Five-Star Short Fiction

I think short fiction is one of the greatest types of literature. The compressed stories, intense situations, surprising ironic twists and abrupt finishes are some of the things I love about short stories. They always leave me thinking! Here’s a list of my favorites. What are yours?

a rose for emily pic


“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner



Best American Short Stories 1993


“An Angel on the Porch” by Thomas Wolfe


Babylon Revisited


“Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald



Best American Short Stories 1994


“Cold Snap” by Thom Jones

Scribner Anthology big


“Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood

Scribner Anthology big


“Gryphon” by Charles Baxter

in the gloaming


“In the Gloaming” by Alice Elliott Dark

Best American Short Stories 1993


“Red Moccasins” by Susan Power

Scribner Anthology big


“Same Place, Same Things” by Tim Gautreaux

the chrysanthemums pic


“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck

The Horse Dealer's Daughter new


“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” by D. H. Lawrence

The Most Dangerous Game


“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell

The Necklace pic

“The Necklace”
by Guy de Maupassant

The Oblong Box


“The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allan Poe

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty new


“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber


“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
by Ernest Hemingway

the joy luck club pic


“Two Kinds” from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan



I also enjoyed these collected stories by two of the greatest short fiction writers:

Dear Life cover


Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro







Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood



What’s your favorite genre?  Leave a comment and let’s get talking!

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Book Club Mom’s Best of 2015


I’m jumping in and sharing my favorites of 2015 – what were yours?

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

the grapes of wrath

Night by Elie Wiesel


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all the light we cannot see

“The Year of Getting to Know Us” by Ethan Canin

Scribner Anthology

“The Man Who Knew Belle Starr” by Richard Bausch

Scribner Anthology

Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

Just Enough Jeeves

Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Just Enough Jeeves

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites cover

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins cover

What did you read in 2015?  Have you made a list of favorites?

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck


Why Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people – we go on. – Ma Joad

When nothing will grow on your farm in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, when half your house has been bulldozed away by your landowner, when you sell as many belongings as you can, buy a car, add a makeshift trailer and pile three generations of your family inside and on top, next to mattresses, frying pans, barrels, a couple slaughtered and salted pigs and a dog, for the longest journey you’ve ever made, where do you get your strength? You get it from your family and the people around you who are struggling just like you.

The Grapes of Wrath is one of the greatest American stories of endurance ever told. It’s a fictional account of the Joad family and a real-life depiction of the western migration of about two hundred thousand displaced farm workers during The Great Depression, people who left their homes in Oklahoma and the surrounding states with the promise of work and a better life in California. When they reach California and discover what the real relationship is between big-time farmers and poor migrants, when they are forced to take pennies for a long day of picking peaches or cotton or grapes, when they earn barely enough to feed their families, even when they live in tents and shacks and railroad cars and are nearly starving, they don’t give up.

Maybe you’ve never read The Grapes of Wrath. There’s so much information and analysis about this great classic, I don’t think I can come close to offering anything new. So I’m just going to tell you what I like about the story.

  • The characters are terrific. Some are strong, some are weak, but they face their ordeal with surprising optimism, even when there is little hope.
  • My favorite is Ma. She isn’t afraid to assert herself and her quick thinking gets the family out of more than a few tough situations. She talks plain, but she’s smart and insightful. When Pa complains that Ma is telling him what to do, he suggests that “it’s purty near time to get out a stick.” Ma stands up to him. “You get your stick, Pa. Times when they’s food an’ a place to set, then maybe you can use your stick an’ keep your skin whole…But you jus’ get you a stick now an’ you ain’t lickin’ no woman; you’re a fightin’, cause I got a stick all laid out too.” She makes crucial decisions by instinct. She understands people and has a vision of what things can be like if everyone pulls together. She accepts everyone’s weaknesses and sees how they can contribute.
  • Jim Casy, the preacher, is another character with depth and vision. He’s humble and he understands his sins. The fact that he questions his ability to preach makes his ideas all the more powerful. He seems to have it right when he says, “I got thinkin’ how we was holy when we was one thing, an’ mankin’ was holy when it was one thing. An’ it on’y got unholy when one mis’able little fella got the bit in his teeth an’ run off his own way, kickin’ and draggin’ an’ fightin’. Fella like that bust the holiness.”
  • I like how the family forgives each other for their weaknesses. They don’t dwell on them. Tom Joad has served his time for murder and the family accepts him. They understand when Noah goes off. When Al goes out “tomcatting,” they accept this as inevitable. Instead, they see how great he is with the car and they give him confidence. They tolerate Uncle John’s occasional drunkenness. They understand that’s the only way he can cope with his own sorrow. They accept Rosasharn’s preoccupation with her pregnancy, Granma’s and Grandpa’s craziness. They know that they can’t change some things. They focus instead on getting to California.
  • When tragedy strikes again and again, they deal with it. They don’t feel sorry for themselves. They aren’t passive. They defend themselves if they have to. They try to do things right, but they don’t feel guilty about things when they cut corners or break some rules. And they aren’t afraid. When the service station boy tells Tom he has nerve for crossing the California desert in the night, Tom answers plainly, “It don’t take no nerve to do somepin when there ain’t nothin’ else you can do.”
  • They are generous. Even when they have nothing, they offer to help their neighbors. And their neighbors help in return. They have their community of family and shantytown neighbors.

