Sunday, July 08, 2007

Favorite Short Stories

My friend Bronson sent me a literature textbook last winter, and from time to time, I dip into it. This dipping got me thinking about what my all-time favorite short stories are. Here's the list, in author-alphabetical order:

Margaret Atwood - "Hairball" [I first read this in The New Yorker under the title "Kat"; I like the new title better.]

Toni Cade Bambara - "My Man Bovanne" [Miss Hazel's grown children try to turn the generational tables and reprove her for her behavior, but she's too smart and wickedly funny to let them ride roughshod over her.]

Raymond Carver - "A Small, Good Thing" [Surprise! There's a tearjerker in this bunch!]

Roald Dahl - "Lamb To The Slaughter" [I think about this story whenever I'm defrosting things for dinner, which is frequently.]

Tim Gautreaux - "Easy Pickings" [An extremely funny story from Gautreaux's collection Welding With Children.]

Ernest Hemingway - "A Day's Wait" [This story reminds me of my constant struggles with the metric system. Plus, Hemingway has a nice, delicate touch here -- he's not being so frigging manly, or overly-mannered with that famous writing style of his.]

Amy Hempel - "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" [Reasons To Live is an excellent short story collection by Hempel that was published around 20 years ago.]

Shirley Jackson - "An Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" [According to Jackson's biographer, this story was rejected many times, then finally picked up by Fantasy & Science Fiction "...for an amount of money resembling the last word in the title."]

Shirley Jackson - "Charles" [This was a difficult choice. I also like "Janice", a very early and very short story published when she was in college.]

Doris Lessing - "To Room Nineteen" [Depressing take on marriage, but I love it. What can I say? I almost chose another story by Lessing in which the mistress and the wife accidentally meet, and instead of a catfight, like the man expects, they find they get along really well!]

Jack London - "To Build A Fire" [Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.]

Lorrie Moore - "You're Ugly, Too" [A difficult choice; I like most of Moore's stories -- "Charades" is a close runner-up.]

Dorothy Parker - "The Waltz" [Funny and bitter, like the poems.]

Edgar Allan Poe - "The Tell-Tale Heart" [Poe, via his madman narrator, grabs readers by the lapels and jerks them right into the story and doesn't let go till the last line.]

Mary Robison - "I Am Twenty-One" [A good example of minimalism done right.]

James Thurber - "The Catbird Seat" [If I were ranking by favorites, this one would be at the top of this list. I can't even think the title of the story without laughing hysterically.]

Eudora Welty - "Why I Live At The P.O." [As the old saying goes, Welty puts the "fun" in "dysfunctional family", but it's slightly marred for me by the almost gratuitous use of the n-word close to the end. I always appreciate reprints where the word is omitted.]

A Trip To The Bookstores:
I'm a mere 3 weeks away from seeing the inside of a Barnes & Noble as well as my beloved hometown library, but I was craving bookstore so badly, I couldn't wait. I looked for any reason, however lame, to go.

Finally, the reason arrived in all its beauty and simplicity: Wonderful John, over at The Book Mine Set, was hosting one of his "Wednesday Compares". This time: Jane Austen vs. L.M. Montgomery. Damn! I couldn't vote, because I'd never read Montgomery, but that could be fixed! Bookstore! Open thy doors wide, I'm comin' through them! (I also rationalized that I could look for something to read during the 14-hour plane ride to the States.)

The book supply seemed really fresh since I hadn't been there for several weeks. I quickly found Anne Of Green Gables, and also decided to try The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, since Lazy Cow mentioned it in her recent post about books she read as a child.

Then, it was off to the other bookstore: Finally, Lisey's Story by Stephen King was out in paperback, and the price was good -- about 8 USD. Also ripe for the plucking at about the same price was Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Wow, it's a Chunkster! What won me over was that all the chapter titles are names of novels. Reader, I grabbed both books.

As soon as I got home, I plowed into Anne Of Green Gables. Once I was halfway through, I felt I had the right to cast my vote, and went off to John's blog to weigh in. You'll probably be reading a glowing review of this novel when I do my round-up for July; Anne Shirley and her folks are an unexpected delight.

