The best short story/short novel collections

Theodore Irvin Silar Author Of Five Moral Tales
By Theodore Irvin Silar

The Books I Picked & Why


By Jorge Luis Borges

Book cover of Labyrinths

Why this book?

Labyrinths is the most uncanny short story collection I’ve ever read. No other writing I know compares to it. Borges builds each story from a philosophical concept. 

For example:

What if the tree that fell in the forest really didn’t exist?

What if life was deliberately random?

What if you could only think of one thing?

What if you could remember everything?

Sound boring? No way. Just the opposite, because these mind-boggling ideas play out in the everyday world, the world of groceries, love letters, collies, fountain pens. 

No matter how often I do, each time I read a Borges story, I sit back, and my mind reels off across the universe. Truly, indescribably profound.

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The Explorers

By C.M. Kornbluth

Book cover of The Explorers

Why this book?

I first read The Explorers when I was a child. I delighted in it then and still do. Its style got to me first. A real literary style. Some of the stories are hard-boiled, Raymond Chandler in space. Some poetic. But so much better than most clunky SF. And also, so unconventional This is not Azimov. Rather than space opera, we get a scientist drunk, bemoaning his “contributions” to space flight. Instead of wondrous inventions, we get cheesy computer art. Brainless generals celebrate nuclear war. Well-written, unusual, simultaneously funny and sad, The Explorers is a masterpiece of 50s SF.

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Six Great Modern Short Novels

By William Faulkner, James Joyce, Herman Melville, Nikolay Gogol, Katherine Anne Porter, Glenway Wescott

Book cover of Six Great Modern Short Novels

Why this book?

I recently re-read Six Great Modern Short Novels, after I’d been reading a lot of recent commercial fiction. I shook my head in amazement. A thought came unbidden into my head: “This is what they mean by great literature.” All six novels are simply so much ̶  better (I can say it no better). I had read it as a youth. But the second time was even more compelling. Even the lesser novels were light-years ahead of your run-of-the-mill bestseller. Each left me with a feeling I had forgotten literature could engender ̶ a kind of exalted acceptance, an awed wonder, a transcendence, a nobility. Read them one at a time. All at once may be too powerful.

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Four Short Stories: A Great Storyteller at His Best

By W. Somerset Maugham, Henri Matisse

Book cover of Four Short Stories: A Great Storyteller at His Best

Why this book?

Any Maugham story has to be great. This collection is no exception. Usually a character in his own stories, Maugham will play the part of reader’s confidant, recounting a story about a friend of his, or a friend of a friend, as it were second-hand. I particularly like how he handles the theme of money in this collection (unlike Balzac, who introduces money with a truncheon): no big deal; but such a bother. Each story seems a trifling anecdote, distanced, cursory ̶ until the perfect note of pathos slips in. And Matisse’s simple line drawings complement Maugham’s prose nicely.

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Selected Stories

By Guy de Maupassant, Brian Rhys, Marjorie Laurie

Book cover of Selected Stories

Why this book?

I like how de Maupassant, in this collection (like Balzac, only more succinctly), runs the gamut of society: two vagrants who live in a rowboat, milkmaids, nuns, soldiers, clerks, seamstresses, shop-owners, the elegant and fashionable, counts and countesses. Likewise he runs the gamut of tone from tragedy to romance to slapstick to farce to sophisticated wit. Each story is so different, one might suspect multiple authors, but for that unmistakable, to-the-point style ̶ and that perfect kicker at the end. De Maupassant is the wizard, some say the originator, of the modern short story. This is real literature in miniature.

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