Best Short Stories and Collections Everyone Should Read

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Best short stories and collections everyone should read.

Best Short Stories and Collections Everyone Should Read

If you are on the lookout for great storytelling but don’t want to commit to a full-length novel, then short story collections are the answer. Whether it’s just before bed, during your commute, or waiting to see your doctor, small chunks of time are perfect for reading short stories.

Here we have gathered thirty-one of the best short stories and collections , from all sorts of backgrounds and sources, to help you grow your “To Be Read” pile.

For your convenience, we've divided this post into two parts: 1. the ten best free short stories to read right now , and 2. best short story collections. Feel free to jump to the section that you prefer!

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great short stories out there, you can also take our 30-second quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized short story recommendation 😉

Which short story should you read next?

Discover the perfect short story for you. Takes 30 seconds!

Free Short Stories to Read Right Now

These individual short stories are the best of the best — and the even better news is that they're available for free online for you to peruse. From classics published in the 1900s to a short story that exploded in late 2017, here are ten of the greatest free short stories for you to read.

1. “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl

While not exactly a philosophical or political tale like our first two examples, this twisty short story from Dahl does delve into some shady moral territory. We are introduced to Mary Maloney: a loving wife and dedicated homemaker. In just a few short paragraphs describing how she welcomes her husband home, Dahl makes us sympathize with Mary — before a rash act turns her life upside down and takes the reader with her on a dark journey.

For those who haven’t read it, we won’t spoil the rest. However, it’s safe to say that Dahl serves up a fiendish twist on a platter.

2. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

A perennial feature in many a high school syllabus, Shirley Jackson’s best-known short story clinically details an unusual ritual that takes place in a small town. There’s not exactly a lot of plot to spoil in The Lottery — but within a few short pages, Jackson manages to represent the mob mentality that can drive reasonable people to commit heinous acts.

3. “How to Become a Writer” by Lorrie Moore

Told in the second person point of view , this story from Moore’s debut anthology Self-Help takes an honest look at the inner life of a struggling artist. Through the use of an unusual POV, the author manages to turn her reader into a confidante — making it abundantly clear that the ‘you’ the narrator is speaking about is actually herself.

This story is a standout, but the entire collection is well worth a read for its insight, humor, and disregard for literary norms.

4. “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian

In the Social Media Age, no short story has gone viral the way this New Yorker contribution from Roupenian has. Arriving at the height of #MeToo, it begins with 20-year-old Margot embarking on the early stages of flirtation with an older man, Robert. As she gets to know more about this man (as well as filling in the gaps with her imagination), the power dynamic in their relationship starts to fluctuate.

Lauded for its portrayal of Margot’s inner life and the fears many modern women face when it comes to dating, it also has its fair share of detractors — many are critical of the central character, some are downright outraged by the story’s success. Still, this story undeniably struck a chord with the reading public, and will likely remain relevant for some time.

5. “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1981, “Cathedral” is today known as one of Raymond Carver’s finest works. When it opens, we meet a narrator whose wife is expecting a visit from an old friend, a blind man. Dissatisfied and distrusting of people not like him, our narrator struggles to connect until the blind man asks him to describe a cathedral to him. 

 “Cathedral” is one of Carver’s own personal favorites, and deservedly so. His characteristic minimalist style is devastating as the story builds up to a shattering moment of emotional truth — an ultimate reminder that no-one else can capture the quiet sadness of working-class people like him. 

6. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

Innocuously titled, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is nevertheless Flannery O’Connor’s bleakest — and most famous — work. It begins unassumingly with a Southern family who’s planning to go on a road trip. Yet the journey is rudely interrupted when their car overturns on an abandoned dirt road — and they are met by an enigmatic group of three men, coming up over the far hill. 

This short story inspired some strong reactions from the public upon publication — and the conversation continues today as to its frank depiction of the nature of good and evil. Again, we won’t spoil anything for you, except to say that “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is well worth your time. 

7. “Symbols and Signs” by Vladimir Nabokov

The famous author of Lolita wrote “Signs and Symbols” in 1948. Its premise is seemingly simple: an elderly couple visits their mentally ill son in the sanatorium in America. Yet their background and trials come into sharp focus as the story develops, until an explosive ending disrupts everyone’s peace of mind. 

As you might expect, the somber “Symbols and Signs” diverges sharply from Lolita in terms of both tone and subject — but its ending will keep you awake at night thinking about its implications.  

8. “Sticks” by George Saunders

Not so much a short story as it is flash fiction, “Sticks” is written from the perspective of a young man whose father has an unusual habit: dressing up a crucifix that’s built of out a metal pole in the yard. One of America’s greatest living short story writers, George Saunders explained: "For two years I'd been driving past a house like the one in the story, imagining the owner as a man more joyful and self-possessed and less self-conscious than myself. Then one day I got sick of him and invented his opposite, and there was the story." 

The result is a masterful piece of fiction that builds something out of seemingly nothing — all in the space of only two paragraphs. 

9. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury

If there’s anyone who you can trust to deliver thought-provoking, terrifying science fiction on the regular, it’s Ray Bradbury. In “The Veldt,” George and Lydia Hadley have bought an automated house that comes with a “nursey,” or a virtual reality room. Worried about the nursery’s effect on the kids, George and Lydia think about turning off the nursey — but the problem is that their children are obsessed with it. 

As an ominously prescient prediction of the downside of technology, “The Veldt” is a short and shining example of how Ray Bradbury was an author before his time. 

10. “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

In this classic short story, we are privy to the journals of Charlie Gordon, a cleaner with an IQ of 68. ("I reely wantd to lern I wantid it more even then pepul who are smarter even then me. All my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb.”) Charlie’s luck changes when he is selected for an experiment that purports to turn him into a genius — but everything that goes up must come down in the end. 

“Flowers for Algernon” won the Hugo Award in 1960 for its groundbreaking presentation. Heartbreaking and rich with subtle poignance, it is likely to remain a staple for centuries to come.  

Best Short Story Collections to Devour

If you'd like many short stories at your fingertips all at once, short story collections are where you should look. Here, we've collected 21 of the best short story collections — along with the standout story in each volume.

11. A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “A Manual for Cleaning Women”

12. Blow-up and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “House Taken Over”

13. Drifting House by Krys Lee

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “Drifting House”

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14. Dubliners by James Joyce

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Dead”

15. Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “Riding the Bullet”

16. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Garden of Forking Paths”

17. Florida by Lauren Groff

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “Above and Below”

18. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Flints of Memory Lane”

19. Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Pig”

20. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “Samsa in Love”

21. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “For Esme - With Love and Squalor”

22. Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “In a Bamboo Grove”

23. Runaway by Alice Munro

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “Runaway”

24. Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel García Márquez

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow”

25. The Collected Stories by Grace Paley

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “A Man Told Me the Story of His Life”

26. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “Hills Like White Elephants”

27. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

28. The Essential Tales of Chekhov by Anton Chekhov

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Lady with the Dog”

29. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “I’d Love You to Want Me”

30. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “The Thing Around Your Neck”

31. The Youngest Doll by Rosario Ferré

best short stories in literature

Standout Story: “When Women Love Men”

Ready to write your own short story? Check out these short story ideas for all your inspiration needs.

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Interesting Literature

10 of the best very short stories that can be read online.

One very short story – often attributed to Ernest Hemingway but actually the work of another writer – is just six words long: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’. And some of the greatest fiction-writers of the last two centuries have written memorable short stories which stretch to little more than a few pages: short enough to be read in a coffee break.

Below, we introduce ten classic short stories – very short stories – from some of the finest authors in the literary canon. All of the stories can be read online: follow the links provided to read them.

1. Anton Chekhov, ‘ The Student ’.

A key device in many Chekhov short stories is the epiphany : a sudden realisation or moment of enlightenment experienced by one of the story’s characters, usually the protagonist. In many ways, the epiphany can be said to perform a similar function to the plot twist or revelation at the end of a more traditional (i.e., plot-driven) short story.

In ‘The Student’, one of Chekhov’s shortest stories, a young seminary is travelling home on Good Friday. He meets two women, a mother and her daughter who have both been widowed, and joins them around their fire, and the conversation turns to the Gospels, since it is Easter. The student begins telling them about the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus, and this tale reawakens painful memories in the two women. Here, the emphasis is more on character and emotion than plot and incident, as we discuss in our analysis of the story .

2. Kate Chopin, ‘ The Story of an Hour ’.

Some short stories can say all they need to do in just a few pages, and Kate Chopin’s three-page 1894 story ‘The Story of an Hour’ (sometimes known as ‘The Dream of an Hour’) is a classic example. Yet those three pages remain tantalisingly ambiguous, perhaps because so little is said, so much merely hinted at.

