A Dozen Short Stories Worth Your Time

Where I live it’s been overcast and dreary for weeks. And cold. Let’s not forget cold. (Who invented this winter thing, anyway? I demand a refund.) Luckily, there are perks to cold, gloomy days. You get to wear cute boots and scarves when you venture out. Soup tastes better. And kitties become twice as cuddly. But the main one? There are few things in this life better than thwarting the weather by snuggling up with a good book. Bonus points for thunderstorms and a roaring fire (assuming you have a fireplace – let’s not get crazy).

So I thought this week I’d try to help you beat back impending winter blues by sharing some of my very favorite reads. I’ve chosen a dozen stories that I not only liked when I read them, but that stuck with me long after I finished. Specifically, I’ve tried to choose things that many people might not have read already. I have some very famous authors in here, yes, but I avoided choosing their most famous works – so you won’t see “The Lottery” on here even though I love it. Instead, I’m hoping you might try out these hidden gems and love them as much as I do.

My tastes do veer toward the scary and dark, but there are many types of beauties in here! With each story, I’ve included a brief description of why it stuck with me. Of the 12 stories I chose, 7 are available to read online for free, another is only 99 cents, and 2 others appear in the same anthology. I’ve listed them from cheapest to most expensive. You could read everything on this list – plus dozens more stories that come with them – for under $40, less if you buy used. If you ask me, that’s a pretty glorious way to spend 40 bucks. 🙂

  1. A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka (Also check out my blog post “Thoughts on Franz Kafka.”)

My favorite Kafka! I think this story is far superior to his more well-known “Metamorphosis.” This piece is a beautiful, thought-provoking commentary on what it means to be an artist and a consumer of art.

  1. A Voice in the Night” by Steven Millhauser

I found this treasure in a collection of literary fiction, and this one stuck with me the longest. It’s executed in a unique, effective way that works for readers (and that writers can learn from).

  1. The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft (Also check out my blog post “Thoughts on Lovecraft.”)

Again, my favorite of a classic author isn’t the popular favorite. “The Call of Cthulhu” didn’t do much for me, but the subtle, utterly fresh concept in this story struck me as genius. This is science fiction horror for the reader who likes neither.

  1. Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon 

I didn’t even mean to read this one. I was skimming it to get an idea of the taste of the Apex magazine editors, and this unusual story just sucked me right in. I couldn’t have stopped and gotten back to work if I’d wanted to – but I didn’t want to. This tale is part fantasy, part myth, and all gorgeous.

  1. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin

I finally tracked this story down after the fourth or fifth friend recommended it to me. What can I say? They were right. This is a story you never forget. Everyone should read it.

  1. Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come for You, My Lad” by M.R. James (Also check out my blog post “Thoughts on M.R. James.”)

Sometimes you just want a good old fashioned ghost story, you know? Especially on Christmas Eve. For me, this one did the trick. It was traditional enough to get me into that mood, but not so old as to be difficult to get through. It delivered several chills, and was just a fun read.

  1. “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” by Joe Hill (Buy it for $0.99 as an ebook single)

This was my first taste of Joe Hill’s work, but not my last. The man oozes talent. Beautiful prose, interesting techniques, one part melancholy and one part charming: reading this story is like taking a master class in fiction, but way more fun.

  1. “Jack-in-the-Box” by Ray Bradbury (Order The October Country paperback for $7.35. This one is chockfull of fantastic stories; the price is well worth it. Also check out my blog post “What Ray Bradbury Meant to Me.”)

I think this might be my favorite Bradbury. I’m not sure. (Don’t make me choose!) It’s definitely in my top five. Immediately after reading this strange and compelling tale, my mind was on fire with ideas of my own. I can’t recommend it enough.

  1. “Philanthropist” by Suzanne Rivecca (Subscribe to Granta’s archives for $12.99 or buy The Best American Short Stories 2013 as an ebook for $8.52 – free if you have Kindle Unlimited)

This is one of those stories that caught me off guard. It seems like a simple, quiet, literary tale, but the impact is astounding. The end of it actually caused me to make a noise out loud, a sort of surprised “oof” of emotion, even though I was home by myself.

