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5 of the Most Compelling Short Stories You Should Read

If you’re struggling to find time to read in the midst of a busy life, but dying to escape into a fictional world, then short stories are the best option for you. 

Short stories help transport you to a completely different setting with only a few pages. They carry with them not only the magic of novels—the vivid descriptions and the complex characters with their complex thoughts—but they also do it with the least amount of words possible. The best short stories are the ones that leave you asking for more, enveloping your thoughts for several days afterwards.

Here is a list of 5 such short stories that you must read at least once in your life.

01. The Tell-Tale Heart (by Edgar Allan Poe)

First published in The Pioneer in 1843, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe is a gruesome short story about a murderer who is convinced that he is hearing the loud beating of his victim’s heart under his floorboards. Narrated by the unnamed murdered, the story is written in such a way so as to convince the reader that the narrator is sane and innocent.

One of Poe’s shortest stories, The Tell-Tale Heart is dark and disturbing. It is an exploration of a man’s intense paranoia – which shows apparent in the way the murderer stalks his victim, and how it terrorizes him to carry out his murder with such precision—and then attempts to rationalize his actions and his own feelings afterwards. 

This is a story that can be read in one sitting, but one that will leave you with a head full of thoughts for weeks to come. Get it on Amazon.

02. Cathedral (by Raymond Carver)

Cathedral, a short story by American author and poet Raymond Carver, was first published in his book of the same title in 1983. Raymond Carver is like Ernest Hemingway: what makes their writings powerful and unrivalled is their portrayal of the working class unable to escape their varying states of loneliness and isolation.

Cathedral is a story that centers around two men—one blind, and one not. The man with sight is dissatisfied with life, but his perspectives change drastically when he encounters his wife’s blind friend. According to Bruce Allen of The Monitor, this short story is “about learning how to imagine, and feel—and it’s the best example so far of the way Raymond Carver’s accomplished miniaturist art is stretching itself, exploring new territories.”

Find it on Amazon.

03. The Yellow Wallpaper (by Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. This short story played an important role in addressing the stigma around physical and—especially—mental health of women back in the 1800s, at a time when women

In this brilliant short story, a young mother suffers from postpartum depression and gradually undergoes mental deterioration without any proper treatment. She is prescribed a “rest cure.” Meaning that she can not stimulate her senses – giving her no opportunity to improve, resulting in the state of her mental health and her becoming obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom.

This story is partially based on the author’s own battles with postpartum depression after the birth of her first baby, and of her own experiences with doctors during that period of her life. “I don’t like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?”

Get the book from Amazon.

04. The Bear Came Over the Mountain (by Alice Munro)

Originally published in the December edition of The New Yorker in 1999, The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro is a story that deals with how a couple’s domestic life is disrupted due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Fiona, married to Grant for forty-five years, finds herself slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. During her stay at a care home for treatment, she forgets her marriage to Grant and grows attached to a temporary resident named Aubrey. By giving this devastating story about old age the title of a children’s song The Bear Came Over the Mountain, Alice Munro has woven a brilliant juxtaposition that will stay with you for a long time.

05. Story of Your Life (by Ted Chiang)

A science fiction short story, Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, first published in Starlight 2 in 1998 (and later in his collection of short stories), changes our perspectives on time and language.

The arrival of an alien race that uses a vastly different means of communication prompts scientists on earth to decipher their language—which opens up a pathway to the future. And yet, this is not a story about time travel—it deals with far more fundamental questions like, “If you know what’s going to happen, will you keep it from happening?”

Find Story of Your Life on Amazon.


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Sharika Hafeez

Sharika Hafeez is a nerd, and she’s proud of it. Growing up, she fell in love with books and writing, and is currently following her undergraduate degree (for some mysterious reasons) in Physics. She likes procrastinating by watching the stars with a steaming cup of tea, composing poetry in her head.

December 17, 2021

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