Short stories for me are a lot like songs. They're arranged into 'albums', sometimes shithouse compilations, but sometimes wonderful works by single artists. The best collections transcend their individual stories to form something greater, but even in the best collections there are standouts. Sometimes the standouts lend their title to the collection as happens in a few of the list below. But the real reason I think of shorts like songs is because my most intense exposure to shorts tories happened in that same critical adolescent stage where I was listening to all those records. When I wasn't doing that I was reading shorts.
This list was much harder than any of the previous three because there's no iTunes for short stories (much to my disgust) and because most of the works I read back in that formative stage came from a library. As such, I have vivid memories of particular works, but I have rarely, if ever, returned to them in the intervening years.
So this was a list I had to think hard about, really reach back in the memory banks and revisit a few of the big anthologies still on my bookshelf.
There is the odd curve ball in there. I'm sure Veny Armanno is mortified I would place one of his early stories in a list with Marquez, Vonnegut, et al. Or maybe not. I really like a story where the main character is shot in the back of the head and falls nose first on the exclamation key of a keyboard. That's just too cool to leave out.
I could have included the whole collection of Carey's, Ballard's, and Vonnegut's. Those three books lit my short story fuse that's been smoldering ever since.
The list is not in any discernible order, though I thought of the first few immediately. The rest have been pieced together. I notice this one is far more varied than my novels list, both in nationality and vintage. I guess that's another advantage of the form: you wind up reading much more widely in the time available.
So, here it is:
- The Fat Man in History — Peter Carey
- War Fever — JG Ballard
- Welcome to the Monkeyhouse — Kurt Vonnegut
- And the Exclamation Marks Hit the Page!!!!!!!!!! — Venero Armanno
- 55 Miles to the Gas Pump — Annie Proulx
- Mushrooms in the City (from Marcovaldo) — Italo Calvino
- Are These Actual Miles? — Raymond Carver
- The Life and Adventures of Shed Number XII — Victor Pelevin
- The Union Buries its Dead — Henry Lawson
- The Langoliers — Stephen King
- The Prowler — David Malouf
- A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings — Gabriel García Márquez
Probably a very individual list and probably not representative of the kind of stuff I write. Or maybe it is. Hell, I'm no judge. I'll let you make of it what you will.