Congratulations everybody! We are finally in the home-stretch of the mess that has been 2020. Today is the Winter solstice – meaning it is the shortest day of the year, the longest night, and the Earth’s axis is tilted to its absolute farthest away from the sun (for the Northern hemisphere, at least).
This year is extra special, though. It is not just for the fact that it’s been an especially bad year, so the thought of it coming to an end and days getting longer is something to look forward to. It is also special for the fact that it will be what is known as a “great conjunction” this year, meaning Jupiter and Saturn will be almost in alignment with one another. They come as close as within one degree to one another from our point of view, and this is something that hasn’t happened since the 1600s!
In honor of the shortest day of the year, and this special astronomical sight, here are five short stories that you can read after you come back inside from viewing the conjunction:
1. May Day by F Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
Taking place on May 1, 1919; May Day follows a down-on-his-luck Yale graduate, or more recently returned soldier, who struggles to rejoin his old life and friends. At the same time, though, it also follows two other returned soldiers who are looking for a good time, hopefully filled with a lot of alcohol. Read the story yourself to find out how their paths cross on this night that would come to be defined by the violent demonstrations that swept through Manhattan.
2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber (1939)
Don’t be fooled by the title of this one, as the plot of the short story inspired the 2013 movie only in its premise. The two storylines diverge quite dramatically from the get-go, considering the fact that in the short story, Walter Mitty is married and in Connecticut, while the movie portrays a single Walter Mitty in Manhattan. However, the story is James Thurber’s most famous, originally being published in the New Yorker, and is the perfect light-hearted read as we look to better days ahead.
3. The Veldt by Ray Bradbury (1950)
If you have read Ray Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine, the storyline of this might seem familiar to you. However, this 1950 version is the virtual reality equivalent of the heaven machine from a chapter in his 1957 novel. “The Veldt” portrays the Hadley family, who has a virtual reality room in their house that is referred to as the “nursery.” The story takes a very Bradburian turn though, when the parents decide they want to turn the room off and bring the children away from its effects.
4. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates (1966)
Fans of Bob Dylan rejoice, as this short story was dedicated to the legendary singer himself. Oates dedicated it to him after his song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” inspired her to write it. Of course, the story is what made me realize how eerie the song actually is as well. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is about Connie, a beautiful teenage girl who wants nothing more than to get out of her house. You know how the saying goes, though, “be careful what you wish for.”
5. Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian (2017)
We jump forward quite a bit on this one, but how could I not for the story that took the world by storm? Another New Yorker story, “Cat Person” centers around Margot, a twenty-year-old who finds herself on an uncomfortable date with an older man. Everybody was talking about and debating over the story when it was first published, but at the end of the day, the situation is more common among young women today than anybody would like to admit – especially when you read the last text Robert sends Margot.