Chopin’s short story is a subtle, studied analysis of death, marriage, and personal wishes. Written in April 1894 and originally published in Vogue in December of that year, the story focuses on an hour in the life of a married woman who has just learnt that her husband has apparently died.

We have analysed this story here .

3. Saki, ‘ The Lumber-Room ’.

Saki, born Hector Hugh Munro, is one of the wittiest short-story writers in English, a missing link between Wilde and Wodehouse. Yet he remains undervalued.

best short stories in literature

We have analysed this wonderful story here .

4. Virginia Woolf, ‘ A Haunted House ’.

In the pioneering short stories Woolf wrote in the period from around 1917 until 1921, she not only developed her own ‘modernist’ voice but also offered a commentary on other literary forms and styles.

This two-page story is a good example: we find a woman living in a house which is apparently haunted by a ghostly couple. The story that emerges is less frightening than it is touching, and as much romance as horror, as Woolf provides a modernist, stream-of-consciousness take on the conventional ghost story, all in a brief vignette of around 600 words.

We have analysed the story here .

5. Franz Kafka, ‘ Before the Law ’.

This is a very short story or parable by the German-language Bohemian (now Czech) author Franz Kafka (1883-1924). It was published in 1915 and later included in Kafka’s (posthumously published) novel The Trial , where its meaning is discussed by the protagonist Josef K. and a priest he meets in a cathedral. ‘Before the Law’ has inspired numerous critical interpretations and prompted many a debate, in its turn, about what it means.

A man approaches a doorkeeper and asks to be admitted to ‘the law’. The doorkeeper tells him he cannot grant him access, but that it may be possible to admit the man later. We won’t say what happens next, but the parable is typically Kafkaesque – in so far as anything else – in its comic absurdism and depiction of the futility of human endeavour. The story is often interpreted as a tale about religion.

We discuss the story in more depth in our summary and analysis of it.

6. Katherine Mansfield, ‘ Miss Brill ’.

‘Miss Brill’ is a short story by the New-Zealand-born modernist writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), published in the Athenaeum in 1920 and then included in Mansfield’s 1922 collection The Garden Party and Other Stories .

Every Sunday, a lady named Miss Brill goes to the local public gardens to hear the band play and to sit in the gardens and people-watch. On the particular Sunday that is the focus of the story, the unmarried Miss Brill comes to realise that she, and all of the other people gathered in the gardens, appear to be in a sort of play. But when she overhears a young couple making apparently disparaging remarks about her, she appears to undergo an epiphany …

We discuss the story in more detail in our analysis of it.

7. Ernest Hemingway, ‘ Cat in the Rain ’.

This short tale was published in Hemingway’s early 1925 collection In Our Time ; he wrote ‘Cat in the Rain’ for his wife Hadley while they were living in Paris. She wanted to get a cat, but he said they were too poor.

‘Cat in the Rain’ was supposedly inspired by a specific event in 1923 when, while staying at the home of Ezra Pound (a famous cat-lover) in Rapallo, Italy, Hadley befriended a stray kitten. We find a woman in a hotel seeking to rescue a cat she spots in the rain outside, but the story takes in deeper longings, too.

We have offered an analysis of this story in a separate post.

8. Jorge Luis Borges, ‘ The Lottery in Babylon ’.

The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is one of the great short-fiction writers of the twentieth century, and many of his classic tales stretch to just a few pages.

‘The Lottery in Babylon’, first published in 1941, is among his most ‘Kafkaesque’ tales. When he wrote the story, Borges was working a rather unfulfilling library job refilling the bookshelves, and ‘The Lottery in Babylon’ reflects the sense of futility in all human endeavour which Borges was feeling at this time. We are told of a lottery in the (fictional) land of Babylon, which becomes compulsory, and which delivers both rewards and punishments to its lucky (or unlucky) participants. Although Borges’ story is satirical and humorous, it also taps into the horrific realities of totalitarian regimes.

Find out more about this story by reading our analysis of it .

9. Lydia Davis, ‘ On the Train ’.

Very few stories in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis are longer than a few pages, and many are a single page, like prose haiku or short vignettes. Her stories are usually less about narrative and more about observation, seemingly insignificant details, and a refusal to sentimentalise. Indeed, her stories are almost clinical in their precision and emotional tautness.

We’ve opted for ‘On the Train’ as it’s one of the few Davis stories available online via the link above, but we could have chosen any number of short stories from the collected edition mentioned above. Highly recommended.

10. David Foster Wallace, ‘ A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life ’.

This is the shortest story on this list. Published on ‘page zero’ of Wallace’s 2000 collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men , it is another vignette, about how the way we behave is ultimately motivated by our longing to be liked by others. The rise of social media has only brought home even more clearly what Wallace brilliantly and wittily reveals here: that much of our behaviour is purely performative, with the individual having lost any sense of authenticity or true identity.

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Treat your mind: These are the best short stories ever written

From contemporary to sci-fi, these are the best short stories.

Nick Hilden

Curling up with a good book is a quintessential pastime. You can argue it's better than a movie binge. However, what did the writer have to do to get it into your hand? It’s been argued by many writers that penning a good short story is much harder than writing an entire novel . With the latter, there’s plenty of space to unpack character, theme, and plot. With a short story, however, every word counts. The best short stories speak volumes within a few slim pages.

To that end, there are a smattering of short stories that stand out from the crowd. Admittedly, it is difficult to call them the best short stories because quality is subjective. But rest assured that those you’ll find recommended here are almost universally considered some of the most important little works of literature ever thanks to some combination of their revolutionary style, timeless storytelling, or influence on nearly all writers to follow. Some of these are classic tales that have been beloved for decades while others are from current authors who are still breaking literary ground today, but they are truly great short stories one and all.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Few genres have made as much use of the short story format as horror, and it’s difficult to say that any such writer stands above Poe. Known for penning many gothic masterpieces, The Tell-Tale Heart is Poe's most renowned short story. Narrated by a murderer whose sanity gradually slips as he meditates on his crime and is haunted by the beating heart of his victim, this story helped to set the standard for early gothic romanticism.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

First released in The New Yorker in 1948, The Lotter y is a masterwork of grim atmosphere and troubling themes. The story of a small village lottery — the winner of which will be stoned to death — it almost singlehandedly created the modern concept of gothic horror thanks to its gloomy atmosphere and use of thought-provoking, disturbing irony.

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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is another classic of early-modern gothic horror, though it emphasizes psychological distress over some of the more fantastic elements embraced by Gilman’s peers. The tale of a woman who is confined to her bedroom as part of a rest cure for her so-called hysteria, as the narrator slips into madness she becomes increasingly enamored by the yellow color of her room. Considered a cornerstone of early American feminist writing, its commentary on the oppressive impact of patriarchy remains relevant to this day.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Toeing the line between short story and novella, this semi-autobiographical narrative centers around a young American living in Paris whose affections are torn between his girlfriend and an Italian bartender named Giovanni. Not only is this a wonderfully written work by one of the 20th century’s greatest Black thinkers, writers, and activists, but it is held in high regard for its open and complex portrayal of bisexuality and same-sex relationships.

The Dead by James Joyce

The most renowned installment in Joyce’s Dubliners, The Dead is about a young Irishman whose family holds him in the highest regard thanks to his practicality and level-headedness. When he attends a party, however, his principles are challenged as he is pushed to confront his own mortality. Arguably the famed writer’s most accessible work, it nonetheless shows his ability to bury deep themes in seemingly straightforward stories.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Not only is The Metamorphos is one of the greatest short stories ever written, but it was an important forebearer of the Surrealist movement that would emerge shortly after its publication in 1915. The story of a salesman who wakes up one morning to find, much to his alarm, that he has turned into a beetle, there has been much debate over its meaning, but all agree that it is a masterful look at alienation in the modern age.

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

Papa Hemingway wrote several short stories that could be ranked among the best of all time, but Hills Like White Elephants is perhaps his most brilliant effort thanks to how he talks directly about a subject without ever bringing it up at all. The story of a young couple waiting for a train as they discuss some never-clarified operation, it is nevertheless obvious that the man is attempting to pressure the woman into having an abortion. It is a masterpiece of subtlety and simplicity from a writer who is perhaps the greatest at packing an abundance of meaning into a minimal word count.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver

By the late 1970s, short stories were waning in their public appeal. Then Raymond Carver rose to prominence and wrote some life back into the format with his unrivaled application of minimalism. The most renowned example of this was Cathedral , which is about a man’s jealousy toward his wife’s blind friend. By the time the two men bond over the image of a cathedral — which only one of them can actually see — the reader is left floored by the elegant simplicity of the story’s deceptively powerful ending.

Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang

When a fleet of spaceships arrives on Earth, a team of scientists is tasked with figuring out how to communicate with the extraterrestrial pilots. As linguist Louise Banks learns more and more about the alien language, she discovers that the solution to mounting problems seemingly brought with the visitors involves her own personal relationship to time. A pint-sized masterpiece by one of the greatest living science fiction writers, Chiang’s elegant yet complex story was made into an acclaimed feature film, Arrival .

On the Honeymoon by Javier Marias

One of the greatest writers of the past several decades, Javier Marias’ name is essentially on every shortlist for the Nobel Prize in literature. While novels account for the vast majority of his work, he did release a collection of short fiction called When I Was Mortal . Perhaps the best story in the book is On the Honeymoon , which tells the story of a newly married man who watches the street outside a hotel window as his wife is sick in bed. Drama ensues when he catches the eye of a distraught looking woman. Within 20 pages, Marias uses all the literary tools that he is known for wielding in books 20 times longer.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

If Hemingway and Carver make up two points of the Holy Trinity of great American short story writing, Flannery O’Connor is the third. She’s also wildly regarded as the greatest of Southern Gothic writers. Without a doubt her most famous work is A Good Man Is Hard to Find, which tells the story of an arguing family that ends up stranded after a car crash, with horrible consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions

There's no consensus, and what matters most is the short story you gravitate toward. There certainly are some widely known ones. Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, for example, is legendary. The Metamorphosis, first published in 1915, is another. Even religious texts like the Bible and Qur'an contain short stories full of lessons and symbolism.

If you're new to short stories, consider trying out different genres and time periods to see which you lose yourself in the most. You may find your tastes change over time or based on your mood. Either way, taking time to read can be a way to engage your mind and relax without screens (unless you're using a tablet, in which case consider turning notifications off to "unplug.")

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Are you obsessed with The Last Of Us? We don't blame you — it's a fantastic show. Unfortunately, most video game movies and shows suck. Few things feel so unquestionably true, and that knowledge can make looking forward to an adaptation of your favorite game an especially tricky proposition. While it's fair to be distrustful of any potential adaptation of a beloved gaming property, there are a few exceptions to the rule. These video game-based movies aren't perfect, but they do manage to have some real fun with the games that they're based on. Even better, they often double as great action movies. One can only hope that in the future, more great video game adaptations will make it to the big screen. For now, though, these are the best video game movies you can watch right now.

If you've seen all of these, check out this list of our favorite movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Disney+.

Even though you may spend more time with your girlfriend than anyone else on your gift list, buying a gift for her can be the toughest box to check off. There’s a lot of pressure on guys to get the perfect gifts for their girlfriend, and expectations can be high. Should it be romantic? Practical? Sentimental? Fun? The truth is, any gift you give your girlfriend can be perfect as long as it comes from your heart. That said, we know buying girlfriends gifts is challenging, so we’ve put together a list of ideas. They span the gamut in terms of interests and prices, allowing you to suit your needs and find the best gift for your girlfriend.

For the Audiophile Skullcandy Crusher ANC Headphones

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The Manual Awards season! For our sleep awards, we totally slept on it, all of it: Mattresses, pillows, sheets, vitamins and supplements, and sleep aids/technology. We've tried all sorts of stuff in and out of bed this year in order to help you find the best products that will help you get a better night’s sleep.

Over the course of the year, we've tested a wide variety of products: Items from major multinational brands, items from up-and-coming small businesses, items imported from various corners of the world, and items made right here in the U.S. We understand that you face all sorts of stressors in your life that can make sleeping more difficult. Hopefully, the fine sleep products featured below will help you overcome those adversities and achieve the good night’s sleep you need to feel better the next day.

The best short stories ever written

Modern life is a busy affair and sometimes, a short story offers the perfect form. Escape with these groundbreaking works, both classic and modern.

50 short stories you should read

The short story, says Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Steven Millhauser, has powers the novel only dreams of. “The novel is the Wal-Mart, the Incredible Hulk, the jumbo jet of literature,” he wrote in his essay,  The Ambition of the Short Story . “[And yet] the short story apologises for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word. If it could find that word, if it could utter that syllable, the entire universe would blaze up out of it with a roar. That is the outrageous ambition of the short story, that is its deepest faith, that is the greatness of its smallness.”

Many of history's finest novelists have tried their hand at the short story, and some are even best-known for their prowess in this form. Think of  John Cheever ,  Katherine Mansfield  and  Tessa Hadley , all of whom appear on this list. Elsewhere, short stories offer unfamiliar readers an opportunity to dip their toe into a writer's style, or else see a different side of them altogether:  James Joyce ,  Carson McCullers  and  Ian McEwan , arguably best-known for their novels, can all be accessed in a different way through their short fiction. 

Readers continue to show a huge appetite for the short story and it's no wonder when modern writers such as  Lauren Groff ,  Daisy Johnson  and  Ottessa Moshfegh  have turned out some of the most critically-acclaimed collections of recent years. There have even been viral short story sensations: 2017's  Cat Person , a tale of romance gone wrong, captured the cultural zeitgeist and sparked conversations around the world immediately after its publication in the  New Yorker .

So, without further ado, here are 50 of literature's greatest short stories to entertain, distract, reassure and inspire – just what a short story should do. 

What did you think of this article? Email  [email protected]  and let us know.

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best short stories in literature

The Best Reviewed Short Story Collections of 2022

Featuring george saunders, ling ma, colin barrett, jamil jan kochai, and more.

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We’ve come to the end of another bountiful literary year, and for all of us review rabbits here at Book Marks, that can mean only one thing: basic math, and lots of it.

Yes, using reviews drawn from more than 150 publications, over the next two weeks we’ll be calculating and revealing the most critically-acclaimed books of 2022, in the categories of (deep breath): Fiction ; Nonfiction ; Memoir and Biography ; Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror ; Short Story Collections; Essay Collections; Poetry; Mystery and Crime; Graphic Literature ; and Literature in Translation .

Today’s installment: Short Story Collections .

Brought to you by Book Marks , Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”

1. Bliss Montage by Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

21 Rave • 5 Positive • 2 Mixed Read an interview with Ling Ma here

“The eight wily tales mark the return of an author whose inventive debut, Severance, urgently announced her as a writer worth watching … an assured follow-up, a striking collection that peddles in the uncanny and the surreal, but it often lacks Severance ’s zest. Some stories are confident in their strangeness and ambiguity, a handful feel like promising sketches of sturdier narratives and the rest fall somewhere in between. The connections between them are loose, tethered by similar leads …

Wry, peculiar stories like Los Angeles and Yeti Lovemaking confirm that Ma’s imagination operates on the same chimerical frequency as those of Helen Oyeyemi, Samanta Schweblin, Meng Jin. Each of these stories leans un-self-consciously into the speculative, illuminating Ma’s phantasmagoric interests. They are funny, too … Despite their nagging loose ends, Ma’s stories stay with you—evidence of a gifted writer curious about the limits of theoretical possibility. They twist and turn in unpredictable ways and although the ride wasn’t always smooth, I never regretted getting on.”

–Lovia Gyarkye ( The New York Times Book Review )

2. Liberation Day by George Saunders (Random House)

16 Rave • 6 Positive • 5 Mixed (86) Read George Saunders on reading chaotically and the power of generous teachers, here

“Acutely relevant … Let’s bask in this new collection of short stories, which is how many of us first discovered him and where he excels like no other … Saunders’ imaginative capacity is on full display … Liberation Day carries echoes of Saunders’ previous work, but the ideas in this collection are more complex and nuanced, perhaps reflecting the new complexities of this brave new world of ours. The title story is only one of a handful of the nine stories in this collection that show us our collective and personal dilemmas, but in reading the problems so expressed—with compassion and humanity—our spirits are raised and perhaps healed. Part of the Saunders elixir is that we feel more empathetic after reading his work.”

–Scott Laughlin ( The San Francisco Chronicle )

3. Homesickness by Colin Barrett (Grove Press)

16 Rave • 1 Positive • 1 Mixed Read an essay by Colin Barrett here

“Its comedy stands in balance to the collection’s more tragic tenor … expands [Barrett’s] range, and though the first took place in the fictional Irish town of Glanbeigh, the books share a fabric shot through with dark humor, pitch-perfect dialogue and a signature freshness that makes life palpable on the page. The language counterpoints the sometimes inarticulate desperation of the working-class characters, and that dissonance lends an emotional complexity to their stories …

As a writer, Barrett doesn’t legislate from the top down. His unruly characters surge up with their vitality and their mystery intact. Their stories aren’t shaped by familiar resolutions—no realizations, morals or epiphanies. The absence of a conventional resolution does risk leaving an otherwise charming story like The Silver Coast with the rambling feel of a slice of life. But in the majority of the stories in this book, to reinvent an ending is to reinvent how a story is told, and overall, Homesickness is graced with an original, lingering beauty.”

