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).
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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?