The Best Short Stories to Get You Out of a Reading Slump


Sophie Lutkin recommends eight short stories, all under 120 pages, for some weekend reading.

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By Sophie Lutkin

Whether your New Year’s resolution was to read more books (and that early burst of motivation is beginning to wane), or you’re simply in a bit of a reading slump, short stories are the perfect way to get back on track. These titles are all less than 120 pages, so if you’ve got an afternoon off or a cosy evening in, settle down with a sparkling meditation on the American Dream, a thrilling exploration into the limits of scientific possibility, or a moving romance that’s earned its place in the queer canon.

Skinned by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Winner of the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing, Arimah’s Skinned is a searing examination of female autonomy, the trappings of social class, and the hypocrisies that exist within one’s own culture. Envisioning a society in which young girls are ‘uncovered’ once they reach puberty, and must be married before they gain the right to be clothed, Arimah tells the story of Ejem, a woman who remains unclaimed, and therefore unclothed, in adulthood. It can be read online for free at McSweeney’s Quarterly.

Death Sentence by Maurice Blanchot (translated by Lydia Davis)
First published in 1948, Blanchot’s novella is as bold as it is unnerving. The reader follows an unnamed narrator as he witnesses the painful breaking down of a woman’s body from terminal illness, whom we know only as ‘J.’. Later, he finds another woman, motionless after a bomb explosion. With masterful brushstrokes, Blanchot balances an incredible interiority with a jarring flatness of expression, to provide an unforgettable commentary on the nature of both private and public trauma.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the most celebrated works of American fiction, The Great Gatsby needs no introduction—although you may be surprised at its compact size. Fitzgerald captures the superficiality of the ‘Jazz Age’ with fantastic wit, infusing the novella with a playful humour which nonetheless reveals the cruel optimism that characterised the Roaring Twenties. Its copyright having expired in January 2021, Michael Farris Smith has since gone on to publish a prequel, Nick, which has polarised opinion regarding the legacy of this enduring classic.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Inspired by Gilman’s own experience of post-partum depression, The Yellow Wallpaper is a staple in feminist literary history. A nameless woman is driven mad by enforced confinement after the birth of her child, yearning for intellectual stimulation, loving understanding, and meaningful activity. With piercing psychological skill, Gilman contributes her own offering of the ‘madwoman in the attic’, highlighting the needless suffering as a consequence of patriarchal norms.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Known for chilling Gothic thrillers such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson was a master of suspense. However, upon first publication, The Lottery received a barrage of hate from readers, and was even banned for its violent depiction of scapegoating and mob mentality. Contrary to its title, this is a lottery no one wants to win—read it online for free at The New Yorker.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1974, Le Guin’s Omelas is a utopia whose prosperity depends on the unending suffering of a single child. Set during a summer festival in the city, the narrator meditates on those who choose to walk away from the happiness of Omelas, never allowed to return again. Inspiring compassion and philosophical debate, Le Guin’s short story shows how utopias can sometimes be founded on dystopian principles.

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
Proulx’s novella is a raw, authentic, and moving exploration of enduring homosexual love set in the unforgiving American South of the 1960s. Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar are poor ranchers looking for work, tasked with herding and tending the sheep on Brokeback Mountain. With an honesty and a gravity to her writing, Proulx shares the frustrations, hopes, and despair of the two as they grapple with the consequences of their sexuality—read it online for free at The New Yorker.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A classic of Victorian Gothic fiction, Stevenson’s novella is an intricate psychological portrait into the limits of scientific discovery and the perils of the human condition. Belonging equally to the mystery, science-fiction, and horror genres, it played heavily on Victorian sensibilities that even inside the most respectable of men, there lurked a dark and irresistible evil.