Welcome to Notes from a Far-Flung Correspondent, which features the weekly interests and musings of Bossy’s Son, who is currently enjoying his sophomore year at Columbia University in the City of New York.
This week: Short Stories.
Recently a lot of commentors were sippin’ that Haterade about The New Yorker and the frequency in which it arrives on the doorstep. I got to thinking about my favorite part of that magazine – the pieces of short fiction. (I also got to thinking about how wonderful it would be to have a subscription to The New Yorker, especially considering I, you know, go to school in New York. Just sayin’, Bossy.)
Some people treat the short story like the novel’s less attractive friend — sure, you’ll take one for the team every once in a while if you’re a good literary wingman, and maybe you’ll even enjoy your conversation with the sexy novel’s friend, but all you’re actually thinking about is slipping into bed with a handful of real novel.
Short stories fight an uphill battle, since there’s a certain undeniable gravitas to a thick piece of literature. Plus, these don’t exactly give short-story writers a sterling reputation.
Gentlemen and gentlewomen of Bossy’s Literary Council, I am here to submit the short story for fresh consideration.
OK, I admit it – I prefer novels. But that’s not the question here. While it’s a noble (also occasionally known as self-punishing) task to take on War and Peace or Infinite Jest, it can also be a great thing to take advantage of those long lunch breaks, that I-can’t-fall-asleep-yet time, that how-am-I-still-waiting-in-this-doctor’s office period to get your short story on.
Here are eight of my favorites for your consideration (in no particular order).
- “Master and Man” by Leo Tolstoy. As poignant as anything Tolstoy ever wrote. The greatest instance of literary role reversal I’ve read.
- “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. I first read this in sixth grade, and I distinctly remember my words upon finishing it – ‘Holy shit.’
- “Midnight in Dostoevsky” by Don DeLillo. My unabashed adoration for DeLillo knows no bounds, and this story might just begin to explain why.
- “Victory Lap” by George Saunders. Nobody does personal, internal narration with more biting accuracy than Saunders.
- “The Word” by Vladimir Nabokov. Just a taste of what Nabokov can do in a short story. Poetry in prose form.
- “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury. Nuclear families, modern technology, and the wickedness of children – a classic, chilling story.
- “Puppy” by George Saunders. A story that is both curiously funny and a little haunting as well. Exposes the fragile psychosis of a doting mother. EDITOR’S NOTE: Bossy sure knows you aren’t talking about her, kid.
- “El Avión de la Bella Durmiente” por Gabriel García Márquez. Esta versión es solamente para los hispanohablantes, but translations of it might be OK. Made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion.
Let those comments fly!
km saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:09 am
Dear Bossy’s son, I must look these up. You need some Irish authors, they are the kings and queens of short stories. I think it comes from their oral tradition- storytelling by the fireplace on dark,rainy nights. Classic short stories by Frank o’Connor includes work by the old faithfuls. I am totally blanking on a great collection that I read and lent to my cousin. The stories were set in 80s small town Ireland and were so close to the bone that I almost entered a flashback state. If I think of the author I’ll post.
I adore a novel, but short stories are great for ADD days.
km saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:12 am
Kevin Barry’s “There Are Little Kingdoms” !!
that’s what it is.
Lizzy saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:26 am
Speaking of “fly”… what about The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka? Sure, it’s weird, creepy and won’t help you sleep at all, but did I mention weird?
As far as short stories in general, I have to say “Meh”.
bossy's friend martha saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:39 am
Make sure to click on the links…no looking up required. Thanks, Bossy’s son.
BossysMom saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:45 am
Can’t wait to fill in the gaps…..Some I’ve read, most I haven’t.
Will recommend one I just finished yesterday…..
“An American Childhood” Annie Dillard. beautiful.
