Ten favorite short stories

This post was begun a few months ago in response to a meme, the progenitor of which I can locate no longer. The draft has been changing repeatedly and I couldn’t decide whether to publish a list or to say a few words about each item. Moderate verbosity won, and here is the list of 10 stories that I loved when I read them, and still do. If I was able to find the story online, a link is provided. There are some introductions but no spoilers.

After Twenty Years – O. Henry: We had this in our English textbook in middle school. It is a story about two men who make an appointment to meet after twenty years to compare notes about where life has led them.

Dusk – (Saki) H. H. Munro: A delightfully funny story of how life takes Norman Gortsby for a ride in Hyde Park.

The Monkey’s Paw – W.W. Jacobs: Another story from a curricular text, this one gave me the creeps even in broad daylight in a classroom full of students. The plot centers around a talismanic primate paw which can be used to gain the fulfillment of three wishes, each at a horrible price.

Rain – W. Somerset Maugham: One of Somerset Maugham’s most famous stories, Rain tells of a Christian missionary who tries to convert a prostitute named Sadie Thomson. (The story has been adapted on film and stage, with the role of Sadie played first by Gloria Swanson, then by Joan Crawford and again by Rita Hayworth.)

Antu Barava – P. L. Deshpande (Pu La): Many Marathi readers know of Vyakti Ani Valli, a series of poignant character sketches which capture the good and the not-so-good aspects of life in Maharashtra (my home state, located in Western India) told with the humor and wistfulness that have made the late Pu La a household name in the state. Antu Barava is a cynical, acid-tongued, old villager of failing body and razor-sharp intellect who, nevertheless, captures the heart. It is very difficult to choose among the characters in Vyakti ani Valli; each is so beautifully sketched.

Anthem – Ayn Rand: A novella, rather than a short story, but still readable in a short sitting. This could be considered as a sort of distillation of the themes of Ayn Rand’s more famous works, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Though the Randian outlook does not hold the austere, heroic charm that it held for me when I was nineteen, I would still recommend Anthem as a strong, concise and romantic view of objectivism.

To Build a Fire – Jack London: Very similar in spirit to his other, longer tales of the difficulties faced by man and beast in the cold, snow-covered North. A clear-eyed, but horrifying story about a man who attempts to build a fire to keep himself and his husky dog alive.

The Upper Berth – F. Marion Crawford: A scary yarn about the experiences of a man wonderfully named “Brisbane”. Much like Conrad’s adventure-hardened Marlow, Brisbane finds a receptive audience and narrates a story about how he once endured a few weird nights in a ship’s cabin. Dampness and an open porthole could seldom evoke such terror as they do in this story.

The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe: A very short Gothic story about a man who commits murder and is plagued by a guilty conscience. I love Edgar Allan Poe. My sister and I once scared ourselves out of our wits while watching The Pit and the Pendulum on TV.

A Temporary Matter – Jhumpa Lahiri: This is the first of nine stories that make up Interpreter of Maladies. A couple tries to deal with all that has gone wrong with their relationship.

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4 thoughts on “Ten favorite short stories”

  1. I really love Somerset Maugham’s short stories and not enough people read them. But they are exquisite. Thanks for the list, Polaris – lots there for me to check out!

  2. Litlove, I came rather late to reading Maugham. A friend gave me two volumes of his short stories as a present, and that has set the ball rolling.

    I hope to read his longer books, among them: The Razor’s Edge.

  3. I read Maugham for the first time this year and really liked him. I want to read more. I can’t seem to make myself read many short stories, I’m not sure why. I did read Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude not too long ago, but never wrote anything about it. I wish I could get in the habit of reading a short story a week. It doesn’t sound like much, does it, but it is amazing how fast my own time goes (now work time seems to last forever some days).

  4. Danielle, One short story a week would be wonderful, but these things run in phases, don’t they? I mean, there are stretches when one goes months without reading a short story, and then there are plane journeys when one can devour half a dozen in a few hours.

    I shall look for Mansfield’s Prelude now.

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