11 Great Short Stories You Must Read

If you are looking for great short stories, check out our list here! With short stories that fall into a variety of genres, there is something for everyone!

Growing up, you probably read your fill of short stories in English class during high school; however, with age comes perspective. You might enjoy reading these short stories now that they are no longer a homework assignment; however, if it has been a while since you last sat in the classroom, you might be wondering where to start.

Fortunately, the best short stories fall into numerous genres, ranging from those written by Bradbury to stories by Ambrose Bierce. There are thrillers, mysteries, horrors, mysteries, and more. So, if you are looking for a great short story collection, take a look at the list below!

1. “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe, 1843

Great short stories you must read

It is nearly impossible to put together a list of the best short stories without including The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. Published in 1843, this is perhaps the greatest horror short story of all time. Poe is known for penning numerous dark, emotional, and gothic masterpieces, and this is arguably his most famous.

Great short stories
The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe is published in 1843

The story is narrated by a murderer who slowly loses his sanity as he meditates on his crime. During the story, he is haunted by his victim’s beating heart until the story reaches its climax! This story set the standard for the early era of gothic romanticism.

“True, nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will say that I am mad?! The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute.”

Edgar Allen Poe
The Tell-Tale Heart (Bantam Classics)
  • ISBN13: 9780553212280
  • Condition: New
  • Notes: BRAND NEW FROM PUBLISHER! 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Tracking provided on most orders. Buy with Confidence! Millions of books sold!
  • Poe, Edgar Allan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

2. “The Yellow Wallpaper” By Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892

The short story was published in 1892, quickly becoming a classic of early gothic horror. This tale emphasizes the psychological distress of a woman who is confined to her bedroom. She has been labeled as hysterical, and the story follows numerous fantastical elements as she comes to terms with her situation.

During the story, the main character becomes enamored with the yellow color of her surroundings, which only contributes further to her state. The story is now considered a cornerstone of early feminist writing in the United States, and its commentary on the oppressive patriarchy has become more relevant today with the numerous societal shifts taking place.

“You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Yellow Wallpaper
  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 24 Pages - 06/06/2018 (Publication Date) - Martino Fine Books (Publisher)

3. “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, 1915

Franz Kafka is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, and this short story only cemented his legacy. Regarded as one of the best short stories every written, “The Metamorphosis” heralded a shift taking place in the writing world, as it foreshadowed the Surrealist movement to come.

The story details the life of a salesman who wakes up in the morning only to find that he has turned into a beetle. The story goes on to detail the trials and tribulations of such an abrupt shift for the salesman. While there is still a lot of debate regarding the meaning of the story, it is still a masterful work that looks at alienation in the modern age.

“The sister played so beautifully. Her face was tilted to one side and she followed the notes with soulful and probing eyes. Gregor advanced a little, keeping his eyes low so that they might possibly meet hers. Was he a beast if music could move him so?”

Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis
  • Franz Kafka (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 44 Pages - 09/12/2009 (Publication Date) - Classix Press (Publisher)

4. “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, 1983

By the last half of the 20th century, short stories were starting to lose out in popularity; however, Raymond Carver brought them back to prominence with his minimalist approach. That shines through in “Cathedral,” which discusses the jealousy of a man toward the best friend of his wife.

The story focuses on the evolving relationship of the triangle, and the two men eventually bond together over the image of a cathedral; however, only one of them can actually see the building. The reader is left wondering at the beautiful simplicity of the story and its deceptive ending, which packs quite a punch.

“But he understood it was over, and he felt able to let her go. He was sure their life together had happened in the way he said it had. But it was something that had passed. And that passing–though it seemed impossible and he'd fought against it–would become part of him now, too, as surely as anything else he'd left behind.”

Raymond Carver
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Cathedral
  • Carver, Raymond (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 06/18/1989 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

5. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, 1953

Flannery O’Connor is one of the top short story writers of all time, and this short story showcases why. She has a strong reputation as one of the top Southern Gothic authors, and this is one of her most famous works.

The story tells the tale of a family that is stranded after a motor vehicle accident. The family cannot stop arguing with one another, which leads to significant consequences as they struggle to figure out what to do next.

The story gives an inside look at familial relationships, personal strife, and how stressful events can impact how families interact with one another. The story leaves the reader wondering about his or her own relationships with family members.

“She would have to be a saint because that was the occupation that included everything you could know; and yet she knew she would never be a saint…. but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”

Flannery O’Connor
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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
  • O'Connor, Flannery (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 12/10/2019 (Publication Date) - Mariner Books (Publisher)

6. “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin, 1956

While this commonly ranks on lists of favorite short stories, some list it among novellas; however, this is a semi-autobiographical work that focuses on a young American trying to make his way in Paris. He struggles with his affections between a friendly Italian bartender, Giovanni, and the protagonist’s girlfriend.