Judy saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:47 am
Wonderful post, Bossy’s son. I will be sure to check out the ones on your list that I have not read. I would like to mention a childhood favorite of mine, ‘the Most Dangerous Game,’ by Richard Connell, I believe? Yes, it is disturbing, but quite thought-provoking. (And yes, I said it was a childhood favorite-teachers make you read such stories when you show them you have an aptitude for reading-I will only merely mention the toture of having to read Siddhartha in the seventh grade so as not to bore your readers any further by talking about that book in great length.)
Colette saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:58 am
Bossy’s son’s intellect intimidates me.
kristin @ going country saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:04 am
And if I may add some women authors, since that list is entirely male . . . Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.” That second one is my favorite.
And of course, Flannery O’Connor.
carson saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:16 am
This post would be even more scary if Bossy’s Literary Council found out that Bossy’s son is a math major. Lordy, I’m feeling stupid and not very well read this morning.
Evolving saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:17 am
Not that Bossy’s Son knows ANYTHING about being a wingman RIGHT? Nor slipping into bed with anything kind of anything (except maybe Stella or Baby David!). He means this strictly as literary Metaphor…
Also? I agree with Colette. I’m pretty sure you’re smarter than I am.
maggie saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:17 am
I would like to add my 2 cents, it is a book of short stories, so maybe it doesn’t qualify, but Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is one that I enjoyed. I am usually a novel girl too, but I will check your recommendations.
rikki saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:18 am
My hubby is an English teacher and calls Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain as his favorite short story. I would tell you to check it out, but you probably already have.
Schmarty pants. 😉
The Great Getzby saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:18 am
km: you’re right about the Irish. Add “The Dead” to the list — I had forgotten it….
Tricia saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:25 am
There’s one that haunted me from 6th grade reading class.
Shelley saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:28 am
I remember “An Occurrance At Owl Creek Bridge”! Although, I don’t remember reading it. I remember that somewhere in the 6th-7th-8th grade area, we watched a movie in class with the same title. I think I had the exact same reaction as you at the end, except without the shit part, because I was a good kid like that. My potty mouth didn’t start until I was 16 or so.
I also remember “The Lottery” freaking me out in junior high. I wonder why junior high is the time to start reading morbid short stories?
Marinka saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:38 am
Is this some kind of an April Fool’s joke? Everyone knows that the best part of The New Yorker are the cartoons.
My favorite short story writer is Flannery O’Connor. And I love Ann Beattie, too.
lora saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:43 am
My favorites are these:
It’s fun to read them because they are so much different than his novels that we grew up with.
And of course Cheever
Because O Seriously? Who has time for novels anymore?
Suzanne saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:44 am
I too agree that Novels are a great way to pass the time, but short stories do have a place as do my very guilty pleasures… murder mysteries 😉 I know I lose IQ points with every one that I read, but I just lurve them. Thank you and all you commentors for the reading list. I must go check them out!
heidig saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:47 am
Forget about short stories….if Bossy’s son didn’t already have the “Delightful One”, I’d want to introduce him to my college sophomore daughter!
Mel saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:52 am
Well thank Gah for Bossy’s son, ’cause I’ve wondered for years what the name and origin was of the Owl Creek Bridge story. I think I must’ve read it in high school and had pretty much the same reaction. I think the only other one on the list I’ve read is “The Veldt”, also in high school.
Y por tanto que me agradecen las obras de García Marquez, ni siquiera he podido leer al fin El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera. Dicho eso, leí a Cronica de una Muerte Anunciada en un día (por ser novela tan corta). Me cautivó a la primera frase:
“En el día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las cinco y media para esperar el buque en que llegaba el obispo.”
Quién más puede escribir así?
The Domestic Goddess saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:52 am
Read most of these. Especially like An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.
And, for the record, i love novels. But sometimes short stories hold my attention longer. You have to be a seriously good writer to capture folks’ attention in them, you know?
Victoria saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 11:06 am
Is Bossy’s son going on the No Book Tour? He’s awesome! I *heart* him.
