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Here, because we have little inclination to write, is a list (our first): the twenty best short stories ever written (and read by us). Each of these are, in our opinion, absolute masterpieces, as in, not just flawless, as in, not just not a word misplaced, but also surprising, ambitious, incredible in the way they build and build and never come down, never let up. We’ve included, for the sake of fairness, just one story from each author, as with, in particular, Italo Calvino and Ray Carver, multiple stories would surely have shown up.

Some stats? Only six still living (two barely). Only four women. Only one black, two latino, and six European. Only one pre-20th Century (Chekhov). Only one post-20th Century (Keegan). Only two (!) from the latter half of the alphabet (and them just barely–the O’s). Five C’s, the most of any letter. Only ten letters represented in toto. Six were originally published in the 1960s, the most represented decade, followed closely by five in the 1980s. There are none from the 1940s (unsurprising), none from the 1920s (surprising), and none from the 1990s or 2000s. Ireland, with two, can celebrate as the most represented country outside of the good old US of A.


The Twenty Best Short Stories Ever Written

“Sonny’s Blues”, James Baldwin

“Blood, Sea”, Italo Calvino

“A Small, Good Thing”, Raymond Carver

“The Swimmer”, John Cheever

“A Doctor’s Visit”, Anton Chekhov

“The Southern Thruway”, Julio Cortazar

“A Father’s Story”, Andre Dubus

“Winterkill”, Richard Ford

“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”, William H Gass

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, Ernest Hemingway

“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”, Amy Hempel

“The Dead”, James Joyce

“The Metamorphosis”, Franz Kafka

“Foster”, Claire Keegan

“The Railroad Earth”, Jack Kerouac

“The Blood of the Walsungs “, Thomas Mann

“How I Met My Husband”, Alice Munro

“The Things They Carried”, Tim O’Brien

“The Enduring Chill,” Flannery O’Connor


From → Readings

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