–Stuart Dybek ( The New York Times Book Review )

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

4. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu (Tin House)

13 Rave • 4 Positive Read a story from Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century here

“..the horrors are more intimate, smaller, and less global in scale. This is not a collection filled with fantastic beasts, although a sea monster does make an appearance, but instead illuminates the monstrous nature of humanity … Technology, rather than magic, catalyzes these changes. That is not to say there are not some traces of unexplained fantasy, such as a girl who sprouts wings from her ankles, but mostly, Fu’s monsters manifest from modernity … The success of Kim Fu’s stories is the element of the unexpected. There are surprises lurking in these narratives, whether it is a quick final plot twist or unexpected peculiarity …

Although Fu seems more concerned with alienation stemming from individual relationships, there is criticism of conventional consumer capitalism … The characters in Fu’s collection are eccentric and unexpected in their choices, and many of their stories feature unforeseen endings that strike the right tone for the dark era we live in … Fu opens a window looking onto the sad possibilities of our own failures.”

–Ian MacAllen ( The Chicago Review of Books )

5. If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (MCD)

12 Rave • 4 Positive Read an essay by Jonathan Escoffery here

“Ravishing … The book, about an immigrant family struggling to make ends meet, delights in mocking the trope of an immigrant family struggling to make ends meet … There’s peacocking humor, capers, and passages of shuddering eroticism. The book feels thrillingly free … Escoffery’s protagonists, though resourceful, can’t accomplish the impossible; nor do they sacrifice themselves for the reader’s sentimental education … The prose comes alive …

These characters are strange amalgams of limited agency and boundless originality. Their survival, perhaps, comes down to their style … Escoffery deftly renders the disorienting effects of race as they fall, veil-like and hostile, over a world of children … Throughout, the refrain runs like an incantation: What are you? Escoffery, hosing his characters in a stream of fines, bills, and pay stubs, studies the bleak math of self-determination.”

–Katy Waldman ( The New Yorker )

6. The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking)

12 Rave • 1 Positive • 1 Mixed Read an essay by Jamil Jan Kochai  here

“Kochai, an Afghan-American writer, shapes and reshapes his material through a variety of formal techniques, including a fantasy of salvation through video gaming, a darkly surrealist fable of loss, a life story told through a mock résumé, and the story of a man’s transformation into a monkey who becomes a rebel leader…Like Asturias, Kochai is a master conjurer…The collection’s cohesion lies in its thematic exploration of the complexities of contemporary Afghan experience (both in Afghanistan and the United States), and in the recurring family narrative at its core: many of the stories deal with an Afghan family settled in California… Kochai is a thrillingly gifted writer, and this collection is a pleasure to read, filled with stories at once funny and profoundly serious, formally daring, and complex in their apprehension of the contradictory yet overlapping worlds of their characters.”

–Claire Messud ( Harper’s )

7. Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (Tin House Book)

12 Rave • 1 Positive • 1 Mixed Listen to an interview with Morgan Talty here

“Talty depicts the relationship between David and Paige perfectly—the siblings clearly care for each other; it’s evident beneath the bickering and the long periods when they don’t see each other … The story ends with both mother and son experiencing terrifying medical emergencies; it’s almost excruciating to read, but it’s undeniably powerful, and, in its own way, beautiful … Talty’s prose is flawless throughout; he writes with a straightforward leanness that will likely appeal to admirers of Thom Jones or Denis Johnson. But his style is all his own, as is his immense sense of compassion. Night of the Living Rez is a stunning look at a family navigating their lives through crisis—it’s a shockingly strong debut, sure, but it’s also a masterwork by a major talent.”

–Michael Schaub ( The Star Tribune )

8. How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (William Morrow)

10 Rave • 6 Positive • 1 Mixed • 1 Pan Read an excerpt from How High We Go in the Dark here

“If you’re a short-story lover—as I am—you’ll be impressed with Nagamatsu’s meticulous craft. If you crave sustained character and plot arcs, well, you’ll have to settle for admiring the well-honed prose, poignant meditations and unique concepts. Hardly small pleasures … The reader might best approach the book like a melancholy Black Mirror season … This is a lovely though bleak book. Humanity has long turned to humor in our darkest moments, but levity feels absent even in a chapter narrated by a stand-up comedian. That said, the somber tone unifies the disparate characters and story lines … a welcome addition to a growing trend of what we might call the ‘speculative epic’: genre-bending novels that use a wide aperture to tackle large issues like climate change while jumping between characters, timelines and even narrative modes … Nagamatsu squarely hits both the ‘literary’ and ‘science fiction’ targets, offering psychological insights in lyrical prose while seriously exploring speculative conceits … a book of sorrow for the destruction we’re bringing on ourselves. Yet the novel reminds us there’s still hope in human connections, despite our sadness.”

–Lincoln Michel ( The New York Times Book Review )

9. Life Without Children by Roddy Doyle (Viking)

9 Rave •  5 Positive • 1 Mixed

“… a quietly devastating collection of short stories that brilliantly portrays the pervasive sense of hopelessness that immobilised us during the dog days of Covid … Lest he be accused of focusing too much on men and their sense of victimhood, the countervailing magnificence of his women is worth noting. Part of Doyle’s genius resides in a kind of bathetic amusement at the follies of his male characters and always it’s the stoical good sense of women that saves the day … Another of his great strengths is the ability to drop in those little epiphanies that resolve the tension and conflict of a story in a single significant moment … Doyle breaks our free fall into despair by emphasizing the redemptive power of humor, love and the kindness of strangers.”

–Bert Wright ( The Sunday Times )

10. Stories From the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana (Scribner)

12 Rave Read an interview with Sidik Fofana here

“… outstanding … The brilliance of this debut, however, is that Fofana doesn’t let anyone go unseen … masterfully paints a portrait of the people most impacted by gentrification … Fofana brings his characters to life through their idiosyncratic speech patterns. Auxiliary verbs are dropped, words are misspelled, prepositions are jostled, all to create a sense of vernacular authenticity…Grammar is an instrument that Fofana plays by ear, to much success.”

–Joseph Cassara ( The New York Times Book Review )

Our System:

RAVE = 5 points • POSITIVE = 3 points • MIXED = 1 point • PAN = -5 points

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best short stories in literature

20 New Must-Read Short Story Collections

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Emily Martin

Emily has a PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi, MS, and she has an MFA in Creative Writing from GCSU in Milledgeville, GA, home of Flannery O’Connor. She spends her free time reading, watching horror movies and musicals, cuddling cats, Instagramming pictures of cats, and blogging/podcasting about books with the ladies over at #BookSquadGoals ( She can be reached at [email protected].

View All posts by Emily Martin

best short stories in literature

In his first-ever short story collection, which spans forty years of work, Alan Moore presents a series of wildly different and equally unforgettable characters who discover—and in some cases even make and unmake—the various uncharted parts of existence. From ghosts and otherworldly creatures to theoretical Boltzmann brains fashioning the universe at the big bang, Illuminations is exactly that—a series of bright, startling tales from a contemporary legend that reveal the full power of imagination and magic.

A good short story has an incredible amount of power. In just a small amount of pages, authors of short stories are able to create entire worlds, depict characters who feel real, and evoke deep emotions. If you’re a fan of short stories, you’re in luck, because 2022 has been an excellent year for short story collections. In fact, there are so many great short story collections this year, that it was hard to narrow it down to just 20 must-reads. We couldn’t possibly cover them all, so if your fave didn’t make this list, no worries! It’s still amazing.

As for the ones that are on this list, these are the 20 must-read short story collections that you’re going to love, no matter what genres you normally gravitate towards. Literary fiction is heavily represented on this list, but there are short stories in plenty of other genres as well! Love speculative fiction? Of course you do. There’s plenty of that here on this list. Mysteries? Thrillers? Suspense? Yep. Horror? Aww yeah. Sci-fi? Fantasy? Check and check. Basically, these short story collections are doing everything, and you’re going to love them.

