10 Short Stories That Every Reader Should Know

Not every great work of literature is a novel. With this list, we’re celebrating the short story form by highlighting ten must-read short works of fiction. These are the ten essential short stories that every reader should know!

We’ve included links to the text of the stories themselves – just click the title to read them. And if we missed any of your favorites, just let us know in the comments!


“Araby” by James Joyce

From Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners, “Araby” is a tale about growing up and falling in love, as well as all of the frustrations that come with those moments. Joyce’s unmatched skill as a writer is on full display in this short and razor-sharp piece. Dubliners came early in Joyce’s career, before he became more experimental, which makes this piece a great place to start for first-time Joyce readers.


“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver was an absolute master of the short story form, and all of his major works are short story collections. Carver’s incredible talent with dialogue makes his stories tense and complex even as it keeps them realistic and human. With Carver, quiet everyday realities loom large and ominous.


“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain

Twain is one of the few writers on this list who isn’t know primarily for short stories. In Twain’s case, though, it’s just because he was known for a little bit of everything. The nation’s greatest humorist wrote essays, novels, and more – including this wonderful and uproarious short story.


“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

The charming story of two lovers, “The Gift of the Magi” is an archetypal O. Henry story. It’s also his most famous. O. Henry’s work is romantic, but not trivial, and he earned the spot he now holds as one of America’s most famous short story writers.


“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor wrote only a couple of novels, but she produced a large number of exceptional short stories. The most famous is “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a dark story about a stranded family that is accosted by a group of murderous criminals. O’Connor’s usual religious themes (she was Roman Catholic) are on display.


“The Lady With the Dog” by Anton Chekhov

Chekhov is generally considered the greatest short story writer of all time, and like his spiritual successors, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Conner, he used the form almost exclusively. Almost any one of Chekhov’s stories could have made this list, but we chose “The Lady With the Dog,” a story about adulterous love that is perhaps his most famous work.


“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“The Lottery” mixes a dark ritual with a contemporary setting, to very unnerving effect. It met with a lot of criticism when it was first published in the 1940s, but it’s since taken its place as an American classic. It’s commonly taught in schools, but if you never had to read it, take some time to do so now!


“The Swimmer” by John Cheever

Cheever’s “The Swimmer” was originally supposed to be a novel. The final short story is the result of Cheever’s intense editing of more than 150 pages of original text. The story has a quiet power that makes it the most memorable of Cheever’s works.


“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez

Márquez is the master of his particular brand of surrealism, called “magical realism.” In this story, as you might expect, there is an old man who really does have enormous wings. As always, though, there’s more to Márquez’s vision than the strange images.


“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is often mentioned as a frontrunner for the Nobel Prize in Literature. When you read this story, you’ll see why. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is an ominous story about a young girl and an older man who tries to get her to take a ride with him.