3 Short Stories You MUST Read Before You Die

Why 3 and not 5? Because, I’m ashamed to say, I have read a lot more novels than I have read short stories. But YOU are going to change all that. Because today you’ll let me and my readers know what 3 Short Stories you think we HAVE to read at least once before we kick the bucket. Chances are we’ve all been missing out, and that’s why sharing is caring.

As always, here are my picks first. These are The 3 Short Stories You MUST Read Before You Die:

Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

Okay, okay, Mr. Tolstoy. We get it. Not only can you blow us away with incredibly long and involved novels like Ana Karenina and War and Peace, but you can strike to the chord of what’s most important in life in the span of 5 minutes. That’s right, you can read this tiny short story in about 5 minutes and yet what you gain from it is probably more moving, more inspiring and more enlightening than 10 or 20 novels combined. How the heck did Tolstoy do that? Who knows, but us writers will keep on trying to catch up with the master. If you ever wondered what is the most important thing to do in life, what is the most important time to do it in, and who are the most important people to do it with, then read this short story and find out now.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

Ah, the story that made me fall in love with the twist ending. What a great twist ending its is, too. Not like today’s twist endings where someone ends up being a ghost, or a figment of someone’s schizophrenic mind, or it’s revealed that what is causing people to walk backwards and kill themselves is farting grass. (I hate you so much M. Night Shyamalan.) No, at least this twist ending has a point and teaches us all a timeless and important lesson. If there was ever an argument for honesty being the best policy, this story is it. If there was ever a metaphor for the dangers of the modern world’s obsession with material, here you have it. If there was ever a warning against today’s growing debt problem, well, what do you know, here it is too. Not too shabby for a French guy from the 1800’s. But then again he is considered to be one of the fathers of the modern short story. I’m telling you, if they made this into a movie and put everyone in modern clothes, you would go watch that movie and say: “That’s a story for the times!”  I’d cast a Kate Winslet-type as the lead. How about you?

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe

How could I not mention Poe? I think Poe has a place in all of our hearts, at least to me, because I was introduced to him very early. (Which makes me wonder:  why was a story about a murder plot, its execution, and its subsequent cover up–narrated by the murderer himself–taught to me when I was 12? And they complained about Harry Potter, geesh. But I digress.) Poe was the first one to inspire me to start writing short stories. I don’t know what it was (maybe it was that unmistakable dreary mug of his) but he drove my 12 year-old self to start writing dark, horror stories just like his. I’ve since left the genre of horror, but every once in a while, whenever I feel like making my readers feel a bit uneasy, I utilize the lessons I learned from Poe. Poe makes us thrilled by the mad, dark, and frightening things of the world, and in the process, he never forgets to teach us the method to all the madness, and the moral behind it all. In all the years since I read this story, I’ve learned that Poe was right. Guilt is a killer.

much “tear up the planks!–here, here!–it is the beating of his hideous heart!”,


What Short Stories do you think everyone should read before they die?

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40 comments on “3 Short Stories You MUST Read Before You Die

  1. Alice Munro’s short stories are always fantastic. There is also another short story that I read years ago that is an absolute must…I will come back when the name of it returns to me.

  2. There are sooooo many I love, but two that come to mind right away are William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily and Kate Chopin’s Story of an Hour. *Sigh* Such great stories!

  3. Cris says:

    The only short story that made enough of an impression on me to remember it was The Lottery (Shirley Jackson). Still gives me the shivers when I think about it.

    • Cris says:

      So because I just read this blog entry, I went and looked up another short story I always meant to read. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; I just pulled it up online. I really loved it and found it fascinating!

  4. Addy says:

    I’m more into non-fiction, possibly because I can relate to it more than fiction, 2 short books that I really like include “Who Moved my Cheese?”( Since I’m a management graduate!) and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”.. And I guess I must’ve read “The Necklace” but don’t remember it much! Now I sound more like the short story on my blog “Memorable loss of memory”!!!

  5. Matt says:

    The Dead by James Joyce…though I haven’t read enough to make a very informed judgment…

  6. M. Howalt says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve been meaning to read Tolstoy, so perhaps I should start with that.
    I mostly read novels, but I think I would probably go with something Hemingway, although he’s not one of my personal favourites.

    • Ollin says:

      Yeah, I’m the same way. I mostly read novels. But I know for certain there are great short stories out there that we are all missing. Hopefully my readers can give you some ideas of where to start. Yes, Three Questions is awesome. The link to on this post will take you right to it if you want to read it.

      • M. Howalt says:

        I’ve enjoyed some of Neil Gaiman’s short stories too. And some by Margaret Atwood, although I am not certain if they are more on the essay side than the short story side.
        Thank you for the link! I’ll definitely be looking at it!

  7. 83October says:

    I love The Necklace. I’ve never read any Tolstoy in my life. Anyway, short stories I think everyone should read: The Birthday Cake by Daniel Lyons, The Price or Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, and The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas by Ursula Le Guin.

  8. Tammy McLeod says:

    Ollin, I’m always surprised that you find things that I haven’t read. I just finished two different collections of short stories by Amy Bloom. I love her poignant, raw descriptions. I also read Rachel Remen’s My Grandfather’s Blessings and found it full of profound inspiration.

  9. valbrussell says:

    Nine Stories by J.D.Salinger. I read it when I was twenty three and learned that one excellent short story (in this case all nine) could have more of an impact on the reader especially when the subject matter is potent and emotionally charged. I agree with all these choices, they are all brilliant writers.

  10. Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” It is a sweet story that leaves me with a tear every time.

  11. Ken says:

    Raymond Carver is a master of modern short stories. Try “Cathedral,” “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and “A Small, Good Thing.”

    Annie Proulx is also fantastic. Off the top of my head I can think of “Brokeback Mountain,” of course, “Tits Up in a Ditch,” and “Them Old Cowboy Songs.”

    See also Tobias Wolff (“Bullet in the Brain” could change the way you think about literature). And I’m a big fan of Lorrie Moore. “You’re Ugly, Too” is the one that’s most often anthologized.

    • Ollin says:

      Interesting that you mention “Brokeback Mountain,” because I’m sure we’re all familiar with the movie. Thank you for sharing, I can’t wait to read these!

  12. Jessica S says:

    Awww… Come on. What about my short story? LOL! Good boy, by the way, for mentioning my main man, Poe. 😉

  13. Veronica W. says:

    Ollin! I LOVE Poe…he was one of my faves in high school. The Pit and the Pendullum and The Cask of Amantillado. Classics!

    I think everyone should read some of Joyce Carol Oates short stories before they die too. Her moods were always kind of dark or mysterious as well. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a fave of mine by her.

    Also Langston Hughes “Bodies in the Moonlight” (ALLLLL TIME FAVE RIGHT THERE and “Spanish Blood”

    p.s. i gave you a shout on my blood. Keep up the good work. You have DEFINITELY inspired me and I’m glad I came across your blog.


    • Ollin says:

      Hey Veronica!

      I’m so glad to have inspired you. Those are great picks, thank you for sharing! I’ve been meaning to read some more Langston Hughes.

      Thank you for the shout out, I really appreciate you sharing me with your readers.

  14. Zinnia says:

    i remember reading the tale-tell heart in 5th grade and it being the first time that i thought writing was awesome. the way he played with the haunting of a beating heart. the madness that jumped out of the page making it feel oh so real. it is my all time favorite.

  15. brian orme says:

    1. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Englander
    2. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Tower
    3. Snows of Kilimanjaro, Hemingway

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