Brevity is the Soul of Wit: Recommended Short Story Collections

shelved under Fiction

Maybe it's because I write in the short form (my book, A Book of Ages is a book of anecdotes, after all) but I think short stories give the truest picture of real life.

Life isn't a novel; it's a series of detailed glimpses and episodes. Nowhere do you find a better picture of 20th century America than in John O'Hara's short stories. I also like the economy. Stories like Raymond Chandler's give you a full opera in the time it takes you to ride from outer Brooklyn to Midtown. Gunplay, wisecracks, heroism, surprise and denouement.

A reader of stories can be walking the sunburnt streets of L.A. in the morning and spend the afternoon commute at an English country house party with Saki or sharing a nightmare with Shirley Jackson, John Collier or Muriel Spark. Brevity is the soul of wit, but variety (if you'll excuse the cliché) is the spice of life. A good short story collection is insurance against boredom.

 

Trouble Is My Business

by Raymond Chandler

Nobody does hard-boiled as well as Chandler. A master stylist, he was a schoolboy with P.G. Wodehouse and, with Billy Wilder, co-invented film noir. Plots as swift and efficient as a Pierce Arrow.

 

The Chronicles of Clovis

by Saki

Acid, dryly comic, madcap, impeccable, remorseless short tales about the English upper class at play.

 

The Lottery and Other Stories

by Shirley Jackson

Veering skillfully between light comedy and cold-bloodedness. The Lottery is chilling, but not the most chilling story in the bunch.

 

Fancies and Goodnights

by John Collier

Surreal situations, eccentric characters and surprise endings; The Twilight Zone by way of Noel Coward.

 

Selected Short Stories of John O'Hara

by John O'Hara

Nobody painted a clearer picture of 20th century America. Subtler and more authentic than Cheever, less showy than Salinger. Most appeared first in the New Yorker.

 

Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Ripping yarns set in Napoleonic Europe, told by a shameless and astonishing soldier and written down by the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

 

Fairy Tales

by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Tiina Nunnally

Andersen was a peculiar man, and these are peculiar stories, much more literary, amusing and suggestive than the sanitized Disney versions.

 

The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes

edited by John Gross

No crowd has better gossip than a literary one. Also rivalries, feuds, fist-fights, bad reviews, foolishness, odd coincidences, indiscretions and misadventures told with panache and enjoyable malice.

 

The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark

by Muriel Spark

These are not the Stephen King variety of ghost story. Instead of shock and violence, they rely on the unsettling realization that things are not what we thought.

 

Good Evening Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes

by Mollie Panter-Downes

Neatly drawn pictures of English domestic and public life during wartime: bravery, humor, camaraderie, resentment, despair and the usual stiff upper lips.

 

Knight's Gambit

by William Faulkner

These mysteries might be the best introduction into the intensely complicated Gothic South of William Faulkner.

 

Selected Short Stories

by Rabindranath Tagore

Bengalese poet Tagore wrote these stories a century ago and a world away, To read them is to live for an hour or two in that intense heat and quiet. Tagore was the first Asian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.