Top Ten Short Stories, according to us: The Long List

Last week, the good people over at Flavorwire asked us to come up with what we considered to be the top ten short stories. To do this is pretty impossible–there are so many amazing short stories out there, so many talented writers. Our staff agreed that our personal top ten lists are always changing, depending on what we are currently reading.

But the list also sparked an intensely geeky debate over who wrote what best, and just which of their stories should make the cut. (These debates often ended with, “Ooh, right. That’s such a great story. You’re right,” and a sweaty handshake.) Not surprisingly, several authors–Salinger, Johnson, Cheever, Moore, Saunders, Bloom, Barthelme–were nominated more than once for different stories. And although many were nominated for the list, we also had to agree not to include any of the short stories we have published in One Story (that would be like choosing between children).

In the end, we decided to compile a list of “classic” stories; stories we’d read again and again and still learn from every time.  We asked 15 of our staff members to nominate their top 3 stories. The stories that got more than two votes made the list. We’re also including the long list, with some other favorites nominated by our staff. Please email us some of yours–there are many, we’re sure, that we’ve forgotten to include–and it’s always great to be introduced to a new story.

Top Ten List:

“For Esmé with Love and Squalor” by JD Salinger

“Silver Water” by Amy Bloom

“The Dead” by James Joyce

“Brownies” by ZZ Packer

“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“White Angel” by Michael Cunningham

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

“Emergency” by Denis Johnson

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

“Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore

Long List:

“What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie

“The School” by Donald Barthelme

“The Dolt” by Donald Barthelme

“I Bought a Little City” by Donald Barthelme

“The Man Who Knew Belle Starr” by Richard Bausch

“Love is Not a Pie” by Amy Bloom

“Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” by Robert Olen Butler

“Why Don’t You Dance?” by Raymond Carver

“Goodbye, My Brother” by John Cheever

“The Swimmer” by John Cheever

“Mother’s Reaction to my Travel Plans” by Lydia Davis

“Aguantando” by Junot Diaz

“When We Were Nearly Young” by Mavis Gallant

“Do Not Disturb” by AM Homes

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“Work” by Denis Johnson

“The Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

“Sexy” by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Dungeon Master” by Sam Lipsyte

“Travis B” by Maile Meloy

“People Like That Are the Only People Here” by Lorrie Moore

“Friend of my Youth” by Alice Munro

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by JD Salinger

“Sea Oak” by George Saunders

“Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff

Read the complete top ten list, along with synopses for the stories, over at Flavorwire.

50 thoughts on “Top Ten Short Stories, according to us: The Long List

  1. I like your list. Here’s some that I would add.

    The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol
    Bee Beard, by Ryan Boudinot
    Escapes, by Joy Williams
    Communist, by Richard Ford
    Last Night, by James Salter
    Reunion, by John Cheever
    Blue Boy, by Kevin Canty
    Tattooizm, by Kevin Moffett
    A & P, by John Updike
    Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville

  2. Has Hemingway fallen so far that not a single story makes the list? More than half these folks wouldn’t be capable of writing a story if not to rob Papa. Case in point 1: Raymond Carver. Also Garcia Marquez, who openly said Hemingway was his biggest influence. By most views, he is one of the, if not the very, greatest short story writers.

  3. Trilobites by Breece D’J Pancake, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Miranda July…ohno, my list is too long. 😉

  4. Um…Hemingway, Tolstoy, Nabokov….Chekhov, the father of the modern short story and Carver’s greatest influence? Come on, guys!

  5. I re-read Friend of My Youth every year, and always find new layers.

    Ursula Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Margaret Atwood’s Happy Endings. Denis Lehane’s Until Gwen, Richard Yates’s Builders, Wideman’s Newborn Thrown In Trash and Dies, Let Them Call It Jazz by Jean Rhys, and that Allan Gurganus story about a man whose father is a workaholic.

    Plus, have to throw in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories in there. And some Narayan, and Maugham.

  6. I’m surprised that Barthelme didn’t make it into the top ten, especially since he had three different titles on the long list. There are at least a couple other stories that I’d have chosen ahead of those three, in fact, excellent as they are.

    Why don’t we just put Sixty Stories and Forty Stories on the list and call it even?

  7. Not one Russian in the top ten? Anywhere? Chekhov, no? Gogol? Nothing by Hemingway or Salinger has ever changed my life and thinking like The Overcoat, or The Lady with The Little Dog. Have ya read any Borges, people? I’m with you on The Dead, but reading it by itself without all the others before it in Dubliners, as so many Lit 101 classes do, is inadequate. Is it really a short story, or is it the capping off of a finely crafted, subtle, slow building tone poem of a novel? At least something by Kafka made the list, but not even the top ten?

  8. I’m sorry to see that you have not included Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant, a most wonderful short story.

