In Praise of Short Stories


During February, in honour of the shortest month, I read nothing but short story collections. I managed to make it through ten books in total, sampling from a range of new writers and old favourites. I, for my shame, discovered Alice Munro for the first and time and fell head over heels in love. I was disappointed by the new Junot Diaz, wildly enamoured with James Lasdun and Aimee Bender and finished the month with a wise old friend, Ms Carson McCullers.

I reckon I’ve read somewhere between 120 and 150 shorts over the last month and have, as a direct result, never had more ideas for writing my own shorts, (and perversely, less time to get those ideas committed to paper). I remembered why I love short stories so much and why they’re such a fantastic thing to write. I love the way you can dip in and out of a short story collection, meeting characters, switching settings, flipping through the widest variety of plotlines and yet there remains a writer’s distinctive style sewing all these otherwise discordant elements together. Short story collections are a little bit like eating a bag of Revels in the dark. You’ve no idea what’s coming next. It could be a series of delicious little nuggets of greatness. It could just as easily be a chocolate covered raisin.

I’ve made a list below of my top ten short story writers. I’m still reading so this list is by no means conclusive and I’m eager to hear your suggestions for essential short story writers but perhaps you might find some new friends in the list below, or even rediscover an old favourite you’ve let slip down the back of the bookshelf.

1. Raymond Carver

2. Flannery O’Connor

3. William Trevor

4. Chekhov

5. J.D.Salinger

6. George Saunders

7. Karen Russell

8. Colm Toibin

9. Alice Munro

10. Truman Capote

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