With 2014 drawing to a close, as I do every year, I'm feeling the distinct desire to ingest media. Most specifically, literature and television. I know, TV's going to rot my brain. Doesn't mean I don't partake of it occasionally, particularly when I'm too tired to properly absorb literature. After all, it would just be a waste to let the written word slide over me, rather than penetrate deep.
But I'm getting way off topic.
Lots of lists float around this time of year: 10 Things to Make 2015 the Best Year Ever, 46 Shows to Watch Before Netflix Rends Them From Their List Next Year, 268 Things You Wish You'd Found out About Early Enough to do Them Before the New Year.
I'm hoping to provide something a little more doable. So I give you my end of the year list: 4 Short Stories You Need to Read Today.
Or, you know, whenever you have the time.
This list spans genre, length, subject, time periods, complexity. The only thing I really tried to do was make sure that, if I included it, it was free to read online. Click the story title in the list and it'll take you right to it. These aren't in any order, other than which story weighed on my mind the most at that exact moment.
So, let us begin.
Borges is arguably the very first writer ever identified with the genre of magical realism. And in a lot of ways, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is most certainly magic realism. But in a lot of ways, it's more. Or less. Or just something else. The 'story' is sort of it's own thing. The closest examples I can give you aren't all that close. It reminds me of Flatland, in the way that the main body of the 'story' is a description of the culture of Tlön. It reminds of me of the early 90's PC game Myst, in the way that the described and heavily detailed world of Tlön becomes it's own sort of reality. And it reminds me of the Codex Seraphinianus… which makes perfect sense, since the Codex was inspired by the short story. But as fair warning, you'll want to make sure you have ample time to read it. It's only about 5,000 words, but you'll likely need to stop at several points to look up certain philosophical theorems, or translate the sprinklings of German and Latin throughout. And then you'll need time to mull through the story after you read it. It's very dense and a very mentally tiring read. But well worth the effort.
Loved by critics, hated by high school students. Which is so often how it goes. But if they could just look past the necessity of their teenage rebellion, they could see how wonderfully tragic The Lady, or The Tiger? is. A princess loves a man too low for her status. When the king finds out, he puts the man to the usual trial for crimes he's put his royal interest in: he must choose between two doors. One hides a woman of appropriate social standing, the other a nearly starved tiger. He doesn't know which door hides which, of course. If he chooses the door with the tiger, it eats him, of course. If he chooses the woman, she doesn't eat him, but he is required to marry her on the spot. The beauty of this story is that the princess knows which door has the tiger, and which door has the woman. But the woman is an attendant the princess despises. As to the fate of the man, it's never revealed.
I often bring up Berenice as one of my favorite short stories, or among the best of Poe, or good short stories you haven't heard of. And for good reason. More than really any story I've ever read, Berenice is just straight-up creepy. And I know that Poe is known for horror, but most of his stories never really got to me. Berenice did. The obsession. The strange catatonic episodes. The memory loss. It all builds to the climax, one of the eeriest scenes ever penned in the English language, in my opinion. Thirty-two little ivory things scattered on the floor.
4: For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn by Ernest Hemingway
Well, possibly by Ernest Hemingway. Technically, the jury is still out on the actual author, but it's widely accepted/purported that it was penned by Hemingway. I don't have a link, because the title is also the full text of the piece. Widely considered the epitome of flash fiction, and for good reason. It is everything flash is supposed to be: tiny, powerful, memorable. And it's among the tiniest, most powerful, and most memorable out there. Just think about it for a moment, think about what it must mean. Or what it might mean. And whether it's really Hemingway or not, the 'Six Word Story' has taken hold of writers everywhere, both as an exciting medium and as a challenge.
Of course, this isn't in any way a comprehensive list. But these are stories you will find jumping to my tongue when someone needs a recommendation.
What are your must read shorts?