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  10. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everything’s subjective, I know, but not including Stanley Elkin’s “A Poetics for Bullies” is just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

  11. So glad Bullet in the Brain made it on here. It’s stuck with me for years now.

    I do wish Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron were here, though. And I totally agree on Hills Like White Elephants – that should at the very least be on the long list.

  12. Fantastic list – thanks for the extras, too. It was great to see some of my favorites like “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”. Also that you had the Marquez story in your top list.
    I use a lot of these in classes with my students, so you’ve given me more to track down and share.

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  15. Here’s mine (no particular order):

    1. “The Things they Carried” by Tim O’Brien
    2. “The Strong Man” by George Garrett
    3. “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff
    4. “How I Met My Husband” by Alice Munro
    5. “Children of Strikers” by Fred Chappell
    6. “Give” by James Salter
    7. “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway
    8. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
    9. “No One’s a Mystery” by Elizabeth Tallent
    10. “Emergency” by Denis Johnson

    Runners up:
    11. “Fiesta, 1980” by Junot Diaz
    12. “Snow” by Charles Baxter
    13. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger
    14. “Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty

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  17. You should also do a Top 10 list of the best teachable stories or the stories that go over the best in a classroom. I find Dahl “Lamb to the Slaughter” and Butler’s “Jealous Husband” and Carlson’s “house Goes Up” to be very successful in the classroom.

  18. Am I the only one who doesn’t understand what it is about Denis Johnson that people get so worked up about?

    Failing that, am I the only one who cannot help but say “Denis” so it rhymes with the common name for the male sexual organ?

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  23. My heart is always torn in between the classics and us, arising writers. It’s like the left side and the right side of our brain, like Laing’s Divided Self, just without the luxury of schizophrenia.

  24. How about THE 13 CLOCKS by James Thurber….or for that matter,anything he wrote.
    He knocked my socks back in the 40’s.

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  27. “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami
    “Bartleby the Scribner” by Herman Melville

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  31. the gift of the magi, the lady and the tiger, the most dangerous game, the tell tale heart, the monkey paw, 7 floors, the veldt, the sniper. Come on people don’t forget the classics.

  32. 10 great short stories:Death Of Ivan Illich by Tolstoy;Ward Number 6 which is a sort of “reply” story to the Tolstoy by Anton Chekhov; The Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka; Mysterious Kor by Elizabeth Bowen; Crewe by Walter De La Mare; Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville; Celia by George Mackay Brown; A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O Connor; Guests Of The Nation by Frank O Connor; Enoch Soames by Max Beerbohm – brilliant comedy and Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu which is perhaps the best of all ghost stories. No problem for me to come up with 10 great short stories – the form is fantastically rich!

  33. To underline richness an alternate top 10!

    Zeitl and Rickel by Isaac Bashevis Singer; Fits by Alice Munro; Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District by Nikolai Leskov – perhaps this is closer to a novella;Sense Of Humour by VS Pritchett;The Psychiatrist by Machado de Assis; The Lottery by Shirley Jackson; The Ballroom of Romance by William Trevor; The Gentleman From San Francisco by Ivan Bunin;The Prussian Officer by DH Lawrence and Hands by Sherwood Anderson.

  34. Top 10

    “Helping” by Robert Stone
    “Sportsmen” by Thomas McGuane
    “The River” by Flannery O’connor
    “The Swimmer” by John Cheever
    “Where I’m Calling From” by Ray Carver
    “Great Falls” by Richard Ford
    “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway
    “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” by Amy Hempel
    “Hot Ice” by Stuart Dybek
    “In the Region of Ice” Joyce Carol Oates

    Honorable Mentions:

    “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff
    “Why Don’t You Dance” by Ray Carver
    “Crazy Sunday” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    “Brownies” by ZZ Packer
    “Saint Marie” by Loise Erdrich

  35. A very old man with enormous wings – Gabriel Marquez
    A man who had no eyes – Mckinley Kantor
    Judgement of Paris – Leonard Merrick
    Last Leaf – O.Henry
    The Verger – Somerset Maugham
    The Cop and the Anthem – O.Henry
    Many Moons – James Thurber

  36. Several short stories by Rabindranath Tagore will always figure in any list one may draw up. Look for the translations.

  37. “the secret life of walter mitty” by james Thurber, is the best ever written. no story would compete to that.

  38. No Hemingway? “A Clean Well Lighted Place”, “In Another Country”. “The Undefeated” You better get reading before you print such a list. You can’t go by what you’ve heard. Seriously. Hemingway was mentally ill his last 20 years but before that? James Joyce said “A Clean Well Lighted Place” was the best short story he had ever read. You listed Joyce 3rd (actually I think “The Dead” is #1) Probably Hemingway holds places 3 & 4

  39. Postmaster by Tagor
    My father sits in the dark by Jerome widman
    Bet by Chekhov
    Nose by Gogol
    Elephant Vanishes by Murakami
    Garden Party by Mansfiled
    Story of an hour by Kate Chopin

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