So get your TBR lists ready, because you’re going to want to add all of these books to your to-read pile right away.

cover of Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho

Jean Chen Ho’s debut is a collection of linked stories following Fiona Lin and Jane Shen, two Taiwanese American women who have been best friends since the 2nd grade. Growing up in Los Angeles, Fiona and Jane have very different but equally tumultuous family lives. As with most friendships, there are moments in time when Fiona and Jane grow closer to one another, and other periods of time where they drift apart. Each short story explores a different moment in their friendship throughout their lives. Together, these stories paint a vivid portrait of friendship, love, loss, and coming of age in contemporary America.

cover for seasonal work

Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman

If you are already a fan of Laura Lippman’s work, then you absolutely have to add her latest short story collection to your TBR list. But even if you’ve never read Lippman before, you’re in for a treat. Seasonal Work is a collection of psychological suspense/thriller stories featuring murder, mystery, love gone wrong, deception, scandals, and so much more. If you only read one crime fiction short story in 2022, make it one from this short story collection.

cover of Seeking Fortune Elsewhere: Stories by Sindya Bhanoo; image of a brown suitcase wrapped in pink flowers

Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo

Seeking Fortune Elsewhere is the debut short story collection from O. Henry Prize winning author Sindya Bhanoo. From Pittsburgh to Washington to Tamil Nadu, these stories explore the lives of South Indian immigrants and the families they leave behind. Bhanoo’s stories show how the lives of these characters and the decisions they make are complicated, filled with moments of regret, hope, and triumph.

cover of Out There by Kate Folk

Out There by Kate Folk

What strange and eerie secrets lurk beneath the lives of seemingly ordinary people? That’s what Kate Folk examines in her short story collection Out There. These highly imaginative short stories infuse elements of horror, fantasy, and science fiction into the literary fiction landscape. Each story looks deep into the reader’s subconscious dreams and nightmares.

cover of Night of the Living Rez: Stories by Morgan Talty, pastel font over illustration of night sky seen from the forest floor

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty

This collection consists of 12 short stories that look at life in Maine’s Native Penobscot Nation in the 21st century. These dark but honest stories follow a troubled family dealing with issues of grief, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, and more. But these stories are filled with hope and magic as well. At the center of Night of the Living Rez is David. Each story explores the lives of David, his family, and his friends at different points in their lives.

the cover of Life Ceremony

Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata

Life Ceremony is Sayaka Murata’s first short story collection to ever be translated into English. In these 12 stories, the award-winning author of Convenience Store Woman mixes her signature blend of the humorous, the awkward, and the terrifying to tell stories of loners and outcasts who buck traditions and societal expectations. Murata’s stories will have you questioning what it means to be human in this world and what is sacrificed when we try too hard to fit in.

ghost lover book cover

Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo

From New York Times bestselling author Lisa Taddeo comes a stunning collection of nine short stories you won’t want to miss. This collection includes two Pushcart Prize winners and a finalist for the National Magazine Award as well as previously unpublished work. Ghost Lover tells stories of complicated, fascinating, and flawed women and their experiences of deep love, wild obsession, and uncontrollable grief.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu book cover

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu

Kim Fu’s Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is a collection of 12 speculative fiction short stories where the ordinary is made strange and the strange becomes ordinary. Each story in this collection creates a strange world where readers will get lost. From a group of children who steal a haunted doll to an insomniac seduced by the Sandman, each of these short stories digs deep into human nature and the contradictions that live within us all.

Bliss Montage cover

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma

Ling Ma stunned readers with her debut novel Severance in 2018, and now she’s back with a short story collection that’s just as mesmerizing. Through eight short stories, Ma introduces readers to characters and stories that examine the realities of motherhood, friendship, love, loneliness, and more. In one story, a woman lives in a house with all of her ex-boyfriends. In another, a toxic friendship is built around a drug that makes you invisible. These situations seems strange, but the emotions and characters are entirely relatable.

natural history book cover

Natural History by Andrea Barrett

The six short stories in Andrea Barrett’s collection Natural History feature characters Barrett has written about in her work since 1996’s Ship Fever . But even if this is your first Andrea Barrett book, you will connect with these characters right away. In these interconnected stories, Barrett allows readers into the intertwined lives of a family of scientists, teachers, and innovators. Following their lives throughout the years, readers see the ways women’s lives and the expectations put upon them have changed over the years.

what we fed to the manticore book cover

What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

What We Fed to the Manticore is a really fun short story collection because it consists of nine short stories all told from a different animal’s perspectives. Through these animals’ eyes, debut author Talia Lakshmi Kolluri discusses environmentalism, conservation, identity, belonging, loss, and family. Whether the story is told from the perspective of a donkey, a vulture, or a pigeon, readers will become full immersed in these characters and their stories.

Tomorrow in Shanghai by May-lee Chai cover

Tomorrow in Shanghai by May-lee Chai

Tomorrow in Shanghai is May-lee Chai’s beautiful follow-up collection to her award-winning collection Useful Phrases for Immigrants. These stories examine the lives of people in China, the Chinese diaspora in America, and people of Chinese descent living throughout the world. Whether the characters are rich or poor, male or female, living in the city or the country, each story looks at issues of prejudice, power dynamics, and interpersonal struggles in the globalized world.

cover of The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe

The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe

The Memory Librarian  is like a literary tie-in for Janelle Monáe’s high-concept album  Dirty Computer,  set in a world in which thoughts can be erased or controlled. This collection expands on the totalitarian existence imagined in  Dirty Computer . To fully flesh out this sci-fi world, Monáe also collaboraties with several talented sci-fi/fantasy authors, including Yohanca Delgado, Eve L. Ewing, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, and Sheree Renée Thomas — just to name a few.

Seven Empty Houses cover

Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin

Seven Empty Houses is a short story collection that just made the  National Book Award longlist  for best book in translation. In this collection, Samanta Schweblin tells seven stories about seven strange houses that are all empty in different ways. Some are devoid of love. Some don’t have any furniture. Or any people. But in every case, something always creeps in: trespassers, a ghost, a list of things to do before you die…you get the idea. Samanta Schweblin has already wowed readers with her collection Mouthful of Birds, and this one is just as good if not better!

a sliver of darkness book cover

A Sliver of Darkness by C. J. Tudor

This debut short story collection from author C. J. Tudor features 10 tales that are creepy, twisty, and mind-bending. For instance, there’s “The Lion at the Gate,” a story about a strange piece of graffiti that leads four school friends into a horrifying encounter. And as the world descends into darkness in “Final Course,” a group of old friends find time for one last dinner party. Then there’s “I’m Not Ted,” in which a case of mistaken identity turns deadly. This one is a must-read for horror fans and anyone who is hungry for stories that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the final page.

heartbroke book cover

Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker

Chelsea Bieker, the acclaimed author of Godshot, is back with a remarkable collection of short stories set in California’s Central Valley. From a woman who steals a baby from a shelter, to a mother and son selling dreamcatchers along the highway, to two teenage girls playing a dangerous online game, all of Bieker’s characters burn with deep and reckless desires. And all are heartbroken in their own ways.

Milk Blood Heat book cover

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

The last collection was set entirely in California, and Milk Blood Heat is all about Florida. In the cities and suburbs of Florida, the characters in these stories each find themselves confronted by moments of violent personal reckonings. Dantiel W. Moniz’s debut collection is filled with intimate, emotional moments that shed light on the nature of family, faith, forgiveness, and how we are all connected to one another.

city of saints and madmen book cover

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer, who has been called “the weird Thoreau,” is probably most known for his sci-fi/weird fiction Southern Reach trilogy ( Annihilation, Authority , and Acceptance ). In City of Saints and Madmen, VanderMeer introduces readers to the world of Ambergris, a place unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Through this interwoven collection of stories, histories, and “eyewitness” reports, VanderMeer creates a fantasy world that feels incredibly real.

Cover of Gods of Want

Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang

With each story in K-Ming Chang’s Gods of Want , the author mixes myth, memory, and surrealism to tell feminist stories about Asian American women from different walks of life. In “Xífù,” a mother-in-law goes to torturous ends in an attempt to get a wife out of her home. In “Virginia Slims,” a woman from a cigarette ad becomes real. And in “Auntland,” a stream of aunts attempt to adjust to American life in strange ways. These uncanny stories explore questions of power, identity, and memory.

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs cover

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana

All of the stories in Sidik Fofana’s Stories from the Tenants Downstairs are set in a low-income Harlem high rise where gentrification weighs heavy on the tenants’ minds. Each of the eight interconnected stories explores the hopes, struggles, and strengths of the tenants in the Banneker Homes. Every tenant there has a unique, touching, and thought-provoking story to tell.

Looking for more must-read short story collections? Here are 10 speculative story collections to enjoy in 2022 . And here are the sci-fi/fantasy short story collections you won’t want to miss .

best short stories in literature

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25 Best Short Stories of All Time

Alex Simmonds

Alex Simmonds

The top 25 short stories

How do you capture the human condition in a few pages? With difficulty. Which is why many writers argue that short stories are harder to write, and a much purer form of writing than novels.

