This week we’re taking a break from our regular weekly LIbrary Chicken Update to bring you a list of some of my favorite short story collections. As Library Chicken readers may already know, the past year or so of my bookish life has been all about falling in love again with short stories. I was an avid short story reader growing up: I read ghost stories, detective stories, classic stories, and all the science fiction and fantasy I could get my hands on, including everything published in the Big Three magazines (Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine). At some point, however, I lost interest in short stories, preferring the complexity (and longer emotional commitment) of novels, even getting to the point where I actively avoided story collections.
Once I decided to focus on short stories in our homeschool-hybrid junior high literature course, though, I had to start reading and rereading for the syllabus, which led to a binge-read that hasn’t yet tapered off, even as we’re about to wrap up the class. (NOTE: For any interested parties, the list of stories we read during the past semester is included at the end of the post.) For my own sake, I wish I’d rediscovered short stories a while back, but I’m really kicking myself that I didn’t use short stories more while homeschooling my own children.
Short stories are WONDERFUL for homeschool. By their very nature, they’re less intimidating than novels for slower and more reluctant readers (and they don’t interfere as much with the stack of recreational reading that avid readers will already have piled by their bedside), and it’s easier for busy parents to work them in as read-alouds or read-alongs. All of the basic concepts of literary analysis and criticism (setting, protagonist, plot, conflict, etc.) can be practiced with short stories, and it’s easy to read a bunch and build up a ‘mental library’ for the purposes of comparison and contrast. It’s a great way to introduce homeschoolers to classic authors and new genres — and if readers hate them, then the suffering doesn’t last very long! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend trying out some short stories in your homeschool curriculum, and if you’re looking for summer reading ideas now that the school year is winding down, short story collections are a great place to start.
So I’m happy to present for your reading enjoyment: Library Chicken’s Top-Ten(ish) Short Story Collections (So Far). (Please note that while I’d have no problem handing any of these to teenage or young adult readers — and many of them to upper elementary and middle school readers — some stories are definitely more adult-oriented and may contain sexual situations, violence, and/or racial or ethnic slurs. If you are considering short stories for your homeschool curriculum, please read them first so you can make the best choices for your own family.)
The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates
The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike
100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore
These three hefty anthologies are great places to start if you’re looking to catch up on American short stories past and present. Many of the best-known and most-anthologized stories (and authors) in our literary tradition can be found here. Don’t be intimidated by massive size of these books - you should feel free to dip in and out and skip around.
The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories by Joan Aiken
ALL AGES. Sadly, I have not done as much reading (and rereading) of short stories for younger readers as I would like, but this collection is a standout. If I had discovered it a few years ago, it would have gone straight into our read-aloud pile; as it was, I immediately bought a copy for our home library. Every Monday (and occasionally on Tuesday) amazing and fantastical things happen to the Armitage family, and you owe it to yourself (and any children you may have wandering about) to get to know them better.
Growing Up Ethnic in America: Contemporary Fiction About Learning to be American edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan
Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, E. L. Doctorow, Louise Erdrich - do I really need to say anything more? (This would be a fabulous text for a homeschool high school literature course.)
- American Gothic Tales edited by Joyce Carol Oates
- The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Short stories are traditionally the home of ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, and these two anthologies have some of my favorite and most bizarre examples. They range from deliciously creepy to full-on horror, so read at your own risk!
- Tenth of December by George Saunders
- Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
- What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
If you prefer your weirdness to come with a more literary bent, these three acclaimed authors can take care of that for you. (Also see any short story collections by Neil Gaiman or China Mieville.) If you have a middle/high schooler who claims to be bored with reading, definitely consider putting some of the stories collected here on your summer reading list.
...Which brings us to the end of our official Top Ten, but I can’t leave without recommending the following classics to all readers and especially homeschoolers:
- pretty much anything and everything by Edgar Allan Poe
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
- The World of Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
- The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft
- The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
...and a personal favorite that I DID make all of my children read (because I’m a science fiction nerd):
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
BONUS: Below is the list of stories that we read in our junior high literature class this past session. We typically read and discussed two stories a week. If you are considering coming up with your own list for summer (or whenever) reading, you could go with one story a week and still get a lot of great reading done. Also, when making up your own list, my advice is to start where I started: with the short stories that you love from your own reading AND with the ones (whether you loved or hated them) that still stick in your head from your own school days. If they made a big enough impression that you still remember them (ahem: see “To Build a Fire” below), there’s probably something there worth revisiting.
1. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe
2. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle
3. “Big Two-Hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway
4. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
5. “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte
6. “The Courting of Sister Wisby” by Sarah Orne Jewett
7. “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe
8. “To Build a Fire” by Jack London
9. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman
10. “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty
11. “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling
12. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury
13. “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
14. “Quietus” by Charlie Russell
15. “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby
16. “Jeeves Takes Charge” by P.G. Wodehouse
17. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber
18. “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor
19. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
20. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
21. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
22. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin
23. “The Lady or the TIger?” by Frank Stockton
24. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson