Hey everyone, May is National Short Story Month!
“Short stories?” you say. “I don’t read those.” Yeah, I’m aware. I write short stories, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a demand for my craft, which is why I keep telling myself I need to write novels. Novels, for various reasons, have remained popular while short stories have gone the way of the phonograph.
Before television, short stories used to be an exceedingly popular form of entertainment. In the early 1800s, Americans enjoyed “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and the “Tell-Tale Heart.” In the first half of the 20th century, American magazines like The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Scribner’s, and Esquire featured short stories in every issue, and the pay was good. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and later, Ray Bradbury, made a lot of money selling their fiction.
So what happened? Why does no one read short stories anymore? I’d like to blame it all on television and the Internet. I’d like to boast that I still read short stories by the truckload. But the truth is, I don’t read them much. There are so many literary magazines chock full of short fiction, it’s hard to know where to start, and too often I’ll pick up a lit mag and become utterly bored by a short story that has overly-lyrical language, an MFA-workshopped style, and, worst of all, an annoyingly-vague ending.
BUT, I’m here to tell you that there are some amazing short stories out there. Stories that have haunted my heart or churned in my brain for a long time after I read them. Here are some of my very favorite stories and short story collections. Please make it your goal to read at least one this month.
READ THESE STORIES NOW:
“Good Country People” or “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Conner – Of course I love all of her stories, but these are my two favorite. The first is about an overly-educated girl with a wooden leg who has an interaction with a Bible salesman. The second is about a man obsessed with getting tattoos. They can both be found in The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Conner
“Nipple Jesus” by Nick Hornby – This story is so original and thought-provoking that I don’t want to give anything away except to say that yes, this story is about a Jesus made out of nipples. The story can be found in the collection Speaking with Angel or in this blog post.
“Majesty” or “Making Love in 2003” by Miranda July. It was really hard for me to pick just one (or in this case two) from her collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, because I find each and every story in that collection to be a bizarrely precious jewel. But “Majesty,” about a middle-aged woman who plots to meet Prince William, and “Making Love in 2003,” which involves the supernatural and a cameo by Madeline L’Engle, are both extremely memorable and, despite their weirdness, amazingly poignant.
“Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood. Monologue-style, as Atwood is apt to do, this now-classic story is darkly funny and deeper than it first appears. It can be found in her collection, Dancing Girls.
READ THESE COLLECTIONS NOW:
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Creepy re-imagined fairy tales with a feminist slant. Her witchy descriptions conjure both the beautiful and the terrifying.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Masterfully written stories about Indian immigrants. Each sentence is perfection.
Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl. Deliciously devilish stories for adults. Clever and comic, and always with a twist at the end.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. Magical, playful, and bordering on the macabre. Is it YA literature, or was it written for adults? Hard to say, but who really cares?
More of This World and Maybe Another by Barb Johnson. Beautifully written and poignant, these slice-of-life stories are set in New Orleans and rural Louisiana.
The Best American Non-Required Reading. Every year Dave Eggers edits a book that collects shorts stories (as well as essays and other random things, like facebook posts) and puts them into a book. If sifting through literary magazines to find short fiction is not your style, this is a good way to read the best of what’s out there.
P.S. Several years ago, I read a short story called “Phatasms” that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately, I cannot now remember the author, or which literary magazine I read it in. If you know this story, please tell me. I’m dying to read it again.