Readers suggest the 10 best short-story collections

Last week we brought you our 10 best short-story collections. Here, we present your thoughts on what should have made the list

Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges at home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1983.
Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images Photograph: Christopher Pillitz/Getty Images


Jorge Luis Borges, 1962

As recommended by Rory Finbar, robjam, herero, and Matt Bluemink

Translated from Spanish to English and published in 1962, Labyrinths was the most popular suggestion among our readers. Written mainly during the second world war, the collection contains some of Borges’s most celebrated work, including The Library of Babel, the story of an unimaginably vast library that contains every possible variation of a 410-page book. The story would go on to inspire many other writers, including Umberto Eco and Terry Pratchett, to use a variation of the concept in their writings.

Winesburg, Ohio.jpg
Photograph: PR

Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson, 1919

As recommended by Yosserian, petersalmon and JumbleBuns

Known as a “short-story cycle” because of the way in which its stories are all united by location but do not form a cohesive novel, Winesburg, Ohio is considered to be one of the earliest examples of modernist literature. The characters in the collection are all struggling to overcome the loneliness that is a feature of living in the eponymous town. Anderson said he wrote the first of the stories while naked, and that he finished each of the pieces in one sitting. It is “brilliant, discursive and moving,” says petersalmon, who claims to be reading it “for about the 10th time”.

James Joyce
Fran Caffrey/Getty Images Photograph: Fran Caffrey/AFP/Getty Images


James Joyce, 1914

As recommended by safarikent and Steve Petherbridge

The oldest collection in this selection, Dubliners had a chequered history, sent to 15 hesitant publishers, one of whom deliberately burned the papers after deciding not to go through with the printing. And this was the book deemed to be Joyce’s most accessible, using none of the stream-of-consciousness with which the author would later become synonymous. The tales in Joyce’s only short-story collection are united by a preoccupation with paralysis and death. Steve Petherbridge calls Joyce “peerless and ageless” and highlights The Dead and Eveline as shining examples of the author’s prowess.

Author Mavis Gallant, 87, at Le Dome Restaurant, Paris, France. Commissioned for Review
Paul Cooper for the Guardian Photograph: Paul Cooper for the Guardian

Home Truths

Mavis Gallant, 1981

As recommended by neutralobserver

Mavis Gallant is “the best short-story writer of all time”, in the words of neutralobserver, and she is praised also by herero and CharlesLambert. The much-loved Canadian author, who died this year at the age of 91, wrote a dozen short-story collections and won the Rea Award for the Short Story as a result. Home Truths zones in on Canadian identity, the narrator targeting for criticism the English-speaking Canadians of whom Gallant was nominally a member. It is, like the rest of her work, the writing of someone with a fine ear for conversation and a gift for deceptively clever prose.

Will Self seen before speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Murdo Macleod for the Guardian Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

The Quantity Theory of Insanity

Will Self, 1991

As recommended by Rory Finbar

Will Self shot to fame in the early 90s with The Quantity Theory of Insanity, which caught the eye of Martin Amis and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1993. Self’s debut comprises only six stories, of which Ward 9, about a psychiatric institution, is the longest by a country mile. The collection is bleak, satirical and host to Self’s famously extensive vocabulary. As with a lot of his work, it divided opinion: the New York Times said, “To be alive and British, it seems, is as unattractive and dull as being dead.”

Steps (Jerzy Kosinski), 1968
Photograph: PR


Jerzy Kosinski, 1968

As recommended by sglennon

In sglennon’s words, “Jerzy Kosinski’s Steps is a superb and haunting collection of sories from the darker side of humanity.” Devoid of any names of either people or places, the collection by the Polish-American was a commercial failure but won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1969. Kosinksi’s narrator asphyxiates butterflies, throws bottles at old men, and watches an octopus slowly eat its own tentacles. David Foster Wallace, whose work sglennon cites in the same breath, said that Steps was “a collection of unbelievably creepy little allegorical tableaux done in a terse elegant voice that’s like nothing else anywhere ever”.

This is how you lose her
Photograph: PR

This Is How You Lose Her

Junot Diaz, 2012

As recommended by TreesAreGood

TreesAreGood champions This Is How You Lose Her, the second collection by Pulitzer prize-winning writer and professor Junot Diaz. The stories centre around a character named Yunior, and all examine infidelity and the difficulties men face in creating lasting relationships with women. “It’s not exactly cheerful, I’ve got to say,” says TreesAreGood, “but in the end I felt rewarded for reading all the stories – and not stopping after one or two.” Diaz’s work, peppered with slang from the author’s native Dominican Republic, is widely praised for its lyricism and dexterity.

