For many of us, our experience with the form of short stories is limited to what we were forced to read in school (probably Edgar Allen Poe's horror classic, "The Tell-Tale Heart"). But reading short stories can be the perfect way to experience literature--and the best part is, you can get through them in one sitting.
1. "Hills Like White Elephants" by Earnest Hemingway
Hemingway is famous for his bare-bones, nothing-but-the-necessities writing, and "Hills Like White Elephants" is a perfect example of his style, in just a few pages. It follows a conversation between a man and a woman as they discuss the woman getting an abortion, without ever directly addressing it.
2. "The Swan" by Roald Dahl
File this under stories that broke an eleven-year-old's heart. "The Swan" was a hard way for a young reader to learn that not everything Roald Dahl wrote about was a giant peach or a magical chocolate factory. But the story has stuck with me since then, and for a reason. "The Swan" follows the story of a small, quiet English boy, and how he is treated after one of his bullies receives a gun for a birthday present. It's a bit long for a short story, at about ten pages, but well worth the read.
3. "The Gift Of The Magi" by O. Henry
If you've read short stories before, you've probably read "The Gift Of The Magi," which is essentially, in notoriety, the comedy equivalent to "The Tell-Tale Heart." But it's worth a mention on the off-chance you haven't. O. Henry has the wry, quick wit of Mark Twain, but with more heart. "The Gift Of The Magi" follows Della and Jim, two people who are very poor and very in love, and the mistaken places their love leads them.
4. "To Build a Fire" by Jack London
Jack London is probably the best-known writer for stories that fall into the "Man Vs. Nature" category. "To Build a Fire" clocks in at about fifteen pages, which manages to be enough time to show the building desperation of a man realizing that he is dying, and the difficult choice he ends up making.
5. "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs
"The Monkey's Paw" is a classic thriller, where you never quite know what's real, what isn't, and who is to blame for what. It's great for psychological analysis, or just when you want an exciting ten-minute read.
6. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin is one of the most well-known feminist writers of the 19th century. "The Story of an Hour" shows how one woman reacts to her husband's death.
7. "A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell
"A Jury of Her Peers" details the investigation of a murder in the rural Dickson County. A woman is being questioned for the death of her husband--but as the investigation goes on, more and more is uncovered that may mean the murder had justification.
8. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
If you liked the unreliable narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart," you're going to love the infinitely more interesting "The Yellow Wallpaper." I won't spoil much beyond the fact that you get to SEE the narrator's progression into unreliability.
9. "The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty
One of my favorite short stories, "The Sniper" puts you in the mind of a sniper during a civil war, with one of the most unexpected but perfectly gut-wrenching endings I've read.
10. "The Three Questions" by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy is essential for any lover of short stories. "The Three Questions" is one of his most famous, a simply told but powerful tale of a king who seeks out a hermit for advice on how to be a better king.
11. "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde
"The Happy Prince" is my favorite short story of all time. It is sweet, moving, and will make even the most stoic of readers shed a tear. In "The Happy Prince," a beautiful golden statue and a swallow form a partnership to help the city they live in.