Like the endless floor-to-ceiling over-stocked shelves at Costco, my friend Joe Savino keeps his friends and family well stocked with Lists, articles about Lists, articles for Lists, and articles against Lists, Lists of Lists, missing Lists, and the Lists nobody knows about.
Often these Lists are hierarchical, and are cause for argument and suspicion, hilarity and the woeful shaking of one's head, and usually they drive us crazy; they drive HIM crazy, and that's why he shares them with us. "Can you believe they said that book was the best?" "Can you believe they said that movie, or that politician, or that historical figure,...? And they left out Mitzi Gaynor!"
Now here, for your benefit, Reader, is a list, not my list, not The List, but a List, a vertical touchstone, a reminder of some very good, memorable, outstanding, collections of Short Stories that perhaps you might have read, wanted to read, or didn't know about. Who's to say?
Certainly, many other writers have written short stories, a collection or two has been published, but I'm leaving out writers who were known more for their longer forms, like Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dawn Powell. The people listed below, at least in my mind, not only raised the bar of the short story, but raised the bar of literature, of culture, intelligence, empowerment, enlightenment, and entertainment.
I know you'll say, but J.D. Salinger's body of work? Only the Nine Stories volume and a few uncollected ones? That qualifies? Yes, it does. What Salinger did for us with that one volume was to set us on fire. Nevertheless, I highly recommend them all. They are Titans.
So as not to overwhelm our eyes and cognitive skills, I'm posting the list in groups of ten per post:
I. Algernon Blackwood, Conrad Aiken, Ambrose Bierce, Bernard Malamud, Doris Lessing, Edgar Allan Poe, Edith Wharton, Barry Hannah, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekhov
II. Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Frank O'Connor, Franz Kafka, G.K. Chesterton, Grace Paley, Guy de Maupassant, H.H. Munro (Saki), H.P. Lovecraft
III. Henry James, Irwin Shaw, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ivan Bunin, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Joseph Mitchell, Katherine Ann Porter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
IV. O. Henry, P.G. Wodehouse, Ray Bradbury, Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Jackson, Stephan Crane, W. Somerset Maugham, William Faulkner, William Trevor
"...one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre." [Wikipedia]
#2 Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)
"Just why it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly have said; nor perhaps could it even have occurred to him to ask. The thing was above all a secret, something to be preciously concealed from Mother and Father; and to that very fact it owed an enormous part of its deliciousness." [from Silent Snow, Secret Snow. Below is a YouTube link to a dramatized version of this great story, courtesy of Jasper Simon]
Conrad Aiken was also largely responsible for establishing Emily Dickinson's reputation as a major American poet. Malcolm Cowley referred to Aiken as "the Sleeping Giant of American Letters."
He is most known for the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and compiled a satirical lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary.
Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) "Life is a tragedy full of joy."
"Malamud is renowned for his short stories, often oblique allegories set in a dreamlike urban ghetto of immigrant Jews. Of Malamud the short story writer, Flannery O'Connor wrote: "I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself." He published his first stories in 1943, "Benefit Performance" in Threshold and "The Place Is Different Now" in American Preface. In the early 1950s, his stories began appearing in Harper's Bazaar, Partisan Review, and Commentary.
The Magic Barrel was his first published collection of short stories (1958) and his first winner of his first National Book Award for Fiction Most of the stories depict the search for hope and meaning within the bleak enclosures of poor urban settings."
Barry Hannah (1942-2010) “The Deep South might be wretched, but it can howl.”
Hannah produced five collections of short stories from 1978 to 2010. "[His] lines invigorate and intoxicate, his language delivering us into an American version of what Rilke called “a more powerful reality — rising and circling, poised but wild.” Hannah was a storyteller, an enchanter with a refined eye for the outrageous and an ecstatic worldliness worthy of Rabelais. “Long, Last, Happy: New and Selected Stories” is a triumph: nearly faultless, every page a raging pleasure." [Justin Taylor, The New York Times Book Review]
#6 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
Aside from creating and popularizing the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was also a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, nonfiction, and historical novels.
#7 Edith Wharton (1862-1937)
Wharton combined her insider's view of America's privileged classes with a brilliant, natural wit to write humorous, incisive novels and short stories of social and psychological insight. (from Wikipedia)
I especially liked "Roman Fever."
|Chekhov with Tolstoy|
#9 Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
is "best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
#10 Doris Lessing (1919-2013)
"...Mrs. Lessing's knowledge of women's anger and aggression, even more than of their sexuality, took people by surprise and categorized her. ...Her short fiction (except her African stories) should repair any misunderstanding of her timelessness, the breadth of her sympathy and range of her interests and, above all, the pleasures of reading her. Rereading [her] stories is like returning to a Victorian novel one loves, and affords the same delightful feeling of self-indulgence combined with self- improvement." [Diane Johnson, The New York Times]