Dreaming In Bookwormese:
Last night or this morning -- whenever it was, I dreamed that I'd joined a new book group. We were meeting in one of the classrooms on campus. Our chairs were pulled in a circle, and we were just sitting there quietly, reading our books. After a couple of hours, we all took turns telling something about the book we were reading and why we were or weren't enjoying it.

The strange part was that everyone there but me was Korean, and they were reading Korean-language books, but the discussion was all in perfect English. I was busy scribbling down titles and synopses for my next blog entry -- the latest and greatest in Korean Literature. I was smiling when I woke up.


John Mutford said...

Oddly, the only two of your top 10 short story favourites that I've heard of are also in my top 10: "Lamb To The Slaughter" and "The Tell Tale Heart". I know it's a ways off, but I plan on hosting a Bookworms Carnival in November with short stories as its theme, if you'd like to contribute something. I know it's very early (I haven't promoted it at all yet), but perhaps it's something to think about.

Glad to hear you're enjoying Anne of Green Gables. Started planning your vacation to PEI yet?

Dewey said...

I love Doris Lessing so much!

Every novel you mentioned is either in my TBR pile or a book I read recently. :)

What a cool dream!

raidergirl3 said...

I'm glad you are loving Anne! The series continues for many more books (Rilla of Ingleside is the last, but one of my favorites), so enjoy getting to know Anne.

kookie said...

You realize, of course, that now I'm going to have to hunt down all of those short stories? I haven't read any of them except the Poe.

Can't wait to hear what you think of 'Special Topics'. That book irritated me to no end.

lazy cow said...

I'm so impressed that you remember titles of short stories! For me, they're usually disposable titbits I dip into when my concentration is not up for a novel. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Carol Shields' short stories "Dressing up for the Carnival". I think "Weather" was my favourite. I like Shirley Jackson too.
So glad you are now an Anne aficianado. I've read the whole series many times after discovering them as a 12 year old. "The Blue Castle", a stand-alone Montgomery novel is amazing.

darkorpheus said... Lamb to the Slaughter the one where a wife killed her husband with a leg of lamb, and she served it as dinner?

One day I will get around to reading Dorothy Parker.

Sam said...

You dreamed up quite an impressive book club...can't wait to hear about all those Korean titles. :-)

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting short story list you have there! I'm not a big short story reader but among my favorites are "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Gilman. And I love Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" but then I've never read those other stories you've listed. I'll have to get to them!

Like kookiejar, I too am interested to see how you like Special Topics. I didn't get very far before I put it down for something else. I haven't given up on it altogether yet, though.

Gentle Reader said...

I love a bunch of your stories. Especially A Small, Good Thing. And The Tell-Tale Heart. And I love anything by Lorrie Moore. And James Thurber. Thanks for reminding me of some of my favorite stories. I'm glad you like Anne of Green Gables. Though I voted for Austen in John's "compare", I still love Anne of Green Gables.

And you can add me to the list of readers who couldn't get through Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Like Kookie, I was irritated...

Eva said...

ohhh-I remember loving Hempel's Reasons to Live (my favorite was the k2, p2 one)

Anne Shirley and her series (I think there're 8 books) was one of my favorite characters when I was little. I still love her. :) Now I think I might have to dig out my copy and get re-acquainted!

Bybee said...

I'd be delighted to join in the Bookworms Carnival.
PEI is now on my list of places to visit.

I wish I could remember the title of that story I like, but my collected Lessing stories is back in the US.

I don't know if I'll get through the whole series, but I do want to try Anne of Avonlea now.

I remembered that you and other bloggers didn't like Special Topics... but it just wouldn't let me leave it at the bookstore!

Lazy Cow,
I think I have Dressing Up At The Carnival! It's a loaner from CanadaBoy. I'll have to move it up in the TBR. Is The Blue Castle very hard to find?

Dark Orpheus,
I was trying not to post any spoilers, but it does happen fairly early in the story, so...yeah, that's the one.

