The best books for people who want to become short story writers

Richard Ned Lebow Author Of Rough Waters and Other Stories: Facing Ethical Dilemmas
By Richard Ned Lebow

Who am I?

My childhood, very much shaped by World War II, led me the study of international relations and political psychology. I have written numerous books on conflict management and prevention, and also on ancient Greek thinkers and writers, and the elusive nature of knowledge. In recent years I have begun to explore these themes in fiction. This shift has been exhilarating and liberating and provides me the opportunity to present the tragic understanding of life and politics to a larger audience.

I wrote...

Rough Waters and Other Stories: Facing Ethical Dilemmas

By Richard Ned Lebow,

Book cover of Rough Waters and Other Stories: Facing Ethical Dilemmas

What is my book about?

Rough Waters is a collection of short stories about people and political leaders facing ethical choices. These choices arise in extraordinary situations but also in everyday life. Collectively my stories make the case for a tragic approach to ethics. 

The books I picked & why

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By James Joyce,

Book cover of Dubliners

Why this book?

Engaging stories about James Joyce as a young man. This is a perfect read for young aspiring authors for reasons of content and style. It is a classic, and deservedly so, and was my inspiration for writing fiction. As a young man I bubbled over with enthusiasm to write and express my creativity but to do so well needed focus and discipline. So did Joyce and I learned vicariously from him.

Metamorphosis and Other Stories

By Franz Kafka, Michael Hofmann (translator),

Book cover of Metamorphosis and Other Stories

Why this book?

This is another classic that builds on a ridiculous conceit to tell a convincing tale. Like Joyce, Kafka breaks all conventions, linguistic and substantive. One of the stories in my book tells the tale of the Metamorphosis from the perspective of the protagonist’s sister. Kafka’s story is interesting because his absurd conceit—and a young man who wakes up as an insect—is exploited to explore the most ordinary but critical aspects of family relationships.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

By Ernest Hemingway,

Book cover of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Why this book?

Once again, there is much to learn in style and substance from Hemingway. He was another of my inspirations, although as I matured, I have changed my opinion of him. What stands out now is self-indulgence and the attempt to depict himself as hyper-masculine. The combination of brilliant technical skills and an unattractive personality creates strong dissonance, a good thing for prospective authors to confront.

Selected Stories

By Anton Pavlovich Chekhov,

Book cover of Selected Stories

Why this book?

Chekhov is a master storyteller who conveys important insights into human nature with remarkable parsimony. Chekhov also provides contemporary readers with a certain detachment as he wrote in the nineteenth century and in Russia. Ancient Greek playwrights understood that distant settings provided analytical clarity to contemporary problems and also made people understand their universal nature. Chekhov also serves these aims.

The Garden Party and Other Stories

By Katherine Mansfield,

Book cover of The Garden Party and Other Stories

Why this book?

Mansfield is another pioneering, modernist writer, whose psychologically driven characters have sudden epiphanies. Insights of this kind are extremely difficult to make credible in stories yet she invariably succeeds. Understanding how she pulls this off enriched my understanding of how plots work and how personalities are depicted. I might also add that I am married to a New Zealand and some time in that country, so nice to have a local, so to speak, author.

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Interested in Russia, Dublin, and Ernest Hemingway?

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