Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the Quintessential short story

This coming January, as part of my graduating residency (!), I will present an elective seminar to other students on what length means for the structure and focus of a story (think flash fiction vs. short story vs. novella vs. novel). Anyway, I wanted to find an excellent short story to discuss--one which most people have probably already read. So, using the Internet in arguably one of its best contributions to this kind of research, I tweeted:

"INTERNET, name what u think is the 'quintessential' short story, one everyone's read or maybe seen a movie version of. GO!"

Here's a list of the titles friends and strangers sent me on Facebook and Twitter (thanks, everybody!):

  • "What we talk about when we talk about love" by Raymond Carver
  • "Where are you going, where have you been?" by Joyce Carol Oates
  • "A good man is hard to find" by Flannery O'Connor
  • "Stand by me" by Stephen King
  • "Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger (Franny is a short story; Zooey is a novella, technically)
  • Any story from 9 Stories by J.D. Salinger
  • "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway
  • "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • "The Swimmer" by John Cheever
  • "The Lady or the Tiger" by Frank Stockton
  • "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens (frequently classified as a novella)
  • "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck (also frequently classified as a novella)
  • "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving
  • "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar A. Poe
  • The Jungle Book, a collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling
  • "Cinderella" or any of Grimm's fairy tales
  • Aesop's fables

But the one story that kept coming up again and again,

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

This story stood out BY. FAR. And people recommending this title were the most enthusiastic about THIS being the story to stand for all stories--the one story most familiar and unforgettable.

But in addition to having a story I can now use in my seminar, I have a list of other stories to revisit. These hold a special place in the canon for many of us, whether we're writers or readers, or just human. So if you're a writer, a reader, or just human, go to your local library and read or re-read "The Lottery." Then visit the others again, or for the first time.

And, enjoy!


  1. My favorite short story: Hemmingway.

  2. Love that one! A quintessential piece of "flash fiction". Hemingway, in general, is known for his conciseness.

  3. Hehe, flash fiction to Hemingway is like a flash flood.

  4. No James Joyce? No "Araby," or "The Dead"?

  5. Just remembered another: The Cask of Amontillado. :) Ever read it?

  6. @Jennifer, Surprisingly, no! Not from the people I heard from. But those stories, well memorably "The Dead," were on other lists I found online. And sometimes "The Dead" was called a novella.

    @Nicole, I have read "The Cask of Amontillado". Poe could have been on the list many times over "The Purloined Letter," "The Tell-Tale Heart," etc.