Monday, March 17, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: If you edited a short story collection…

If I could have my own personal collection of great short stories, it would open with E.B. White’s short poem, “Critic.” That poem reads:

“The critic leaves at curtain fall,
to find, in starting to review it,
he scarcely saw the play at all,
for watching his reaction to it.”

Then the first three stories would be:

-Mark Twain’s “Cannibalism in the Cars”
-Eudora Welty’s “Where is That Voice Coming From?”
-Stephen King’s “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet”

The interesting hitch is that, besides them being three writers I love and three stories I can’t stop re-reading, Welty studied Twain and King studied Welty. In a very abstract way, you’d start the collection with a literary descent. It would also help that Twain’s story is delivered from a questionable narrator, whose questionability is strongest as it ends, Welty’s story was written by such a strong and inexplicable voice that she actually titled it to admit she didn’t know how she was coming up with all of it, and King’s story is literally about where inspiration comes from.

After that, we’d go to:

-Percival Everrett’s “The Fix”
-Gabriel Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”

I don’t know enough Gabriel Marquezes to use his middle name. You’re among friends here, Gabe.

-James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
-George Kaufman’s “Annoy Kaufman Inc.”
-Ray Bradbury’s “Zero Hour”
-Ron Carlson’s “The H Street Sledding Record”
-Steve Martin’s “Changes in the Mind After Fifty”
-Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
-Jonathan Swift’s “Battel of the Books”
-Philip Dick’s “The Eyes Have It”
-Roger Zelazny’s “The George Business”
-Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”
-Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”

I would close it out with “The Things They Carried,” being such an amazing piece of voice, but Asimov’s story about reversing entropy is too fitting an end. As not to spite either modern American literary tradition or science fiction canon, though, I’d actually close the collection with Fredric Brown’s classic short short, “The Last Man.” That goes:

“The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

I’m going on another trip, folks. I’ll be back on the 25th. I may post fresh Bathroom Monologues from the road if I get internet access, but I have no idea if that's feasible right now. If you would do me a small kindness, list some of the short stories that would be in your personal collection in the Comments section. With any luck I'll have a lovely little reading list when I get back. Themes are very welcome.


  1. Well... There's Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Kafka's "The Penal Colony". I enjoyed Gabriel's "Very Old Man with Enormous Wings". And Frederic Brown has scores of good ones, I'd recommend the anthology "From These Ashes" of his work. Ursula K.'s "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".

  2. I rarely read short stories! I believe that all of my favorites are ones you've recommended to me first. :-/ But I care! I spent the weekend racking my brains for good short stories, and came up with the only short story collection I have in my bookshelf: Fancies and Goodnights, by John Collier. The whole thing is wonderful, and I've read it over and over again.

  3. "Welcome to the Monkey House", Vonnegut's collection of shorts, is well worth a read.

  4. Thank you both for the recommendations. I've actually never read Ursula Le Guin or John Collier, so I'll have to track them down eventually. I'm collecting a few more short story anthologies and will have to get From These Ashes - I owe it to Mr. Brown for composing my favorite short short.

  5. Some of my favorites are Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem". Raymond Carver has a ton of good short stories. Zora Neale Hurston's "Spunk". Tobias Wolff is also great and he just had a collection of new and selected short stories published titled, "Our Story Begins".


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