This is a wonderfully written work by one of the top activists, writers, and thinkers of the 20th century. The story is open and complex, taking an in-depth look at sexuality, in particular homosexuality and bisexuality. Many of the lessons taught by this story remain relevant to this day.

“People can't, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”

James Baldwin
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Giovanni's Room
  • Vintage Books
  • James Baldwin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 10/18/2021 (Publication Date) - Vintage Books (Publisher)

7. “The Swimmer” by John Cheever, 1964

John Cheever is a renowned writer; however, this story is perhaps his most famous. It focuses on mid-century American suburbia, shining a lot on numerous customs and traditions; however, the story also conveys feelings of emptiness by painting the idea of swimming home.

During the story, Cheever shows that many people who live in affluent suburbs spend all of their time lounging around, getting drunk, and hosting parties. While this might be fun at the moment, it could leave a lot of people feeling empty and lonely.

“He was not a practical joke nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.”

John Cheever
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The Stories of John Cheever
  • Vintage Books USA
  • John Cheever (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 704 Pages - 05/16/2000 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

8. “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, 1927

Hemingway is the author of numerous stories that could find a place on this list, but one of his most brilliant works is “Hills Like White Elephants”. He deftly and directly talks about a significant subject without ever truly bringing it up.

The story follows a young couple as they wait for a train. They discuss an operation that is never clarified, but it is clear the man is trying to convince the woman to have an abortion.

The simple subtlety of the work is attractive to everyone, and the writer demonstrates his ability to pack a tremendous amount of meaning into a short work. The implications of the story are still relevant to American literature today.

“You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.” “So have I,” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”

Ernest Hemingway
Hills Like White Elephants
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Ernest Hemingway (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 6 Pages - 01/21/2021 (Publication Date)

9. “The Dead” by James Joyce, 1914

This is one of the most popular installments in the collection Dubliners. This story tells the story of a young Irishman whose family has the utmost respect for him because of his ability to keep a level head in just about every situation; however, his pragmatism is put to the test when he attends a party.

At the party, he is pushed hard to confront his own morality. The book demonstrates the author’s ability to bury multiple, deep themes in stories that are seemingly straightforward. The story continues to be held up as one of Joyce’s greatest works to this day.

“Under cover of her silence he pressed her arm closely to his side; and, as they stood at the hotel door, he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure.”

James Joyce
The Dead
  • Joyce, James (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 74 Pages - 12/18/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

10. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, 1948

This beautiful short story was released in 1948 by The New Yorker. “The Lottery” contains numerous, intricate, woven themes that trouble the reader and paint a grim atmosphere. The story takes place in a small village where a lottery takes place; however, the winner gets the prize of being stoned to death.

Singlehandedly, this story created the genre of gothic horror. With a disturbing irony that provokes the mind at every turn, the story set the stage for the genre as it is today. The story will leave the reader coming away with many questions, with some of them not having a single right answer.

“Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn't fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.”

Shirley Jackson
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The Lottery and Other Stories (FSG Classics)
  • Farrar Straus Giroux
  • Jackson, Shirley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 03/16/2005 (Publication Date) - Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Publisher)

11. “Bartleby, The Scrivener” By Herman Melville, 1853

A dark story published before the Civil War told by one of the most famous authors of all time, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” focuses on the self-isolation that is created by becoming a slave to the routine. The story had a lot of implications for the coming Industrial Revolution, as the story dives into the extinction of the human spirit.

During the story, the reader follows the tale of Bartleby, who is overtly resistant to change. He is comfortable in his routine, but the reader watches as his spirit fades away. The story is one of the best classic short stories.

“Will you, or will you not, quit me?' I now demanded in a sudden passion, advancing close to him. ‘I would prefer not to quit you', he replied, gently emphasizing the not.”

Herman Melville
Bartleby, the Scrivener
  • Melville, Herman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 52 Pages - 08/14/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

Final Word on Great Short Stories

There are too many writers who have had an impact on the short story genre, including Denis Johnson, Alice Munro, and Haruki Murakami. Start with some of the stories on this list and dive into some of the greatest works of all time! You never know how some of these stories might change your perspective on the world!

FAQs About Great Short Stories

Who are some of the top short fiction writers?

There are numerous authors who rank among the best including Mark Twain, Stephen King, Zadie Smith, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, and numerous others already on the list above.

What are a few other short stories to check out?

A few other short stories to check out include “The Lady,” “The Monkey's Paw,” “The Gift of the Magi,” “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

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