Confession: I do not generally like novellas or short stories. If a story is worth telling, it seems to me it should go on for as long as possible — or at least for a good couple of hundred pages. I’m usually left unsatisfied by shorter works of fiction, and my favorite books tend to be on the long side. So for today’s Armchair BEA topic, which asks us to celebrate those small-scale narratives, I had to think hard to come up with a list of favorite shorts. But when I got started, I had a hard time stopping! It seems I do like short fiction, as long as there is enough of it.
The Light Princess and The Golden Key – George MacDonald
Two long fantasy stories by MacDonald, one a humorously profound tale about a princess who loses her gravity (in both senses), the other a dreamlike journey full of luminous images.
A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Not perhaps the strongest story about consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his indispensable companion, Dr. Watson, but it’s good to start at the beginning and learn how their partnership began, while being introduced to Holmes’s endlessly entertaining inductive methods. You can always skip the weird Mormon interlude in the middle.
E. Nesbit Fairy Stories – E. Nesbit
This collection edited by Naomi Lewis includes most of Nesbit’s best original fairy tales, which comically mix modern elements into traditional forms.
Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner – A.A. Milne
Please, avoid Disneyfied versions at all costs and read the originals aloud, preferably to a child. If you think of them as too twee and precious, you’ll be amazed at the craft of these perfect small narratives that can interest and amuse a five-year-old while slyly commenting on universal human foibles.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Thornton Wilder
I posted about the beautiful Heritage Press edition of this brief novel here. Using Wilder’s favored mode of linked short narratives, it brings to life a whole world of distinctive characters, from aristocrats to peasants. Wilder sets his story in 18th century Peru, but his people, while convincingly of their place and time, are also universal in their struggles with the great questions of life, death, love, and fate.
Carry On, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
This collection of stories about the hapless Bertie Wooster and his brainiac valet, Jeeves, contains some of their most hilarious escapades, and sets the stage for further developments in more stories and novels.
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but this book captivated me at an early age with its alternately creepy, elegaic, poetic, and stark visions of a brilliantly imagined future in which we conquer Mars, and then it conquers us.
Travel Light – Naomi Mitchison
Daughter of a king but raised by bears, Halla makes her way from the forest to the great city of Byzantium with determination and a bit of magic, encountering dragons, valkyries, and the All-Father himself on the way. If it sounds odd, it is — but also oddly charming. This is a companion of sorts to a much longer book I also love, The Corn King and the Spring Queen.
84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
A reader’s delight, 20 years of letters between an American who craves real books and the London bookshop that becomes her source. Some interesting details of the before-and-after story of the book and its 1971 publication are found in this article.
The Serial Garden – Joan Aiken
A long-unfulfilled wish of the author’s finally came to fruition after her death with this collection of all the Armitage family stories. Written over the course of more than 50 years, these tales of magic invading ordinary life display Aiken’s distinctive blend of imagination and humor to its best advantage.