  1. “The Tooth” by Shirley Jackson (Find it in The Lottery and Other Stories as an ebook for $8.89. Again, more than worth that price for all the quality stories included. Also check out my blog post “Thoughts on Shirley Jackson.”)

“The Tooth” is one of the best tales of psychological horror I’ve ever read. It’s literary, too, and it will absolutely crawl under your skin and stay there. Note: I highly recommend you don’t read this story when you have a tooth ache.

  1. “The Callers” by Ramsey Campbell (Find it in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 5 in ebook form for $11.19. If you’re a horror fan, this is a must-buy anthology.)

This is a weird story. I suspect it’s not for everyone. For me, it was unsettling to the point of being uncomfortable, which is pretty difficult to do. It put Ramsey Campbell on my list of authors to read more of.

  1. “Some Pictures in an Album” by Gary McMahon (Also available in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 5.)

This is one of the most disturbing horror stories I’ve ever read, and there’s not a speck of gore. If you like your scares on the creepy, chilling, psychological side, this one’s for you. It’s the opposite of light-hearted, but man did it stay with me.

~*~

There you go! Twelve wonderful stories that are well worth your time. These should keep you happily, cozily reading for a good chunk of your gloomy winter days. (Hey, being scared makes for even cozier reading because you’re afraid to get out of the covers!) And if you’re looking for something specific, I’m happy to give you my recommendations. I hope you all read a lot, enjoy, and stay warm. Happy holidays!

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  • Regina Richards

    Wow! What a treasure trove! Thanks, Annie. 🙂

  • Thanks for this list, Annie! I’ve always loved the story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” and I can’t wait to read “A Voice in the Night.”

  • A. B. Davis

    So excited to get to some of these, as I’ve only read “The Tooth”. “Some Pictures in an Album”, the M.R. James, Franz Kafka, and H. P. Lovecraft stories sound so up my alley. 😀 Thanks for the suggestions, Annie!

    • They definitely are, Ashley! I can’t wait to hear what you think!!

  • You’re so funny! And thanks very much for the list. I’m bookmarking this page for future reference. Have a very Merry Christmas and New Year! 😀

    • Thanks! I tell my husband that all the time. 😉 I’m glad you like the list, Lexa. Happy reading, and happy holidays to you too!

  • Traci Kenworth

    Some great ones here!!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Thank you, Annie, for the thoughtful list. I have been wanting to read shorter fiction, and this is PERFECT. I appreciate the time you took to put it together (and we’ve had some of those gloomy days in Arizona, too, believe it or not). Have a great holiday!

    • Yay! That’s awesome! I really hope you like these. Please do let me know if you try them out. 🙂

  • Oooh, what a great resource!

  • Carie Juettner

    I’m currently clawing my way through Kafka. I really liked The Metamorphosis and The Hunger Artist and the first half of The Penal Colony, but now it’s starting to feel like work. When I finish, I shall reward myself with a couple of stories from this list. “Jackalope Wives” and the Ursula Le Guin one grabbed my attention the most. Thanks!

    • Kafka can definitely be work! The two Ursulas on this list will be great for that. Please do let me know what you think!

  • Cynthia Robertson

    What a great list of stories, Annie. Just read Jackalope Wives, and loved it. Nice language, twists, and surprises.

    • Oh, I love to hear that! I thought so too, obviously, and it’s so nice that’s it’s free to read online. Thanks for stopping by to let me know, Cynthia!

  • Katy

    I just read “The Jackalope Wives” and “The Hunger Artist” and absolutely loved them! “The Jackalope Wives” was simply so imaginative. I’ve never read anything like it. Thank you! 😀

    • Awesome!! I love to hear that; nothing makes me happier than sharing a good read. 🙂