RECOMMENDATION: Short stories

I don’t read a lot of short stories, and some writers are better than others in creating their worlds, but it’s a form of fiction which I do enjoy. I haven’t read any stories by some of the acknowledged masters of the genre, such as Paul Auster, so this is a biassed and partial selection in no sort of order of short story collections by writers whose short stories I particularly liked. It’s probably no coincidence that I first read longer works by most of these authors (Doyle and ‘Saki’ aside).

Penguin paperback edition (image from Amazon)

‘The Shout’ and other stories – Robert Graves

A very varied selection of stories from the sinister title story of the man with a singular power, to vignettes of the writer’s life in Majorca.

Kindle edition cover (image from Amazon)

Collected Short Stories – Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke wrote a huge amount of short fiction, mostly in the SF vein, and of varying length – most are very short. He likes the last paragraph twist in the tale (sometimes, it seems, for its own sake) but the most memorable are subtly horrifying – ‘The Ninety Billion Names of God’, for example.

Kindle edition cover (image from Amazon)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle

While almost all of the Holmes stories have some merit, my favourites are the earlier ones included in this collection, including ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, ‘The Five Orange Pips’ and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, which shine a cold light on the seamy side of Victorian society.

Paperback edition cover (image from Amazon)

The Chronicles of Clovis – ‘Saki’

While all of ‘Saki’s stories of the Edwardian upper classes with their effete, witty, heroes are entertaining, I think the best ones are those which feature Clovis, such as ‘Tobermory’ in which consternation arises after a cat is taught to speak English, the triumphal ‘Sredni Vashtar’, or the plain amusing ‘The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope’. Amoral and acerbic and very entertaining.

Penguin cover (image from Amazon)

‘Quantum of Solace’ and other short stories – Ian Fleming

The titles of stories in this volume of collected stories featuring Fleming’s famous spy, James Bond, may well be familiar to fans of the films, but the plots of the stories certainly won’t.

Facsimile hb cover (image from Amazon)

The Mysterious Mr. Quin – Agatha Christie

These probably aren’t the best examples of the short story form, but I’m very fond of them, nevertheless. Mr Quin is a representation of the commedia del’arte character Harlequin, and his interactions with elderly Mr Satterthwaite enable the latter to deduce solutions to tricky murders.

Penguin pb cover (image from Amazon)

Plain Tales from the Hills – Rudyard Kipling

Kipling wrote many books in the short form – one could easily argue that the Jungle Books are simply a collection of short stories – but I do like this particular collection of stories, ranging from the amusing to the horrifying to the moving, and featuring a broad cast of characters both British and Indian. I can leave the Mulvaney stories since I find the dialect hard to understand, but there are many others to enjoy.

Paperback edition (image from Amazon)

A Book of Enchantments – Patricia Wrede

Some of the stories in this volume are quite different to Wrede’s best-known work, The Enchanted Forest chronicles, with their light-hearted tone and upsetting of fairy-tale tropes; I particularly liked ‘The Lorelei’, with its stubborn teenage heroine. That said, there is also a fantastic story called ‘Utensile Strength’ about the Frying Pan of Doom, no less!

I also recommend Robin McKinley’s lovely The Door in the Hedge, but it’s a collection of only four long stories of fairy-tale retellings.

HB cover (image from Amazon)

My favourite anthology is probably The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories (edited by Patricia Craig), which contains a wide variety of crime fiction, presented in roughly chronological order , and includes stories by such writes as Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Cyril Hare and G. K. Chesterton as well as modern writers such as Ruth Rendell and Reginald Hill. Each of them is a gem.

If you read short stories, which authors do you like, and why?

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22 Responses to RECOMMENDATION: Short stories

  1. Niranjana says:

    I’m very fond of the Quin stories too. And in the not-serious-but-oh-so-good vein, Heyer’s Pistols for Two.

    • Ela says:

      Oh, yes, I do like those very much. There are a few typos, however, which seem to have been perpetuated through the reprintings. Jilly Cooper’s collection of short stories, Lisa and Co., is also fun.

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    “The Ninety Billion Names of God” is one of my favorite! I really should read more of his short stories…

  3. Ela says:

    It took me several months to get through the collection, reading a few at a time. His best are very uneasy, but others are a bit perfunctory, perhaps.

    • Joachim Boaz says:

      I guess that’s to be expected if an author writes hundreds of short stories over the course of his career. I’ve never been that big on Clarke anyway — a few novels are amazing though (Rendezvous With Rama, The City and the Stars, etc). No so much Childhood’s End (but I understand why people love it)…

  4. Andrew Davidson says:

    I unreservedly recommend the short stories of Joan Aiken. She was a mistress of the form, whether acknowledged or not.

    • Ela says:

      I have only read her novels and didn’t know she had written short stories. Must get hold of some…

      • Andrew Davidson says:

        The stories about the Armitage family (recently collected as The Serial Garden) are particularly lovable, and A Bundle of Nerves is impressive, sometimes reminiscent of Roald Dahl.

      • Ela says:

        That reminds me that I have a book of Dahl’s short stories to read (Christmas present)…

  5. Ela says:

    I haven’t read any of Clarke’s novels except 2001: A Space Odyssey, so can’t comment on his longer fiction. I think I had read that before any of his shorter fiction.

  6. celawerd says:

    I like Poe. You can’t go wrong with the classics.

  7. Samuel Wood says:

    I have finally read some Conan Doyle in the edition you recommend. They are terribly good and easily digested, something akin to being left with alone with a box of chocolates. They also inspired me to read Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, but I shall certainly be returning to Doyle for more.

    In terms of my own recommendations, I cannot speak too highly of the brilliance of Richard Yates’ observations on human delusion in Eleven Kinds of Loneliness and Liars in Love. Filled with characters trapped by their own unfulfilled ambition, the stories are exquisitely written, if far from uplifting.

    • Ela says:

      I’ve only read A Good School by Yates, but it doesn’t surprise me that his short stories are good. Thanks for the recommendation.

      The Moonstone is great, but quite different to the Sherlock Holmes stories, even the novels.

  8. cassincork says:

    I like Aiken’s short stories too. I also recently read Emma Donoghue’s _Touchy Subjects_, wch I’d recommend.

    • Ela says:

      I’ve only read children’s books by Aiken (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and so on) – are her short stories aimed more at adults?

      Thanks for commenting.

      • Andrew Davidson says:

        Those of hers that I’ve seen are for children (A Small Pinch of Weather) and probably young adults (A Bundle of Nerves).

      • Ela says:

        Gosh, yes, I remember seeing A Bundle of Nerves in my local library when I was a kid, but I don’t think I ever picked it up.

  9. amymckie says:

    Until last year I really hadn’t read many short story collections, and still haven’t read many, but reading more African lit I’ve found myself reading more short stories – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Uwem Akpan, Helon Habila, E C Osondu, Yvonne Vera, and more. So many great collections! Makes me think that I really should try some local collections too… some day perhaps 🙂

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