The perfect short story might be comedic, fast-paced and exciting, descriptive, or poetic. But the one thing it must do? Get the reader hooked quickly .

Everything must be perfectly weighted and have a purpose.

What Is the Best Short Story Ever Written?

What are the best short story collections, what is a good example of a short story, what makes a perfect short story.

An impossible question to answer, but we can try to get close.

We’ve put together a list of 25 of the most iconic, most anthologised, best written, or most well-known short stories of all time.

To start us off, here are some authors that many consider to be the masters of the short story. We’ve highlighted some of their most popular works, but check out their full collections for classic examples of incredible short stories.

Dubliners by James Joyce

1. "The Dead" by James Joyce

The stories in Dubliners are depictions of life in Dublin around 1910. T. S. Eliot, amongst others, described The Dead as "one of the greatest short stories ever written."

Irish middle-class life jumps from the page, as Gabriel Conroy gives a speech at a family party and finds his principles and beliefs challenged.

There is a lyrical, melancholic tone as his thoughts move from awkward social encounters, to Irish nationalism, to the role of the dead in people’s lives. It offers a beautifully accessible route into the world of an often-inaccessible writer.

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

2. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Who knew that a story about a village lottery could cause so much anger and outrage?

Yet Jackson’s dark, modern gothic tale caused a flood of complaints to The New Yorker . People demanded to know where such a horrific lottery was taking place!

The Lottery , written in 1948, remains chilling to this day and perfectly captures the potential of human beings to both accept and participate in a shocking act of ritual violence in the name of faith and tradition.

John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings

3. "The Swimmer" by John Cheever

Cheever’s short stories veer from realism to satire to fantasy, often in the space of the same sentence.

Below the surface of the cocktail parties that greet new readers, are puzzling fables about radio transmissions of private conversations ( The Enormous Radio ) or brothers attacking one another unexpectedly ( Goodbye My Brother ).

The Swimmer is his best-known story and certainly the most anthologized.

A boozy jaunt through the pools and backyards of middle America, the story swings from social commentary about mid-century, middle American sensibilities in Shady Hill, to a surreal and melancholic dream fable of the passing of the seasons and a man losing everything he has in his life.

Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works

4. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

It is almost cast in stone that any list of great short story writers must mention Carver, Cheever, and O’Connor together, as the greats of American short story writing.

Known for her southern gothic stories, O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find is her most popular work.

It tells the tale of a southern family who gets stranded on a road trip and encounters a criminal gang. As usual with O’Connor, it is a humorous, but dark and vicious tale, confronting notions of good and evil.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

5. "The Company of Wolves" by Angela Carter

Carter’s reworking of fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber challenged the way women were represented in classic tales of western culture.

Turning the tropes of fairy tales and gothic fiction on their head, Carter created heroic and sexually liberated female protagonists. In her most famous story, The Company of Wolves , Red Riding Hood becomes a confident and beloved heroine, who defeats the wolf by seducing and taming him.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?: Selected Early Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

6. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates’s impeccable short stories are known for their representation of violence and evil in American society.

"Where are you going, where have you been" is one of her finest. It is about a 15-year-old girl who meets a stranger, who is trying to coax her into coming with him.

Inspired by three real life murders in Arizona the story has been anthologised many times and is regularly featured on English literature courses around the world.

Kate Chopin Collection

7. "Desiree’s Baby" by Kate Chopin

Causing widespread outrage on first publication, Kate Chopin set her 1893 story of race relations in Louisiana just before the Civil War.

It examines gender and discrimination through the story of Desiree, who is adopted by wealthy French Creoles and who later marries Armand.

When Desiree gives birth to a mixed-race baby, Armand forces her to leave. Chopin was fascinated with women’s identities in all her stories, and this was one of her finest.

The Complete Short Stories Of Ernest Hemingway

8. "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway

Eternally imitated but never bettered, few writers have influenced as many as Ernest Hemingway.

Any number of his stories could have made this list – from the early noir of The Killers to the pathos of confronting death in The Snows of Kilimanjaro . However, if you had to pick one from the best Hemingway short stories, then it would surely be Hills Like White Elephants (1927).

A man and woman are waiting for the train whilst discussing an operation the man wants the woman to have.

The story’s genius lies in how the whole thing is about abortion, but it is never actually mentioned. A masterclass of simplicity, by the undisputed master of minimalism.

All of the stories below represent some of the best storytelling in the last century. You’ve probably heard the classing writing advice to read more than you write. With short stories, you get all the elements of brilliant story structure, description, character, and voice, but in bite-sized pieces.

Even if you don’t enjoy some of the titles on this list, you can still learn from the way they were written—often in one sitting!

The Collected Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce

9. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce

This frequently anthologized story is simple enough; a civilian who has carried out a mission for the confederacy is being hanged on a bridge in Alabama.

But it is the story’s portrayal of this "occurrence" as a part of war, its unreliable narrator, and its innovative use of the stretching of subjective time, that has seen the story influence generations of writers.

The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

10. "The Monkey’s Paw" by W W Jacobs

Some stories are on this list because they are the best written short stories of all time.

Others, such as The Monkey’s Paw , are here because of their iconic place in our imaginative lives.

W W Jacobs took the ancient story of magic wishes and rewrote it as a supernatural short story, dealing with the notion of unintended consequences. The tale is as creepy today as it was in 1902 when it was first published.

The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories

11. "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

You will not find a more compact tale about sacrifice and the Christmas spirit than The Gift of the Magi . It is for this reason that the story has been adapted countless times, including over 18 movie adaptations.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver

12. "Cathedral" by Raymond Carver

Most critics agree that alongside Chekhov , the grand master of the short story is Raymond Carver.

His stories exhibit a stripped back, minimalist examination of American working-class life. He reinvigorated the form in the 1980’s after it had gone out of fashion.

Two of his stories that are cited most often are, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral . Both have been heavily anthologized, but the latter is perhaps the more important and well known of the two.

The story is about a prejudiced man whose wife’s old blind friend comes to visit. Amidst Carver’s classic working-class landscape, Cathedral portrays a distrusting narrator having a moment of revelation and catharsis.

The final moments of the story, as the two men try to draw the Cathedral together, represent the high point of American short story telling.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

13. "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka

Can there be any more famous first line in the history of literature than this?

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.”

Kafka’s stories are pregnant with multiple meanings and devoid of answers.

In the Penal Colony is possibly his finest short story, but The Metamorphosis is his best known, and most anthologised.

Perhaps this is because of the story’s parallel meanings or perhaps it is simply because there is something intriguing about a man who wakes up having turned into an insect.

Going to meet the man by James Baldwin

14. "Sonny’s Blues" by James Baldwin

Sonny’s Blues is a perfectly crafted short story about an algebra teacher in Harlem and his brother Sonny who is hooked on heroin.

Baldwin portrays the darkness looming over African Americans, and the narrator sees that drugs are for many, including his brother, a way of coping.

The darkness in their lives is contrasted with the "atmospheric lighting" of the jazz club and the "circle of light" the musicians play under. By far the best story ever written about jazz, the story follows a long tradition of proclaiming the artist as a prophet.

At the bottom of the river by Jamaica Kincaid

15. "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

A stunning and inventive piece of writing that first appeared in The New Yorker , Girl is a single 650-word sentence of dialogue between a mother and daughter.

Most of the dialogue is the mother instructing the daughter about how she must become the perfect woman and fit into society in Antigua. She passes down the same patriarchal roles for women that she was taught as a child.

Dorothy Parker Collected Stories

16. "A Telephone Call" by Dorothy Parker

On one level, this is a story about dating and agonising over whether the phone is going to ring.

On another level, Parker explores the precarious place of women in society in 1928. Parker argues that women depend on men and God and act irrationally and insecurely when they should aim for self-reliance.

Short stories are, well, short. They require you to be exact with your language, specific with your details, and vivid with your imagery.

When writing a short story, you need to make sure that every sentence—every word, even—is working to draw your reader in. But what does that actually mean?

One place where writers lose specificity is in their verbs. Sometimes, we hide strong verbs behind combinations of weaker verbs and adverbs, like this:

  • She’d made a decision. It was time to make a change.

Let’s run that through ProWritingAid.

made a decision, PWA suggests change to "decided"

  • She’d decided. It was time to make a change.

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Try ProWritingAid today to learn more about creating specific, engaging sentences that will make your short story shine.

D H Lawrence Complete Short Stories

17. "The Rocking Horse Winner" by D H Lawrence

First published in 1926, The Rocking Horse Winner by Lawrence concerns a boy, Paul, who wishes to help his no-luck mum by proving he can be lucky.

