And then I started thinking about the short stories that have stuck with me since I first read them. Yes, yes, yes, Jack London's To Build a Fire is a fantastic story, and so is Stephen Crane's Open Boat but the stories that really made an impression never made it into my English books--with one exception.
I was going to make a list of my five favorite short stories and then I realized, I had to make it a top 10 list. So here they are in no particular order:
Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. I know what you're thinking, how can I pick just one? But I recently saw Jeffrey Combs' awesome one-man Poe show Nevermore where he recited this one and it's still so potent.
Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.--I'm also fan of his Pretty Maggie Money-Eyes with its stinger of a last line.
Nightfall I once wrote Asimov a fan letter, one of the few I've written, and he was gracious enough to respond to me. His guides to Shakespeare and the Bible are outstanding works of scholarship and well worth owning in the days before the Internet.
Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. Written in 1948, the story goes that she wrote it because she needed money to fix her refrigerator. Her novel
Saki's The Open Window also has a great last line and a twist. He wrote a ton of great short stories, but this one is probably his most famous.
Arthur C. Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God. Just an awesome story and so incredibly simple. I love the collision of mysticism and technology.
Ray Bradbury's The Small Assassin is a dark, dark story of the kind you might find in a Stephen King anthology. (I love a lot of King's stories, and also many written by his son Joe Hill, but I read King as an adult. The stories here are the ones that shaped me as a writer because they just haunted me.)
Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game which has been used as a basic plot in a bazillion movies including the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Hard Target directed by John Woo.
Frank R. Stockton's The Lady or the Tiger is another favorite. I don't remember ever reading anything else he wrote but like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe one thing is all you need.
And finally, W. W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw.. This story was written in the 19th century and they'll still be reading it 500 years from now. Stephen King used it as the basis of his novel Pet Sematary and if you haven't read that, you should.
If I could go to 11 like the amps in Spinal Tap I would add one more, D.H. Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner. And then there are all those wonderful Roald Dahl stories. I skipped right past Willy Wonka and James and the Giant Peach and went right to his stories in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
What are the stories that shaped your life and your writing? I'd really like to know so I can go read them.