Ris saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm
Bossy’s son’s list is great, except I see no women writers! I’d add Lorrie Moore and Alice Munro to the list, tout de suite.
Dolores saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:10 pm
I got two wee children, so no time for the New Yorker proper, however I do get their podcast where an author chooses a story published in the New Yorker to read then discuss. I have found many a good story there, and many a good author, new and re-found, and it fits the schedule. I love Nabokovs shorts!
rockle saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:18 pm
Many many years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was still in college, I read all the short stories I could get my hands on, because I was a Film Student, and short stories made for excellent inspiration. Especially when they had wackadoo titles, like “Secret Observations on the Goat Girl,” by Joyce Carol Oates.
I am impressed with the depth and breadth of BOSSY’s Son’s list, but I wonder why kids these days don’t read Vonnegut any more? “Welcome to the Monkey House” is one of the books that made me want to be a writer (and then a Film Student, and then back around to writer again) in the first place, and I have a nice hardbound edition that I can’t wait to pass on to my daughter.
Lara saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm
Another vote for Shirley Jackson here. Not just “The Lottery,” but I love “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts,” as well.
Also Harlon Ellison, especially “Jeffty is Five.”
Lara saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm
Oh, and Damon Runyon!!!
LI Laura saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm
I love the crafting of short stories. Some of my favorite authors are:
Edgar Allen Poe
BOSSY saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm
(That’s the sound of Bossy sucking her thumb.)
mirela saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm
Bossy’s son can write for sure! He is actually quite awesome! Can’t wait for new postings, Bossy’s progeniture! 🙂
BH saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm
A vote for O. Henry, the MASTER of the twist ending.
And Asimov to go along with your Bradbury (Bradbury has so many outstanding short stories it’s just silly)
And for the fan of modern American Small Town Horror, “The Mangler” by Stephen King.
MommyTime saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm
As an avid reader since forever, and now an English prof, I’m fascinated by this masculine list of best short stories. I don’t mean this at all to cast aspersions. I just find it completely intriguing how different this list is from one I’d write, and I am pretty sure that most of my faves were written by women. Much as it pains me to admit to any inkling of the notion that gender is not entirely constructed, the longer I live as a mother, the more I begin to think that some aspects of our preferences might be gender-hard-wired. All that said, based on your list, I think you would love “Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood. Haunting and wonderful.
BH saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm
Note to Carson: Bossy’s Son’s high school math teacher actually thought he should be a math major.
cynthiagirl saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm
Does Bossy’s son want to join our book club? We always have a heck of a time finding men who read.
Debbie in GA saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm
Dear Bossy’s Son,
I tried reading short stories years ago (probably before you were born!), but just couldn’t get into them. However, your guest post with reviews have sparked an interest again. I will give one a shot!
Thank you, Bossy’s son.
Debbie in GA saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm
p.s. Thank you for including the links making it ever so much easier to accomplish the reading 🙂
kidsmom saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm
Would you take my daughter to her prom?
AC in SC saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm
I’m wondering if Bossy ever sends Bossy’s Son care packages, and if so why they don’t include her neglected New Yorkers. Nothing says “I love and miss you” like stale cookies and unwanted magazines. Just sayin’…..
RuthWells saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 5:58 pm
Given your nom de blog, Intrepid Correspondent, where is the F.Scott Fitzgerald love? Master of the genre, was he. While “Babylon Revisited” gets all the critical love, start with “Winter Dreams” or “The Rich Boy”.
Lisa saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm
I remember what a freaky read Ray Bradbury was in junior high, when I saw it on your list I had to go visit….Oy..Stay AWAY from the nursery, for heavens sakes..(martian chronicles) 7th grade English..disturbed me for a while! I now have a 7th grader and must find that for him, he will love it!
Jenna saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 7:34 pm
But where are all the ladies??
TDO saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 8:56 pm
Get off your post-modern, literary high horse and add a Lahiri.
