Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pantheon of Stories That Really Do It for Me

  • "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" Sherman Alexie
  • "My First Goose" Isaac Babel
  • "Sonny's Blues" James Baldwin
  • "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" Ambrose Bierce
  • "Greasy Lake" T.C. Boyle
  • "Mollusks" Arthur Bradford
  • "A .45 to Pay the Rent" Charles Bukowski
  • "Viewfinder," "Cathedral," "A Small, Good Thing," "Why Don't You Dance?" Raymond Carver
  • "I'll Be Waiting" Raymond Chandler
  • "The Swimmer" John Cheever
  • "The Secret Sharer" Joseph Conrad
  • "The High Divide," "Drummond & Son" Charles D'Ambrosio
  • "Where We'll Never Grow Old" Tom De Haven
  • "The Fat Girl," "A Father's Story" Andre Dubus
  • "The Prophet from Jupiter," "Charlotte" Tony Earley
  • "Dry September" William Faulkner
  • "Rock Springs" Richard Ford
  • "The Ledge" Lawrence Sargent Hall
  • "Wakefield" Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • "Indian Camp," "The Killers" Ernest Hemingway
  • "The Lottery," "The Beautiful Stranger" Shirley Jackson
  • "Emergency," "Work" Denis Johnson
  • "An Encounter," "Eveline," "Clay" James Joyce
  • "The Body" Stephen King
  • "To Build a Fire" Jack London
  • "The Woman at the Store" Katherine Mansfield
  • "Pierrot" Guy de Maupassant
  • "Bartleby, Scrivener" Herman Melville
  • "Fiat Homo" Walter M. Miller Jr.
  • "Demonology" Rick Moody
  • "People Like That Are the Only People Here" Lorrie Moore
  • "Wild Swans" Alice Munro
  • "The Things They Carried" Tim O'Brien
  • "The Turkey," "The Heart of the Park," "Everything That Rises Must Converge"Flannery O'Connor
  • "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Fall of the House of Usher" Edgar Allan Poe
  • "Typical" Padgett Powell
  • "The Birds for Christmas" Mark Richard
  • "Goodbye, Columbus" "The Conversion of the Jews" Philip Roth
  • "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" J.D. Salinger
  • "Last Night" James Salter
  • "The Falls," "The Four Hundred Pound CEO" George Saunders
  • "Girls in Their Summer Dresses" Irwin Shaw
  • "Love is a Fallacy" Max Shulman
  • "Dori Bangs" Bruce Sterling
  • "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" James Thurber
  • "A & P" John Updike
  • "Harrison Bergeron" Kurt Vonnegut
  • "Incarnations of Burned Children" David Foster Wallace
  • "Say Yes," "Hunters in the Snow," "A White Bible" Tobias Wolff
This list is provisional. It has been over twenty years since I last read some of these stories. I might change my mind when/if I read them again. And I sure hope I'll be able to add to the list. That's why I keep reading.
This list is highly personal. It is not a list of the best. It certainly is not a list of the greatest. These are not the stories I would use to teach any sort of class. They are simply stories that moved me, moved me so greatly that they affected me bodily -- laughter, tears, tingling, a cold fist clenched in the gut. Just reading the titles of some of these still gives me chills.
I hope that doesn't sound hyperbolic. It occurs to me, though, that some people may not understand. I know stories don't affect everyone this way. But I bet something does. Music? Certain paintings? A movie? A good meal? Like that.
Putting this list together has been edifying. There are a lot of writers I admire tremendously whose stories do not appear. Writers I admire, stories I like, stories I've learned from and enjoyed. These stories wanted to creep into the list, but I took them back out. They didn't do "it," whatever "it" is. Mostly they just didn't affect me physically. Maybe some of them will make an appearance down the road as I continue to read.
Now with that out of the way, this is an interesting list to look over. Mostly Americans. So few women, which really surprises me. I'm pretty sure a similar list of novels would not be so gender-biased. Apparently, I'm way more affected by big emotions in a story than I would have thought. I guess because I spend so much time thinking about form and prose and technique when I read. Missing the forest for the trees.
I alluded to weeding out some stories I admire and like, but what's weirder is there are a couple of stories on this list (no names, sorry) by writers I generally despise. There's a lesson in that somewhere, but I suspect I will fail to learn it.
The stories here could hardly be called obscure. An embarrassing number of them are school anthology stalwarts. But I'm trying to be honest, not cool. (We all know already how cool I am.) Anyway, Google is rapidly doing away with the whole notion of obscure. So if any of these are unfamiliar, and you're looking for a good read, Google is your friend.
I'd love to read other peoples' lists, either in the comments or on your web logs.


  1. Imported on behalf of: Mark

    Great to see you active again - 3 posts and just days apart! tremendous! I've read the other blog - understanably, the theme may be wearing down - becoming less relevant. Hopefully a new avenue will open soon, a pleasant one this time. ; )

    Quite the list you've got there.

  2. Imported on behalf of: Lee
    That's the Moore in question. About "The Falls", probably, but I'm not sure. I like a lot of Saunders stories.

    Kessel, well, he's not my only mentor, and while all of them have written high quality, memorable stories, Dr. Kessel included, the only one that came to mind for this list was the novella by Tom De Haven.

    Again, this list is determined as much by personal reaction as by the innate quality of the story.

    Hey! It turned out to be a short-lived burst of bloggish productivity, as life interferes once again.