Ten Great Short Stories to Read

Maybe you want to start reading more, but you can’t seem to finish a book. Or find a book that’s right for you, a book that you’re willing to commit to and finish. That’s alright! Not all reading consists of thousand-page novels. There are some great short stories out there that will provide a quick read. And, if you do end up really loving one of these short stories, you can always find more stories by that author, or even work your way into a book. So, here are ten short stories to dip your toes into the world of short fiction.

Short Story: The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe

Description: An appropriate horror story for our current events; I saw in a news article somewhere that literary organizations have been holding video conferences reading this story aloud. A dark tale (what Poe story isn’t?) it details a party being held in spite of the plague that is roaming the countryside (considering the “coronavirus” parties that have been held in NJ as of late, this isn’t that unbelievable, unfortunately). Steeped in Gothic imagery, as well as an unforgettable setting, The Masque of the Red Death is a necessary read for everyone. 

If you like this… Poe wrote a number of terrifying short stories: The Cask of Amontillado is a great one.

Short Story: The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft 

Description: One of the longest stories on the list, The Call of Cthulhu is the tale of a cult dedicated to the worship of a demonic creature known as Cthulhu, destined to prepare the world the coming of his masters. Another great Gothic horror piece, it is Lovecraft’s most famous story, and an inspiration to science fiction writers for the next century. Random bit of trivia: if you’re a Rick and Morty fan, Cthulhu makes an appearance during the theme song. 

If you like this… Read more Lovecraft. Or go back to Poe. 

Short Story: The Egg by Andy Weir.

Description: Written by the author of The Martian, The Egg is a great little story about what happens to you after you die. Extremely thought-provoking, but very short. The Youtube Channel Kurzgesagt created a great animated version of this story, if you want to watch it. 

Short Story: A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway

Description: An extremely sad story about an old man drinking alone in a cafe, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is my favorite of Hemingway’s stories. It’s only about three pages in length, but is marked by Hemingway’s famous simple prose.

If you like this… Hemingway has a lot of other great short stories: The Snows of Kilimanjaro is one of the best.

Short Story: Usher II by Ray Bradbury

Description: Technically this is one of many stories in Bradbury’s novel The Martian Chronicles, but you don’t need to read any of the rest of the book to read this story. It’s the story of a man in a dystopian future where all fantasy novels have been banned; as a result, he moves to Mars and decides to seek his revenge on the society that has committed this terrible crime. If you liked Fahrenheit 451, or are a big fantasy fan, then you’ll enjoy this story.

If you like this… Read more of The Martian Chronicles, as well as The Illustrated Man.

Short Story: How I Edited An Agricultural Paper by Mark Twain

Description: Mark Twain has many brilliant short stories, but this is the one that always makes me laugh the most. Extremely short (less than 10 pages), it’s a fictionalized memoir of the time the narrator was placed in charge of running an agricultural paper, despite having absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. The ending monologue is also an extremely clever criticism on the people on whom we rely for our opinions.

If you like this… The Diary of Adam and Eve is another great Twain story, with a surprisingly sweet ending,

Short Story: A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry

Description: We read this story in middle school and I’ve never quite forgotten it. The story of the best safecracker in the business, A Retrieved Reformation tells the story of Jimmy Valentine, freshly released from jail and ready for his next big heist. It’s a great story, with an amazing end, and focuses on the two themes that O. Henry excels in: crime and reformation.

If you like this… After Twenty Years is an extremely short story by O. Henry that is also extremely interesting.

Short Story: The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs

Description: Perhaps no story in the entire world illustrates the concept of “be careful what you wish for.” The story talks about the White family, who gain possession of an enchanted monkey’s paw, which can grant three wishes… with enormous consequences. I saw a joke the other day that referenced this story, dealing with a doctor who, at the beginning of 2020, wished it so that in the coming year the entire world would learn proper handwashing technique. 

Short Story: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Description: What would you do to ensure societal harmony? What price would you pay? A great story about the power of mob mentality, and the evils that can take place in a seemingly peaceful community, The Lottery details a small town with a very strange summer tradition.

If you like this… The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is another great short story that touches on similar themes, about a seeming idealistic society with a dark truth.

Short Story: Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong by Tim O’Brien

Description: A part of O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, Sweetheart is set in Vietnam, as one of the soldiers flies his girlfriend out to their base to spend some time with her. It is a tragic story about what war does to people, and the true horror that can happen to anyone.

If you like this… The Things They Carried is one of the best Vietnam novels of all timed, filled with connected short stories, a fictionalized representation of O’Brien’s real time in Vietnam.