When The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” He put heart and soul into expressing his outrage over the treatment of these poor migrant farm workers and he did it with vivid descriptions and powerful characters.

Did you read The Grapes of Wrath in high school or college? Have you read it more than once? This is my third time and I give it five bookmarks for its lasting story and important message.

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What’s up next? The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

This is what my copy looks like!
This is what my copy looks like!

The Grapes of Wrath is one of my all-time favorites and I’m excited to read it again. If you haven’t read it, put it on your list. It’s the kind of book that will keep you thinking about American farmers during The Great Depression and Steinbeck’s terrific characters long after you’ve finished.

Set during the Depression, Steinbeck tells the story of the Joads, a poor migrant farming family from Oklahoma. For thousands of tenant farmers, the Dust Bowl brought on great economic hardship, and the growth of big farming businesses squeezed workers out of their place in the economy. With nowhere else to go, the Joads headed to California, in search of land, jobs and a better life.

Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath because he wanted to show his sympathy for the migrants’ plight. Here’s what he said,

“I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.”  He later added,  “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”

Steinbeck had trouble coming up with a title. His wife suggested The Grapes of Wrath. This phrase comes from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

These lyrics refer to a biblical passage from The New Testament in the Book of Revelation:

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.


John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was an American writer of novels and short stories. Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are some of his most widely read books. He’s well-known for portraying California migrant workers during the Depression. The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939. It won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. After literary critics denounced the choice, even Steinbeck said he didn’t think he deserved the award. In 2012, the Nobel Prize committee opened its archives and notes revealed that Steinbeck was a “compromise choice” in a pool of unqualified candidates. Hard to believe!

Thanks to Wikipedia for these interesting facts!

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“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck

the chrysanthemums pic“The Chrysanthemums”
John Steinbeck


Here’s a powerful story written in 1938 and set in the Salinas Valley in California.  It’s about Elisa Allen, a thirty-five-year-old farmer’s wife.  She’s young and strong, but feels misunderstood and alone in her life.  A short dialogue with her husband, Henry, reveals a marriage that is cordial but passionless.  Elisa’s love for cultivating chrysanthemums is her only outlet, her way of expressing this disregarded passion.

Something happens when a man in a dilapidated wagon, advertising repairs of “pots, pans, sisors” and “lawn mores” arrives.  Despite her initial rejection of the man’s services, there’s an almost immediate attraction.  When he asks her about her flowers, Elisa becomes reckless with her words and movements.  Their dialogue is filled with second meanings and the full power of her feelings jumps out at you.

Within a small number of pages, Steinbeck shows a clear picture of Elisa’s life and her frustrations.  As Elisa and Henry drive into town for dinner that night, the story ends leaving you thinking about what she might do tomorrow.

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was an American writer of novels and short stories.  Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are some of his most widely read books.  He’s well-known for portraying California migrant workers during the Depression.  He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.  After literary critics denounced the choice, even Steinbeck said he didn’t think he deserved the award.  In 2012, the Nobel Prize committee opened its archives and notes revealed that Steinbeck was a “compromise choice” in a pool of unqualified candidates.  Hard to believe!

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