I love reading. Not just books though, I’ll read anything. The labels of cereal boxes, ancient tax returns, even the literature religious people hand out in the street. It’s all great. But the novel is the fundamental unit of literature and I can’t count how many hours I’ve spent with a good book. Say, though, that you don’t have the time to read your way through great tomes like “Atlas Shrugged”, say you have an sixty minutes, maybe more, maybe less. Well in that case you need a short story. But what to choose? There are more short stories than there are full novels, well never fear, here’s a list of five short stories you can read online.
Five Short Stories You can Read Online
Signs and Symbols by Vladimir Nabokov
Starting off with a short one. Nabokov’s Signs and Symbols was first published in the New Yorker on May 15, 1948. It’s a seemingly straight forward tale of an elderly couple going to visit their deranged son at a sanitarium. When they arrive they are turned away due to their son’s suicide attempt. They return home, eat jam and that’s pretty much it. The story might lack Nabokov’s usual flash, but it is still very well written. He claimed there was another plot, hidden beneath the surface of the story, and that may well be the case. I prefer to think of the text as the perfect example of apophenia, the penchant for the human mind to see meaning where there is none. But thankfully, your interpretation is as important as anyone’s.
Sea Oak by George Saunders
This one is a bit of a slow burn. The setting is fascinating, and the characters filled me with revulsion before it became an absurdist look at motivation and self. Saunders has written many short stories, but he considers this one his best, and it’s not hard to see why. It is told from the perspective of a male stripper in an unknown and odd future, who lives in slum housing with his sisters and his maiden aunt. He is resigned to his life and holds on to a small shred of dignity. His sisters are wastrels who sit at home all day, studying during commercials and raising their kids. The aunt is terminally optimistic, though she has nothing to be thankful for. The story really kicks into high gear once she dies, I don’t want to spoil anything else. Suffice it to say I was shocked and greatly humored the first time I read it.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin
This story is a masterpiece. Written in an almost stream of mass consciousness fashion, as though the author is trying to convey the joy and perfect life of the people of Omelas to as many sensibilities as possible. Happiness in a society is seen as almost primitive, Ursula effectively displays a community that is not primitive, but is still happy, that is not backwards, but still has this joy. With the reason for their happiness, their guilt free lives is a horror that not all can live with, and nobody can repair. Haunting little story that you can read through in about thirty minutes.
Chance Traveler by Haruki Murakami
This is another one I really love. It’s about the little miracles and coincidences of modern life. Those little one in a million chances that crop up nine times out of ten. It relays a story that a friend of Murakami told him. True events, with names changed to protect the innocent. We as humans are programmed to see patterns, I mentioned it in the Nabokov section, it’s why coincidence seem important to us. Three F1 drivers get the same lap time down to the hundredth of a second or you spontaneously sing a song at the same time as you brother for no reason. We want to know what they mean. But truly they mean nothing. Until we give them meaning. That is what Chance Traveler is about, deciding that a few little coincidences mean so much to a person.
Three Worlds Collide by Eliezer Yudkowsky
You’re not going to find this story on many people’s lists. It’s a little longer than the others, straddling the line between novella and short story, but I feel it needs more recognition. For me there has never been a better example of alien morality. A science fiction story that explores the themes of naturalistic meta-ethics and what it is to be rational when faced with systems of morality that are both alien and familiar. In it three races make first contact with each other. First humans meet a race of enlightened art loving aliens who consume their own young. We are obviously horrified by the realization. The second is an alien species far beyond our own in terms of scientific advances but who removed pain and suffering from themselves, and as such are horrified by us. I really don’t do it justice, they way the story is written and presented paints every species in shades of grey, yes even the baby-eaters. Read if you have the time.
So there we have it. Five short stories you can read online. These are just a few of my personal favorites, and one that I felt needed more exposure. If you have anymore suggestions leave a comment, let us know. There’s nothing better than finding something great and new among the chaff of published works.