To kick off the week Rhiannon Smith has chosen a handful of must-read short stories:
1. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The classic, must-read story of mental health and oppression, and an important piece of feminist literature. But simply, this is a really good story, a ‘madwoman in the attic’ tale of someone trying to survive in their confinement. If you haven’t read this, find it immediately; if you have – was it recently? Because you can certainly bear to read it again.
2. ‘Metamorphosis’ from Sum by David Eagleman
Sum was published in 2009 and subtitled ‘Tales from the Afterlives’; it includes forty tales of different afterlife scenarios. It sounds like this could be depressing, but is wonderfully uplifting and thought-provoking. The story ‘Metamorphosis’ imagines an afterlife in which you wait in a ‘lobby’ – a kind of limbo – until your name is spoken on earth for the last time. It’s extracted on the author’s website here and if you have five minutes is a beautiful read.
3. ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien
I’d forgotten this story until leafing through my bookshelves and anthologies. The impact of first reading this came back in a flood, and I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it. Sad, simple and human. Read it.
4. ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber’ by Ernest Hemingway
A short story list is never really complete without some Hemingway, it’s where his writing really comes alive. ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ is the classic, as well as his autobiographical Nick Adams stories, but this longer story is a very good way of getting into his style and tone – subtle and completely unsubtle in turn.
5. ‘The Dog Hair’ from Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis won the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, but I found her on the recommends shelf in Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I couldn’t put her down, instead stood for 20 minutes, sniggering at the humour and straightforwardness of these stories. Her Collected Stories now sits on my bedside for dipping into, but one of the first I read – ‘The Dog Hair’, extremely short, about things left behind – is still my favourite.
All the best writers take a turn at short stories, little snippets of thought that get turned something poignant you can read in one go. Limiting a list to 5 has been painful, but I will save some more for another post. And am looking for recommendations!