Last week I presented a list of ten books by men all men should read (if they want to, of course).
Today I’m trotting out a new reading list – ten short stories I think are worth the price of admission, both for their literary merit, and their ability to inspire and shed light on the human condition in a way that is truthful, even if painful. I think these ten do that, in the most powerful ways possible.
- The Necklace, Guy Maupassant
The loan of a diamond necklace to a young woman for a society ball teaches the lesson that what glitters does not always shine.
It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.
― Guy de Maupassant
- Early Autumn, Langston Hughes
In this story we read about a chance meeting with a former boyfriend on the street. The encounter gives a woman pause for regret on choices made, emphasizing the idea that choices made now can lead to regret later.
I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.
― Langston Hughes
- A Simple Heart, Gustave Flaubert
In this short motivational story we read about an uneducated woman, a life-long domestic who lives to love, showing us why we should all love to live.
Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.
― Gustave Flaubert
7) Witness, John Edgar Wideman
An old man in a wheel-chair, high up in a building, can only look down on the body of a recently murdered boy hidden in some weeds. His helplessness to help is a metaphor, and a powerful message, about the cost of non-involvement in the face of violence.
Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.
― John Edgar Wideman
- The Kite, Somerset W. Maugham
Inspired by the Oedipus model, the story is a warning to those who are stuck in a rut and use familial loyalty as an excuse not to grow up and leave the nest.
The great tragedy of life is not that men perish, but that they cease to love.
― W. Somerset Maugham
- Fifty Grand, Ernest Hemingway
The second best boxing story (I believe) ever written (see number one on this list), Hemingway explores in the visage of pugilist Jack Brennan a running theme in his work (and one of his most famous quotes) – “…a man can be destroyed, but not defeated.”
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.
― Ernest Hemingway
- The Basement Room, Graham Greene
A young boy, left alone under the care of a family butler and housekeeper when his parents go on vacation, realizes that life is more complicated for adults, especially when they behave like children.
When we are not sure, we are alive
― Graham Greene
- The Descent into the Maelstrom, Edgar Allan Poe
A horror story in a way, with a whirlpool of death fueling the action, but also a tale about when to fight and when to let go.
The true genius shudders at incompleteness – and usually prefers silence to saying something which is not everything it should be.
― Edgar Allan Poe
- Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving
A motivational short story and a cautionary tale about letting life pass you by, i.e. wake up and get moving!
Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.
― Washington Irving
1) A Piece of Steak, Jack London
Not just the best boxing story ever written, but the best story that reveals the extremes of human strength and frailty, sentence by sentence, word by word.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
― Jack London