Rachel Allen saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:29 pm
Has Bossy’s son ever read a short story by anyone other than a man?
The Great Getzby saysJanuary 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm
I count “Interpreter of Maladies” among my favorite short story collections. Feminist cards down, please.
Dara saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 7:24 am
Flannery O’Connor, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain….I enjoy a short story now and again.
Philly saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm
BossysMom saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm
oh my…the feminists rise again….
nothing wrong with the women writers, some of my favorite…but can we just grow up and discuss literature?
km saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm
back to Lahiri love, I adored The Namesake. I know it’s a novel. Even the movie they made out of it wasn’t too bad.
km saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm
We like what we like, and what we relate to. I’m a staunch feminist but didn’t see the masculinity of his choices. He’s a young adult who related to these stories.
I mentioned Irish writers, I’m Irish, not xenophobic. I relate to their stories.
And Lahiri’s . Who is an Immigrant.So am I.
See my point.
zidia saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 2:02 pm
Two of our greatest American novelists began their careers with a book of brilliant short stories:
John Updike with “Poorhouse Fair” and Phillip Roth with “Goodbye Columbus”
David saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm
I love Dave Egger’s many collections of short stories as well as the McSweeney’s compilations that his publishing house puts out. I’ve read short story collections by Ethan Canin and David Foster Wallace as well. I love short stories because they can deliver a satisfying tale in a bite-sized chunk. But I must confess that I usually skip the short story selection in the New Yorker.
Margaret Atwood has a few great collections of short stories, and Jane Smileys’ The Age of Grief is also wonderful, if you want to add some more ladies to the list.
Mimi saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 6:47 pm
Dear Bossy’s son and Bossy,
I love this new section, as I am only on the cusp of turning 24 so it’s nice to feel like I’m back in college. And at Columbia! I was an English minor, nice picks on the short stories! I agree that they are so often overlooked, I’m going to have to get my unread ones out….and put this novel aside for a little while.
JK saysJanuary 20, 2010 at 9:45 pm
I am haunted by “All Summer in a Day,” by Ray Bradbury. (An elementary school teacher read it to my class and I’ll never forget it. NEVER. I’m in my 40’s…) And I adore “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. (I think that’s a short story. Is it? It’s so moving. Read it anyway.)
p. joseph potocki saysJanuary 21, 2010 at 2:50 am
Ambrose Bierce lives! Not only is he writing “The Devil’s Newest Dictionary” for SF Bay Timeless: http://blog.baytimedetective.com/?cat=715, he’s been found hanging out in 2046, high atop Mt. Tam, just north of San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate: http://www.baytimedetective.com/chapters/chapter_07/ch7.php
km saysJanuary 21, 2010 at 10:07 am
I am loving these suggestions from Bossy’s council/now Bossy’s son’s council.
Mary saysJanuary 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm
Very interesting list! I’m printing this out. I was an English major at Iowa and did not read any of these stories. Must be the Ivy League difference 😉
Once when my boyfriend (at the time) was taking the LSAT at Augustana College I began reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. I stopped after Remedios died because she seemed to me the only bright spot in the book, and walked around the campus instead!
Cupcake Murphy saysJanuary 21, 2010 at 11:09 pm
I’m really bad at doing those synopsis things like in Oprah magazine where Halle Berry describes her favorite books so all I’ll say is if you read these short stories your life will be ENRICHED beyond belief and you will hold all other stories up to these and be sad because they will not compare. Each of them tap into the that thing that makes us all be able to make it thru our days alongside each other but they all capture it in different ways:
1. Nobody Will Laugh by Milan Kundera
2. A Visit of Charity by Eudora Welty
3. On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami (and any other stories from The Elephant Vanishes)
4. A RIver Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
5. Hapworth 16, 1924 by J.D. Salinger (his youngest story–you can only get this in a library I think)
Cupcake Murphy saysJanuary 21, 2010 at 11:17 pm
One last thing: the only time Hapworth was printed was in the New Yorker.
krg saysJanuary 22, 2010 at 9:55 am
great post! I will start filling in the chinks with these.
