My Five Favorite Short Stories

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October 23, 2012 by chriszumtobel

“NOVEL, n. A short story padded. A species of composition bearing the same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art. As it is too long to be read at a sitting the impressions made by its successive parts are successively effaced, as in the panorama. Unity, totality of effect, is impossible; for besides the few pages last read all that is carried in mind is the mere plot of what has gone before.”

I came across this quote earlier today and it only reaffirmed my love of the short story.  Below is a list of my top five favorite short stories, although I know it is far from complete as I am finding new stories I love everyday.  I would love any recommendations!

2 B R 0 2 B  – Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt_Vonnegut_at_CWRU

Photo credit: david terrar

If you’ve read my blog at all then you know how much of a Vonnegut fan I am.  I love how he has such a grim outlook on the everything, but manages to always add a sense of humor to his stories.  This was the first Vonnegut I had ever read and I think it is a fantastic, condensed introduction to his writing.

It is a story based in a dystopian world, where population control has been implemented and for each baby born you first have to convince someone to go to the “municipal gas chambers of the Federal Bureau of Termination.”  If you enjoy this story I highly recommend also reading The Big Trip Up Yonder and Harrison Bergeron.

The Birth-Mark – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter (1860) by T. H. Matteson. O...

The Scarlet Letter (1860) by T. H. Matteson

I have to admit… I sort of hated The Scarlet Letter in High School… Okay, I really hated it.  But “The Birth-Mark” is a superb story.  I first saw it referenced in Paul Auster‘s, The Book of Illusions and because Auster has brought up Hawthorne in a few of his other books I decided to finally give the guy another chance.

It is the story of a scientist who falls in love with a woman – who is perfect except for one birth-mark – and what they both go through to remove her one flaw.  A wonderfully frightening story about human’s quest for perfection.  I have since bought a book of Hawthorne short stories and maybe eventually I will give The Scarlet Letter another shot.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – F Scott Fitzgerald

The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

This story is a little bit longer than my other favorites, but it is a fun tale and nowhere near as long as the movie.  I always love Fitzgerald’s descriptions and because I’m sure you already know what this story is about I will paste an excerpt of Mr. Button first laying eyes on his child,

Wrapped in a voluminous white blanket, and partly crammed into one of the cribs, there sat an old man apparently about seventy years of age. His sparse hair was almost white, and from his chin dripped a long smoke-coloured beard, which waved absurdly back and forth, fanned by the breeze coming in at the window.

Hills Like White Elephants –  Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway's 1923 passport photo

Ernest Hemingway’s 1923 passport photo

I love this story.  You can’t help but let out an enormous sigh when you finish reading, almost as though you had been holding your breath throughout.  The story is entirely dialogue based and only three pages long, making for an extremely quick read, but one that sticks with you.

It is the story of a couple waiting at a train station and contemplating an abortion.  It never once says the word abortion, only saying operation and leaving it for you to infer.  Another story like it is Good People by David Foster Wallace, it is also definitely worth a read and almost made my short list of favorites.  Actually, let’s say these two stories both share this spot on my list.

A Perfect Day For Bananafish – JD Salinger

Last but not least is everyone’s favorite hermit, JD Salinger.  I might only love this story so much because it is about the oldest child in the Glass family, but even if it hadn’t been I still would have thought it was great just for the way it is written.  It is another story told almost entirely through dialogue – of course with his signature cigarette descriptions between sentences – and will leave you sitting and thinking for a while after you finish.

It tells of a newly married couple off at a resort on vacation (Seymour Glass and his wife) and what unfolds at the resort.  It is a tale of childhood and the “phony” (to quote Holden Caulfield) nature of adults.  This was the story that marked Salinger’s entrance into the literary elite, and it was published in the New Yorker.

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