He does this by riding his rocking horse into a frenzy, which allows him to predict real horses in races.

The family wins a great deal of money until things come to an abrupt and dark end. Most often viewed as a Freudian cautionary tale, it represents a high point in Lawrence’s short fiction.

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

18. "The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol was one of the most influential writers in Russian history, with Borges, Nabokov, Kafka, and Tolstoy all citing him as a major influence.

The Nose (1836) is his best and most famous work. Satirizing life in a totalitarian regime, The Nose tells the story of a Russian official whose nose wants to live independently from the rest of his face and body.

The Complete Cosmicomics

19. "The Distance of the Moon" by Italo Calvino

Calvino’s tale is the perfect example of magical realism, imagining a world where the moon was much closer to the Earth than it is today—when standing on the top of a ladder "you could just touch the moon if you held your arms up."

Underlying the more whimsical elements of is a sensual story of a man being in love with another man’s wife. The moon is the star of The Distance of the Moon , though, and as one Goodreads reviewer suggested, this story is "strange, but enjoyable."

The Body by Stephen King

20. "The Body" by Stephen King

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough room here to list the best sci-fi short stories or the best horror stories (or even the best Stephen King short stories) , but Stephen King does manage to sneak onto the list anyway.

Known for his horror fiction, King has also written some heart-breaking, lyrical short stories, and is an astonishingly talented short story writer.

Certainly, two of his stories deserve a place on any list of the greats.

The first is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (the source material for the most highly rated film of all time).

The second is The Body , a bittersweet, coming-of-age masterpiece, about four young friends looking for a dead body (made into another popular film, Stand By Me ).

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

21. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving

This entry has embedded itself deeply in popular culture.

Irving’s other famous story Rip Van Winkle could also be here, but it is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that makes the cut, simply because it features ghosts and a headless horseman, looking for his head!

The Tell-Tale Heart & Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

22. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s story of losing one’s sanity and a beating heart under the floorboards is the one that most people remember.

The Tell-Tale Heart is technically accomplished, from the use of the unreliable narrator to the hallucinatory writing style as the narrator goes slowly mad. Frequently adapted and referenced in books, TV shows, and movies over the last century, no list of great short stories can ignore this American gothic classic.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman

23. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

As relevant as ever, The Yellow Wallpaper is often cited as the first feminist story readers come across.

Concerning itself with women’s mental health, it follows the deterioration of a woman who is confined to her room by a controlling husband.

Staring at the wallpaper, it changes form: “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars!”

Donald Barthelme: Collected Stories

24. "I Bought A Little City" by Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme is on this list because of his incredibly unique, postmodern voice and the dazzling experimentation that went into his short stories.

In I Bought a Little City (1974), a man buys a city and gradually becomes more and more despotic in his attempted stewardship of that city. In trying to better the city, he strips away its individuality and creates conflict.

The Lady with the Dog: And Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

25. "The Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov

Writers who are on the record as being heavily influenced by Chekhov include Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Flannery O’Connor.

John Cheever noted wryly that he was one of "8 or 10 American writers described as the American Chekhov."

Why is he rated so highly? Perhaps because he was the first writer to concentrate less on the development of the plot, and more on uncertainty, reticence and mood, via his highly complex characters.

Chekhov was the first writer to truly reflect the mundane ordinariness of life and the infinite strangeness of people.

The Lady with the Dog , a story of two people in unhappy marriages, ends up (as most of his stories do) with the characters in the same place as they started, but with more uncertainty about the world and less confidence in their own view of things.

Inspired to Write Your Own Short Story?

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100 Great Short Stories

Okay, I lied. There are so many great short stories that I was unable to trim the list to 100 titles; so here are 160 Great Short Stories for you to enjoy. Click a button to find the best short stories from the authors below. We also have a great collection of Short Stories for Students and a library full of Children's Stories .

The Boy And The Filberts The Night Came Slowly One Summer Night The Coming of the King A Blunder Ex Oblivione Fat And Thin Hearts And Hands Amy's Question My Financial Career The Aged Mother Hermann The Irascible The Man in the Brown Coat The Death Of A Government Clerk The Father The Little Match Girl Louisa May Alcott: A Child's Biography The Terrible Old Man A Vine on a House The Open Window Witches' Loaves The Cats of Ulthar Mark Twain: A Child's Biography The Romance of a Busy Broker A Dead Woman's Secret A Chameleon A Respectable Woman On The Day of the Crucifixion The Dreamer Henry David Thoreau: A Child's Biography The Student The Unkindest Blow The Night Moth With a Crooked Feeler Alexandre The Thorny Road of Honor The Vendetta The Looking Glass The Selfish Giant Vanka The Merino Sheep A Duel The Cripple A Defensive Diamond The Wolves of Cernogatz The Child's Story Esme The Yarkand Manner The Diary of a Madman What Christmas Is As We Grow Older The Disappearance of Crispina Umberleigh The Schartz-Metterklume Method A Baby Tramp The Boarded Window Sredni Vashtar The Man In The Moon Eveline The Veteran The Log The Huntsman An Alpine Divorce A Defenseless Creature What You Want A Cosmopolite in a Cafe A Holiday Task The Model Millionaire Bertie's Christmas Eve The Colonel's Ideas The Tell-Tale Heart Transients in Arcadia Gentle Hand Jim Baker's Blue-Jay Yarn Jimmy Scarecrow's Christmas The Sphinx Without a Secret The Hand A Lickpenny Lover The Interlopers How the Leopard Got His Spots Two Friends A True Story, Repeated Word for Word As I Heard It The Lumber Room Babes in the Jungle The Unrest-Cure After the Race Springtime a la Carte The Last Dream of Old Oak Hyacinth According to Their Lights How I Edited an Agricultural Paper The Fly The Princess And The Puma The Striding Place The Nightingale and the Rose The Cop and the Anthem Federigo's Falcon The Masque of the Red Death The Mockingbird The Notary of Perigueux A Telephone Call Hands The Last Leaf The Cask of Amontillado Gabriel-Ernest The Way to the Dairy A Father's Confession The Furnished Room Chickamauga A Horseman in the Sky The McWilliamses And The Burglar Alarm Aloha Oe The Shoemaker And The Devil How the Widow Won the Deacon The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County A School Story A Retrieved Reformation The Necklace The Bet The Doll's House Christmas Every Day Turkeys Turning The Tables The Last Fight In The Coliseum The Story of Keesh The Nice People The Affair at Coulter's Notch The Laughing Hippopotamus Berenice The Picture in the House One Autumn Night Pigs Is Pigs The Shed Chamber The Happy Prince Keeping Watch Skeleton Lake: An Episode in Camp The Moonlit Road The Alchemist "Girl" The Pimienta Pancakes The Enchanted Bluff Two Gallants The Old Man of the Sea Man From The South The Olive The Velveteen Rabbit Miggles A Hunger Artist The Tomb The Wind's Tale The Girl Who Got Rattled The Ransom of Red Chief Extracts from Adam's Diary Gooseberries "His Wife's Deceased Sister" The Star Gentlemen: The King! The Egg Mademoiselle Fifi The Namesake The Hungry Stones A Call The Darling A Little Cloud

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Apples v pears v 17m other fruit … which variety of story is best?

Top 10 contemporary short stories

Ahead of 2017’s National short story prize, Jon McGregor reluctantly chooses ‘swoony’ work from recent years showing some of the ways to write them well

This summer, I read the entries for this year’s BBC National short story prize , and discussed with my fellow judges the vexed question of how the “best” might be identified.

This was both a pleasure and a serious challenge: the form of the story is so capacious and diverse that at times we were comparing apples and pears, or at least looking at an unfamiliar fruit and arguing over whether to call it an apple or a pear. (Rest assured, though: the challenge is not impossible. An apple is always better than a pear.) You can assess our choices after the shortlist is announced this Friday evening on BBC Radio 4. All five finalists will then be broadcast on successive afternoons on BBC Radio 4 ( and made available on iPlayer ) starting on 18 September.

But this challenge has been nothing against the request to choose stories to fit the title for this piece. Guardian, please! There are approximately 17m to choose from. Where do I even begin? Where are all the stories I haven’t read, or have loved and then unfaithfully forgotten? (I am a fickle and forgetful reader.)

This list, then, is not hierarchical or canonical. My choices are, simply, 10 tales from this century that I have read and that I think do something interesting or startling or just downright swoony with the form of the short story. Clicking on the titles will lead you to the stories themselves, if you haven’t already read them. I look forward to having my reading horizons broadened in the comments.