Steph saysJanuary 22, 2010 at 11:04 am
two of my favorites to pass along
The Ones who walk away from Omelas…. especially haunting when read with Haiti in mind.and my other favorite is A Small Good Thing by Raymond Carver…
CS saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 2:14 am
Such a great addition to an already perfect blog, Bossy’s Son. My mom always says about short stories that reading more than one in a row is like eating too many chocolates. I, too, feel that way–sickish, when I read (or eat) more than one in a row. But still, there is something exquisite about the short story as a genre. Carver, Lorrie Moore, and Jhumpa Lahiri: my all time faves.
APeetsMom saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm
Nice list Bossy’s son. I am impressed with your depth! All that AND having a good time….very nice.
Amy in NJ saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm
Also, Raymond Carver’s “A small good thing:” http://wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/english/courses/eng201d/asmallgoodthing.html
alwyn saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 7:54 pm
LOVE short stories! Just finished a collection by Simon Van Booy called “The Secret Lives of People In Love” (don’t let the title fool you into thinking it’s chick lit…definitely not), Found it displayed at a bookstore in SoHo as their featured author. Check it out.
Jill saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm
Good list, Bossy’s son, good list. I was sad to see Carver was absent, as you seem like the kind of guy who would love Carver. I see a couple commenters mentioned “A Small Good Thing”, and I agree… also, “Cathedral”.
But another notable absence is Charles Bukowski’s “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town”. He can be a bit filthy, but that particular story is a masterpiece.
almudena saysJanuary 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm
i’ll take a nooner with shorty any day.
Beth saysJanuary 24, 2010 at 11:17 am
OK, wow, I actually am a feminist English professor and I could care less about the gender of Bossy’s son’s favorite authors. Because if I had a college sophomore at my big public research university who could write like Bossy’s son and was that well read, I would swoon with delight.
PS: Amy Hempel, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.”
janny226 saysJanuary 25, 2010 at 8:40 am
I got creeped out just reading the title “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” I’m sure it’s been 25+ years ago that I read it, and I have no recollection of the details, but am still freaked out. Now that’s good writing.
janny226 saysJanuary 25, 2010 at 8:55 am
Oh! Oh! I just read Steph’s comment adding ” The Ones who walk away from Omelas” –that one I remember writing my own version of … if I remember right it made me really p.o.’d! And The Lottery, another creepy one I remember. I guess the happy ending ones aren’t so memorable?! If I’ve gotta read creepy I definitely go for Poe. His stuff I can handle.
Does anyone on Bossy’s Son’s Council know the story where a guy is at work and gets obsessed with a series of numbers, looks up what telephone pole it’s on, and then goes to find it? That one haunts me. I even remember what middle-school classroom I read it in. It may fall into the sci-fi genre.
Yellaphant saysJanuary 25, 2010 at 11:38 am
Might I suggest my own favorite short story: “While Angel” by Michael Cunningham. This story, quite frankly, changed my life. Followed by “The American Male at Age 10” by Susan Orlean. These are the stories that made me want to be a writer, and then showed me the way. You can thank me later.
Carroll saysJanuary 25, 2010 at 8:41 pm
Add me too to the Lahiri bandwagon — I think you’d really like her writing, Bossy’s Son. Might want to give “Interpreter of Maladies” a try.
And Bossy, this is reminding me…is there any way to go back and find the previous posts in which you have asked your Council for literary recommendations? I was after something new the other day, poked around here to try to find them, but…no tags. Or am I missing something? I totally value the opinions (and diverse reading tastes) of your posse & am wishing I’d copied and saved all the comments from those posts. I’ll be saving this one, for sure!
meredith saysFebruary 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm
bossy’s son, i’m a good 7 years older than you, at least, and engaged and in california and happy, but can we get married?