A dear, dear friend of mine asked for “A recommendation for an introduction into short stories”, that would be applicable to adults, and 14-16 year-olds. Oof, what a tremendous request! What follows is not a complete guide, but here are my suggested gateway drugs.
The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson
Is it the best short story ever written? In my opinion, yes. I absolutely adore that it is widely taught in US schools. The eerie tension builds superbly, and has one of the creepiest last lines ever.
The Hitchhiker, by Roald Dahl
Ah, Dahl, my heavily problematic fave. Nevertheless, this is the first short story I remember hearing, and I still absolutely love it. There are so many thrilling moments, and an incredibly rewarding ending.
The Old Man, by Daphne du Maurier
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite du Maurier story, as they’re all absolutely amazing. This is less grizzly than some of her other stories, and relatively short to boot. This one has stayed with me ever since I read it. This story can be found in du Maurier’s collection, The Birds and Other Stories.
The Pier Falls, by Mark Haddon
Haddon, of Curious Incident fame, is also a cracking writer of short stories. This one is brutal, and gives a second by second account of a pier falling into the sea, and the terrors which unfold. It is urgent, breathtaking, and absolutely devastating.
The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu
This story is hypnotically beautiful. A young boy, a longing for identity, a frayed parental relationship, and a gorgeous dash of magical realism. A modern classic.
Stories of Your Life, by Ted Chiang
Possibly a little challenging for teenagers, but the more cerebrally inclined will love this one. Aliens, time, human nature, it’s all in here. And the film adaptation, Arrival, is just gorgeous. I’m getting shivers just thinking about it. This story can be found in Stories of Your Life and Others.
A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor
This one requires patience, but is a brilliant example of how to slowly build a story, but quickly establish character. All of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are worth a look, but this one is probably the most famous of her short works.
Brownies, by ZZ Packer
This is a fantastic story for young people to read, as it is a great commentary on perception and judgement (in my option anyway).
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin
This is a story to be appreciated, and you may need to read it a couple of times before everything sinks in. But it’s worth it, and will stay with you for a long time. Set aside time to dedicate some brain space, put your phone in another room, and dig in.
The Pelican Bar, by Karen Joy Fowler
This one has a fantastic “what the fudge?!” ending. I had to read it a couple of times to wrap my head about it.
The Man in the Ambry, by Gwendolyn Kiste
This is a recent favorite, and a wonderful example of epistolary writing. And it is genuinely creepy. You can listen to an audio version of the story here, or it can be found in her outstanding collection, And Her Smile with Untether the Universe.
So that’s my starter for ten. I’ve read well over 1000 short stories in the last few years alone, so it takes a really special story to stand out in my mind. If you find you particularly enjoy any of these, let me know and I’ll lead you further down the path of short fiction.