Sam Houston,
I was scribbling furiously, but all the titles and plots faded the more awake I became. Damn!

I was mesmerized by The Yellow Wallpaper when we read it in Women's Literature class.

Gentle Reader,
Now I'm almost afraid to even start Special Topics...

Reasons To Live is one of the few books of which I have an autographed hardcover first edition. This was back when I was trying to be a book collector.

Caitlin said...

I'm amazed that you haven't read Anne of Green Gables before now. It was one of my childhood favourites and I also owned and loved all the sequels: Anne of Avonlea, Chronicles of Avonlea, Further Chronicles of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Willows/Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside. (That's from memory).

I also really love the Emily books by the same author. There are only three: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest.

And The Story Girl and its sequel The Golden Road. It's nice because the main character tells lots of stories so you get a novel and lots of small stories as well.

In fact, I like most things she's written. I'm not sure I'd put it in the same category as Austen though.

Caitlin said...

I was going to email you but I can't find an email address on the blog.

My friend has just written a book about a Kiwi girl who goes to Korea, and it's set half in New Zealand and half in Korea. I haven't read it yet as so far it's only been published in New Zealand (though apparently it's being shopped around for international rights). The NZ book launch was in June and she is bringing a copy back to London for me.

I thought you might enjoy it given the subject matter. It's called Lessons to Learn and it's by Natasha Judd. It might be available on Amazon or there'll be a BookCrossing bookring making the rounds that you could sign up for. Details are at

If not, don't worry. I'm not a publicist and I'm not trying to spam you, I just thought there was an obvious link and you might find it appealing.

lazy cow said...

Bybee, I bought THe Blue Castle off Amazon (US).

Chris said...

Glad you're enjoying Anne. My Anne doll in my WW is from a trip to PEI years ago.

I don't read many short stories but Shirley Jackson and Carol Shields are the exception for me. I love them both.

Tara said...

I love the sound of this bookgroup! I'd like to belong to one like this.

Lotus Reads said...

Nominating your favorite short stories is such a great idea for a post Bybee. I can't wait for the "Newyorker" to arrive in my mailbox every couple of weeks because I absolutely drool over their selection of short fiction! One of these days I just might have to make a top 10 list of my favorite short stories, thanks for the idea!

Bookfool said...

Too much to comment on! I'm a Thurber fan. I don't know that I've ever kept track of specific short story titles (although, I do know "The Catbird Seat" well) - just authors whose collections I like. Nabokov is at the top, up there with Thurber. Does that seem odd? And, recently, Simon Van Booy has shot way up there. His stories just keep coming back to me; they're so touching and unique.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested to hear your opinion on Witch of Blackbird Pond. I had a much different opinion of it as a child then when I re-read it as an adult.

I had a professor in college whose focus is on modern literature written about early American times, and she hates the book.

Bybee said...

I'm a little amazed as well that I've never read Anne before now. Thanks for telling me about your friend's novel. Naturally, I'm dying to pounce on it because of the Korea angle.

Lazy Cow,
OK, thanks for the info!

I've only read one Carol Shields novel, none of the short stories.

If only I could find the book club of my dreams...

I hope you'll do a list. I can't wait to read it; I suspect it's going to have a lovely international flair to it.

I've never read a Nabokov short story. Simon van Booy -- that's a new name for me. Thanks!

I can't believe I didn't read The Witch Of Blackbird Pond earlier. I was all over that witch/Puritan stuff in late grade and early middle school. That's interesting about your professor.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I see that you have mentioned Anne of Green Gables in your blog. I just thought I would let you know that Sullivan Entertainment is casting a new Anne of Green Gables for the prequel to the original Emmy Award Winning Series. We are looking for young actresses between the ages of 10-12 years old.

If you are interested in finding out more information, please visit - click on press release to find out more.


Bybee said...

I cringe to tell you just how far over 10-12 I am. Plus, my hair's the wrong shade. Also, I'm not Canadian. The truth hurts. I think I'll go lie down for a while.