1984, USA, Raymond Carver
Bob Adelman/Corbis Photograph: Bob Adelman/Corbis

Elephant and Other Stories

Raymond Carver, 1988

As recommended by Dragonluck

Carver is acknowledged to be one of the writers that revived the dying art of the short story, and Elephant, published in the year of his death, is examplary of the straightforward, spare style Carver employed throughout his career. His writing has been described as “dirty realism” – a form of fiction concerned with “the belly-side of contemporary life”, in the words of Granta’s Bill Buford. The stories in Elephant are largely unremarkable in subject matter and evince Carver’s gift for shining a light on the lives of ordinary people.

Kiss Kiss, Roald Dahl
Photograph: PR

Kiss Kiss

Roald Dahl, 1960

As recommended by Daniel Carpenter

Readers mention Roald Dahl three times but Daniel Carpenter is the only one to recommend a specific collection: Kiss Kiss, Dahl’s particularly macabre compendium. Unlike the work for which Dahl is most famous, these tales are for adults (though one – Champion of the World – would later become a children’s book in its own right). They include Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat, a story that was adapted for the screen and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and Edward the Conqueror, a tale about a cat that might be Franz Liszt reincarnate. KelvinH calls Dahl “the master of tightly written stories. One page, two pages...gripping.”

Jesus' Son
Photograph: PR

Jesus’ Son

Denis Johnson, 1992

As recommended by davidseaman

davidseaman is pretty sure about this one; Jesus’ Son is “(and I don’t care what anyone else thinks on this subject; if you disagree with me, you are wrong and I am right) the single greatest short story collection there is”. Johnson came to prominence with this, his first collection about addicts in rural America told through a frenetic and anonymous narrator. davidseaman says that the collection’s strength lies in the fact that “there is not a story in it that could be removed, replaced or altered for the better”. Because it is like a novel to perhaps a greater extent than any other collection on this list, it was adapted into a well-received film in 1999, directed by Alison Maclean.

Observer readers

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

The 10 best short story collections
Elizabeth Day chooses the sharpest and smartest of small but perfectly formed works of fiction

Elizabeth Day

17, Oct, 2014 @11:00 AM

Readers suggest the 10 best Christmases in literature
Last week we brought you the 10 best Christmases in literature. Here we present your thoughts on which stories should have made the list…

24, Dec, 2014 @12:00 PM

Readers suggest the 10 best dystopias
Last week we brought you our 10 best Dystopias. Here, we present your thoughts on what should have made the list

Observer readers

15, Aug, 2014 @4:43 PM

Readers suggest the 10 best pirates
Last week we brought you our 10 best pirates. Here, we present your thoughts on which swashbucklers should have made the list…

Observer readers

04, Dec, 2014 @4:54 PM

The 10 best Christmases in literature
From a charming scene in War and Peace to Kingsley Amis’s depiction of a ghastly crew of septuagenarians, Kate Kellaway picks the best Christmases in literature

Kate Kellaway

19, Dec, 2014 @12:00 PM

Readers suggest the 10 best city novels
Last week we brought you our 10 best city novels. Here, we present your thoughts on those novels you think should make the list

Igrain Roberts

21, May, 2015 @11:00 AM

Readers suggest the 10 best quotable novels
Last week we brought you our 10 best quotable novels. Here, we present your thoughts on the books that should have made the list

22, Jan, 2015 @1:10 PM

Article image
Take risks and tell the truth: how to write a great short story
Drawing on writers from Anton Chekhov to Kit de Waal, Donal Ryan explores the art of writing short fiction. Plus Chris Power on the best books for budding short story writers

Donal Ryan

14, Aug, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Readers suggest the 10 best vicars
Recently we brought you our 10 best vicars. Here are your suggestions as to who should have made the list

Marita Moloney

29, Dec, 2015 @4:52 PM

Readers suggest the 10 best feminists
Last week, to mark International Women’s Day, we listed the 10 best feminists. From Pankhurst to Greer, here are those you felt should have made the cut

Observer readers

12, Mar, 2015 @12:30 PM