Best short stories ever written, and when Simone can read them

18 Jun

Quick: think about the best short stories you’ve ever read.

I went to a teaching conference last year where a speaker named Alfred Tatum explained his method of using literature as therapy. What he does is this: he asks students—usually inner city males—to write down all of the important stories, novels, poems and movies that have shaped them. He would then teach a number of stories and novels that he felt spoke to the urban male’s experiences. And he claimed anyway that the males he taught came out of his class better writers and better people. This moved me, so I spent the rest of the lecture writing down every novel, short story, and non-fiction book that matters to me.

These are the stories I hope to share with Simone, although that’s probably a few months away. I’ve forgone the usual summary/response/reflection to let these stand alone, instead opting for the age when I think she’ll understand them. If you have any stories you think need to be added, drop me a line.

“Holy Quarrel” by Philip K. Dick (artificial intelligence gone awry; age 6)

“Faith of Our Fathers” by Philip K. Dick (amnesis and the discovery of awful reality of life, and perfect encapsulation of everything that makes PKD so great; age 7)

“In the Park” by Herbert Huncke (young boy loses innocence; age 50)

“The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway’s one shot at a crime story; age 10)

“A Good Man is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor (Best short story ever; age 3)

“Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor (philosophy of nothingness; age 4)

“Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe (carnival in face of apocalypse; age 12)

“Two Fragments: Saturday and Sunday, March 199-“ by Ian McEwan (disturbing exploration of dystopian weirdness; age 13)

“The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” by Patrick Somerville (wacky tale of graduate students studying dada style nonsense; age 15)

“The King In Yellow” by Robert Chambers (early horror about a book that will drive you mad; age 16)

“The Immortal” by Jorge Luis Borges (Memory, time, identity loops, Borges; age 18)

“Last Evenings on Earth” by Roberto Bolaño (A boy sees the complexity of his father; age 2)

“Delicate Prey” by Paul Bowles (Ghastly revenge tale in the Sahara; age 30)

“Dragged Fighting From His Tomb” by Barry Hannah (Offbeat story of Civil War with my favorite line of all time: “Tell me the most exquisite truths you know”; age 15)

“Best New Horror” by Joe Hill (Story of a editor of horror anthologies who falls into the plot of a horror story; never quite shook it; age 45)

“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner (Studied it in college, never shook it, hard-nosed father seeks constant revenge; age 11)

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9 Responses to “Best short stories ever written, and when Simone can read them”

  1. Constant Reader June 18, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    What are your thoughts on the writings of David Sedaris?

    • simoneandthesilversurfer June 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

      He’s funny, and his best pieces crack me up. I prefer Santaland Diaries—we listen to it every Christmas—and the funnier bits from Me Talk Pretty One Day. He’s best when he reads his own work. I’m not crazy about his fictional pieces. You?

      • Constant Reader June 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

        I agree, Santaland Diaries is among his best. I haven’t found myself reading much in the way of short stories lately. This post makes me want to rush out and buy a Flannery O’Connon book! I haven’t read about “The Misfit” in years and your post brings back memories of a time when I was first learning that books and stories were more than just mediocrity and dullness.

      • simoneandthesilversurfer June 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

        Flannery O’Connor is a great writer, an intriguing thinker, but a bad person. I was shocked to read her comments on race, for instance. Still, I think it is her darkness, her ability to be disliked, that makes her writing powerful. Her novels are another matter, strangely flat. I always assumed I’d love her longer work, but I don’t, and the consensus is that her talents didn’t work when stretched out/applied to longer narratives. Here’s a really cool reader’s list someone shared with me two years ago, by the by: http://www.believermag.com/issues/200310/?read=barthelme_syllabus
        Check it out, it’s great. (Although Barthelme’s tastes run towards the overwritten, maximalist, self-conscious and post modern, it’s a fascinating list.)

  2. Sean Kilpatrick June 24, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    As long as you are looking at all of the great southern authors, why not some Shirley Jackson? The Lottery

    Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book”

    (i’ll keep thinking about it)

    • simoneandthesilversurfer June 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      Hello, Seany-baby.
      Shirley Jackson is great; The Haunting of Hill House is one of the great haunted house novels. I like her stories a lot, but “The Lottery” never stuck with me like it has with other people. I like Neil Gaiman, too, but I think his comics are his best work.

  3. ocaptain101 June 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    If you are going to talk about Edgar Allen Poe, two of the ones that have always stuck with me were “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. I read these at the age of 15 and as a girl they really hit me. In Heart, the guilt-racked character (though mad as a hatter) struck a chord with me. In the second, the walling of the drunk and the ability for the main character to walk away taught me about tolerance (or lack of…) and cruelty. Poe happens to be one of my favorite writers.

    As a teacher of middle school children, I would like to suggest some other novels that your daughter should read if they do not give her the opportunity in school: ‘Maniac Magee’ and ‘Stargirl’ by Jerry Spinelli; The ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ by Katherine Paterson; ‘The Lottery Rose’ by Irene Hunt; and ‘Hatchet’ and ‘The Voyage of the Frog’ by Gary Paulsen. There are some spectacular books written for teens that have come out in the last 20 years since I was a teenager. I have read and taught most of these. 🙂

    • simoneandthesilversurfer June 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

      Hello, and thanks for the comments. I like Poe, too. When I was 12, I went to a stage production of “Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Raven.” Amontillado knocked me out. The wailing of the abandoned guy—I thought about it for month’s afterward. Then, and now, really, I’ve never figured out why the narrator kills him. By the by, one of my favorite novels is The Tale of Arthur Gordon Pym. You ever read it? Poe’s only novel, and it’s incredible, and also incredibly weird. When I’m rich, I’d like to do a double bill book with Pym and At the Mountains of Madness, a novella by H.P. Lovecraft. They use some of the same images/ideas.

      I teach middle school, too, so I’m happy to have the recommendations!

      • ocaptain101 June 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

        From what I remember, the guy walls him up because he is the town drunk. He despises the guy for it. Uniquely Poe for sure. He writes a LOT about being different…have you read Hop Frog? Very macabre but again the same lines of someone being ridiculed for being different. I read that though as an adult.

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