olen Butler: I heard the author read this hilarious story at Miami Book Fair once - a sublime experience.

Everything's Eventual, Stephen King: Look, I like The Mist too (the story, not the movie) and the one about the guy who chews off his own foot on an island. But this one is his BEST STORY EVER. I dare you to top it!

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HoCo

How about short movies? It takes more than 2 hours to tell the frikkin' story of Speed Racer?

Brett Bayne

Do any Roald Dahl short stories qualify for your list? "William and Mary" and "Parson's Pleasure" are among my favorites.

Connie

I read Roald Dahl years ago but remember literally nothing about his stories. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aside, of course.

This was all just off the top of my head. I'm sure I've left all sorts of things off that I like.

Andy

The Dead is such a great short story. I wish I'd read it in my AP English class.

Connie

That's where I read The Dead for the first time, AP English! But I have read it several times since. The first time I only read it as part of Dubliners as penance for skipping Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Connie

Another reader offers some suggestions. The first two I've read; they're good. The other three I intend to track down:

The Swimmer by John Cheever
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel
Roman Fever, Edith Wharton
The Gospel According to Mark by Jorge Luis Borges
The Screwfly Solution by James Tiptree Jr.

Amy

I absolutely love "Monday" by Mark Helprin from his The Pacific and Other Stories.

Brett Bayne

I would concur that Everything's Eventual is the best King short story (it probably qualifies as a novella, but I'm not gonna start counting words). In fact, I might just be responsible for bringing the story to Connie's attention in the first place. At any rate, L.T.'s Theory of Pets (from the same collection) is a very close second. Other favorites:

The Jaunt -- For the last 20 years, my friend Jay and I have been scaring each other with the phrase, "Longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!"

The Last Rung on the Ladder -- Talk about an unforgettable story...proving that King is a master beyond the boundaries of traditional horror.

Survivor Type -- Think Robinson Crusoe meets "Saw."

The Ledge -- Better watch your step!

Connie

The Jaunt is DEFINITELY scary. Maybe not quite as scary to me as The Mist but definitely up there.

LT's Theory of Pets is good too. I just prefer Every thing's Eventual. And yes, Brett, you DID introduce me to it, so thanks!

I don't remember Last Rung on the Ladder, now I'm gonna have to go dig that up. Have already grabbed my copy of The Pacific to search out Monday, Amy...

Brett Bayne

The Last Rung on the Ladder is from Night Shift. I can remember reading it decades ago and thinking, "Man, I cannot believe Stephen King wrote this."

Amya

What do you think of Augusten Burroughs' short stories? And, am I the only person who loved his memoir, Running with Scissors? Or, Dry? I crack up every time I think of him ordering a martini without olives because he thinks he can get more alcohol that way; the olives do displace the liquor somewhat.... Maybe this just says something about me, as a matter of fact, I know it does, but he's been getting a really bad rap. Is it for good cause? My book group certainly dissed him when I suggested we read Wolf at the Table, mostly in light of the fact that he will be in our town to speak and I thought it would be a nice event for us. I plan to go anyway. Any thoughts?

Amya

What do you think of Augusten Burroughs' short stories? And, am I the only person who loved his memoir, Running with Scissors? Or, Dry? I crack up every time I think of him ordering a martini without olives because he thinks he can get more alcohol that way; the olives do displace the liquor somewhat.... Maybe this just says something about me, as a matter of fact, I know it does, but he's been getting a really bad rap. Is it for good cause? My book group certainly dissed him when I suggested we read Wolf at the Table, mostly in light of the fact that he will be in our town to speak and I thought it would be a nice event for us. I plan to go anyway. Any thoughts?

Amy

Stop right there! I realize that A.B.'s "short stories" are essays. Excuse me. My mind is a sieve. Or maybe I should put those olives in my martinis.........

Connie

I'm glad you caught yourself...ha! You will read more on Mr. Burroughs here shortly, as I am writing a story about him this week, but I would say...Wolf at the Table not such a good book club book. It's...not such a good book, really.

And honestly, I'm not a fan of most of his essays. I think the last book was trying too hard.

That said, I loved Running With Scissors and Dry, too. I know he was sued for RWS by the family he stayed with, and he settled for an undisclosed amount, so I wouldn't swear how true any of it was...but my thought would be RWS was a delight (and a horror) to read, so whether or not it's true is less important to me than it would be if I thought the book were only OK.

I would not say the same for Wolf at the Table.

Connie

Hey, just read Mark Helprin's Monday...what a good story!!!

Amy

Oh, I'm so glad you read it! There are some other equally touching stories in that collection. But that one just got to me.

bibliophile

I've heard good things about Mark Helprin's novel, Winter's Tale. Anyone here read it and want to comment?

And I just checked out a collection of food-related short stories in audiobook; Fugu is in there.

I absolutely love collections of short stories, b/c if you don't like one you haven't invested a ton of time in reading it. If I'm in a thrift store and I see a paperback collection of short stories, like they use in high school and college English classes, I always buy it.

e.p.l.

i have to add to this growing mountain of short-story love everything in "tell me a riddle" by tillie olsen and, well, everything by grace paley, who pretty much wrote only short stories, despite being pressured to write a novel. but especially loved her "enormous changes at the last minute." both of these wonderful writers died last year.

Connie

I haven't read Winter's Tale...

So now I need to add Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen to the list...I've read some of Paley's poetry (yes, I am aware how odd that is for me) but am not familiar with Olsen at all.

Other obvious short stories I completely forgot to mention, both by one of my favorite writers: Servants of the Map and Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett. Both title stories in her collections (which are all good) but those two stories really stuck with me.

Andy

I also have to nominate The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

Connie

A classic! Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon!

Connie

A little bird reminded me of another short story writer I used to love as a kid: Ray Bradbury. I loved his collection The October Country, in particular the creepy story Skeleton. If your bones ache? Stay AWAY from M. Munigant! That one still kinda freaks me out.

e.p.l.

oh, oh, here's a great one i forgot: don't look now by daphne du maurier. beautiful and chilling.
connie, you can borrow my yellowed copy of tillie olsen's book...

Connie

I read Don't Look Now a lloooooong time ago. I think I liked The Lottery better. But I will take you up on Tillie Olsen, just to read at least one story...

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