1. Victory Lap by George Saunders Sorry to be so predictable, but I do love George Saunders. With this story, and the rest of the collection it comes from, Tenth of December, he was clearly taking his gifts for voice, character, and satire, and pushing himself to do something much harder and more humane. This story starts awkwardly, in tune with its two gangly teenage protagonists, and stutters through a lovely character study to suddenly burst into an action tale and an unlikely outbreak of heroism. It also offers a dazzling response to the writer’s dilemma of whether to move to a happy ending or a sad ending. On the last page, you can see Saunders looking at the options he has created for himself and simply opening his hands a little wider and saying, ‘Yes, we’ll have both of those.’

2. Pee on Water by Rachel B Glaser This was my personal standout in the already very strong New American Stories, edited by Ben Marcus . I’m increasingly drawn to any story that has a more expansive sense of a story’s possibility than the “snapshot of life” model insisted upon by the Carver/Hemingway school. This story begins at the dawn of time and ends round about now, which is expansive enough for anyone, I feel. It also has beautiful sentences, and there are not enough of those in the world.

3. Then Later, His Ghost by Sarah Hall This does one of my favourite things in a story: something you weren’t expecting. It’s an apocalypse tale, of which we seem to have had many lately and for which I am quite the sucker, but it’s a whole other and new form of apocalypse, wherein a howling wind rips everything loose from the ground. A real feat of imagination, and all the more terrifying for being set in the made-newly-strange streets of my Norwich childhood.

4. Fjord of Killary by Kevin Barry Barry is great at drawing you quickly into the confidence of his voice; the first few sentences of any of his stories have that quality of strapping you in for the ride. “So I bought an old hotel on the fjord of Killary,” the narrator tells us at the outset of this one, and we can already hear the sigh in his voice. “It rained two hundred and eighty-seven days of the year, and the locals were given to magnificent mood swings.” We lean in, and listen on.

5. The News of her Death by Pettina Gappah Five women talking in a hair salon while one of them has her braids done: this is all the narrative structure Gappah needs to build a complex social landscape, telling these women’s stories through perfectly pitched dialogue and delicately measured details. The recurring refrain that “Kindness is late” is brilliantly deployed, and the whole story quietly makes the point that hair is always political.

Alejandro Zambra.

6. Thank You by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell As is usually the case, I’ve only just started reading Zambra after years of being urged to do so. This story, of a robbery that starts off violent before fizzling out into a chat about football and a lift home, is told in a jarringly languorous and anecdotal tone, which both draws you in and leaves you uncomfortably dissonant.

7. The Green Zone Rabbit by Hassan Blasim, translated by Jonathan Wright This story, from The Iraqi Christ , published by the excellent Comma Press, is by turns terrifying and wonderfully banal. In Baghdad’s Green Zone, Hajjar keeps a rabbit while waiting to be briefed on an operation. The rabbit lays an egg. Things get stranger and darker, and Blasim lays his tale out with a wonderfully dry bar-room simplicity that makes the ending all the more explosive.

8. Track by Nicole Flattery This recently won the White Review short story prize , and it’s not hard to see why. Written in a misleadingly offhand deadpan, Track covers seemingly familiar ground – an abusive relationship, a young woman adrift in the big city, the pitfalls of fame and money – at such an oblique angle that it demands repeated reading. It’s also very funny, and very sad.

9. Finishing Touch by Claire-Louise Bennett I could have chosen any of the stories from Bennett’s debut collection, Pond – and in fact I would urge you to read the collection as a whole, its sum being, unusually, greater than the parts. I have plumped for this simply because it is so painfully funny. The narrator, “determined to host a low-key, but impeccably conceived, soirée”, details at great length her preparations and in the process reveals almost everything about her own hurt and loss. Bennett’s language is an ornate and long-winded riposte to all those pared-back minimalists, and I love it.

10. The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim This is a stone-cold masterpiece, as you will see by following the link above. It proceeds with the strange and relentless quality of a dream or fable, while being almost macabre in its realism, and feels like the story Antrim has been writing towards for his whole career. The beauty of it is hard to pin down, but it has a finished and inevitable quality – which it’s occurring to me now could be called soul.

  • The National short story award will be announced on 3 October on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row .
  • Jon McGregor’s latest novel is Reservoir 13, published by Fourth Estate, priced £14.99. It is available from the Guardian Bookshop for £12.74 including free UK p&p . The Reservoir Tapes, a specially commissioned series of 15 prequel stories, will run each Sunday at 7.45pm from 1 October on BBC Radio 4.
  • National short story prize
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Booker Prize Shortlist Reflects the ‘Unease of Our Moment’

Books by Paul Harding, Jonathan Escoffery and Chetna Maroo are among six titles nominated for the prestigious literary award.

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Four men and two women appear in a grid pattern

By Alex Marshall

Reporting from London

Paul Murray’s “ The Bee Sting ,” a tragicomedy about a family on the brink of financial ruin, and Jonathan Escoffery ’s “ If I Survive You ,” which explores an American of Jamaican descent’s struggles with identity, are among six titles shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize — one of the highest profile awards in literature.

The shortlist, announced during an event at the National Portrait Gallery in London on Thursday, also includes Chetna Maroo’s “ Western Lane ,” about a squash prodigy coping with grief, and Paul Harding ’s “ This Other Eden ,” about an isolated mixed race community that is troubled by outsiders.

Sarah Bernstein’s “ Study for Obedience ,” about a woman who travels to her brother’s home only to find that the local population is scared of her, and Paul Lynch’s “ Prophet Song ,” in which Ireland is reimagined as a totalitarian state, are the other two titles.

The six books all gestured at “the unease of our moment,” said Esi Edugyan, a novelist and the chair of this year’s judging panel. The novels included “portraits of societies pushed to the edge of tolerance” and “unflinching” examinations of generational trauma, Edugyan added in a news release announcing the list.

The Booker Prize, which was founded in 1969, is awarded each year to the author of a novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. It regularly helps birth literary stars. Last year, Shehan Karunatilaka, a Sri Lankan author, won for “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” a satire exploring the trauma of his country’s civil war.

Other recent winners include Damon Galgut , Douglas Stuart and Bernardine Evaristo .

The 13-strong longlist for this year’s prize , announced in August, was notable for containing four debut novels, and lacking household names. Sebastian Barry’s “ Old God’s Time ,” about a policeman whose quiet retirement is interrupted by an old case, was the highest profile title.

Barry did not make Thursday’s shortlist. Robert Webb, an actor, author and one of the judges, said at a news conference that omitting Barry’s novel had been “very difficult” but “there are only six places.”

Of the four longlisted debuts, only two — Maroo’s “ Western Lane ” and Escoffery’s “ If I Survive You ” — survived what Edugyan said were four-and-a-half hours of “very collegiate, but intense,” deliberations. “We got there in the end,” Edugyan added: “Everybody was still speaking to each other.”

The judges, who also include the actor Adjoa Andoh, the poet Mary Jean Chan and James Shapiro, a Shakespearean scholar, will now read the shortlisted books a final time before announcing the winner during a ceremony in London on Nov. 26. The winning author will received 50,000 pounds, or about $61,400.

Below are the six shortlisted novels:

Sarah Bernstein, “Study for Obedience”

Jonathan Escoffery , “ If I Survive You ”

Paul Harding , “ This Other Eden ”

Paul Lynch, “Prophet Song”

Chetna Maroo’s “ Western Lane ”

Paul Murray, “ The Bee Sting ”

Alex Marshall is a European culture reporter, based in London. More about Alex Marshall

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Walter Isaacson’s biography of the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk  depicts a mercurial “man-child” with grandiose ambitions and an ego to match.

Lauren Groff is unusually productive for a literary writer . She works on several novels at once, composes in longhand, and wrote a draft of her new book, “The Vaster Wilds,” in iambic pentameter “just for fun.”

What do you do when your doppelgänger becomes a conspiracy theorist  on the internet? If you’re Naomi Klein, you write a book about it .

Do you want to be a better reader?   Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .

Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .

Taboo Sex Stories: 30 Erotic Taboo Sex Stories (Virgin, Dad, First Time, Anal Sex, Size Fetish, Bisexual, Cuckold, Doctor Sex, Interracial, Etc.) (Unabridged‪)‬

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Get lost in a world of fantasy, where every dream becomes a reality and everything is possible. This is a collection of 30 hot, erotic, and explicit stories. You’ll wonder how the author got into your mind when you encounter a story that brings your sexual fantasies to life.  Have you ever had forbidden feelings for someone or a wild experience you’ll never forget? You’ll meet new, crazy, and wild characters in this steamy collection of stories. The stories range from wild, first-time lesbian sex to virgin sex, sex with an older woman, anal sex, golden shower, stories about bisexuals, and so much more.  Get the audiobook. Warning: This book contains explicit taboo sexual activities.

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