The Greatest "Contemporary, Short Stories" Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 315 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Contemporary

Contemporary books are a genre that focuses on stories set in the present day, often exploring current social, cultural, and political issues. These books are typically written in a modern style and often feature relatable characters dealing with real-life situations. Contemporary books can cover a wide range of topics, from romance and family drama to coming-of-age stories and thrillers. The genre is constantly evolving to reflect the changing world we live in, making it a popular choice for readers who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and issues.

Short Stories

The "Short Stories" category encompasses a diverse collection of succinct, fictional narratives that are typically focused on a single theme or a concise plot. Unlike novels, short stories are designed to be read in a single sitting, offering a snapshot of characters' lives, often with a twist or a poignant conclusion that leaves a lasting impression. This genre includes a wide range of styles and subjects, from literary and speculative fiction to mystery and romance, allowing readers to explore a variety of worlds and experiences through the concise and potent medium of the short form. Renowned for their brevity and emotional impact, short stories challenge authors to convey depth and complexity within a limited framework, making every word count and often relying on the power of suggestion and the reader's imagination to complete the picture.

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  1. 1. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

    The book is a collection of linked short stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. The story is semi-autobiographical, based on the author's experiences in the war. The narrative explores the physical and emotional burdens the soldiers carry during the war, as well as the lingering effects of war on veterans. It delves into themes of bravery, truth, and the fluidity of fact and fiction.

    The 290th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

    This collection of short stories provides an intimate look into the lives of individuals living in the American suburbs during the mid-20th century. The narratives often center around themes of love, loss, and the pursuit of the American dream, painting a vivid picture of the human condition. The characters are typically middle-class individuals dealing with personal crises, existential dread, and the often harsh realities of everyday life. The stories are renowned for their ability to capture the essence of post-war America, with all of its beauty, despair, and complexity.

    The 358th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. Selected Stories of Alice Munro by Alice Munro

    This collection of short stories offers a comprehensive view of the author's narrative talent, showcasing her ability to create complex characters and situations that reflect the human condition. Set in various locations, from small Canadian towns to exotic foreign locales, each story delves into the intricate relationships, personal struggles, and quiet triumphs of its characters. The author's writing is marked by her keen observation, psychological insight, and the ability to convey the extraordinary within the ordinary, making each story a unique exploration of life's complexities.

    The 702nd Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

    The book is a collection of interconnected vignettes that detail the experiences of a Latina girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. It explores her struggles with her identity, her desire for a better life, and her experiences with poverty and gender roles. The protagonist's observations and experiences weave a vivid picture of life in a Latinx community, and her dreams of a better future give the narrative a sense of hope and resilience.

    The 757th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

    The book is a collection of linked short stories narrated by a young, unnamed protagonist who struggles with drug addiction. The stories are set in various locations across the United States and are filled with surreal and sometimes violent experiences. Despite the bleak circumstances, the narrator seeks moments of beauty and grace, often finding them in unexpected places. The narrative is characterized by its disjointed chronology, hallucinatory descriptions, and dark humor.

    The 835th Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

    "Where I'm Calling From" is a collection of 37 short stories that delve into the lives of everyday people dealing with addiction, relationships, and hardship. The stories often depict characters in moments of crisis or reflection, grappling with their personal demons or past mistakes. The author's minimalist style and focus on ordinary life brings a sense of realism and relatability to these narratives, making them a poignant exploration of human struggle and resilience.

    The 880th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

    The book is a collection of 13 interconnected short stories revolving around Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher living in a small town in Maine. Olive is a complex character with a prickly exterior but a deep well of emotion and empathy beneath the surface. Through her interactions and relationships with various town residents, the book explores themes of love, loss, aging, and change, painting a rich portrait of a community and its inhabitants.

    The 1030th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

    "Birds of America" is a collection of twelve short stories that delve into the complexities of human relationships and the struggles of everyday life. The stories feature a variety of characters, including a woman who is dealing with her husband's terminal illness, a couple who are struggling to conceive, and a woman who is trying to come to terms with her brother's suicide. The stories are filled with humor, wit, and poignant observations about life, love, and loss.

    The 1552nd Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. The Stories of Raymond Carver by Raymond Carver

    This collection of short stories presents a gritty and realistic view of American life, often focusing on characters struggling with poverty, alcoholism, and failed relationships. The author's minimalist style and use of everyday language create a stark and often bleak portrait of the human condition, while his ability to capture the profound in the mundane lends a sense of depth and complexity to his seemingly simple narratives.

    The 1576th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass

    The book is a collection of short stories exploring the lives of ordinary people in the Midwest. The narratives delve into the human condition, examining the complexities of relationships, the nuances of emotion, and the struggles of existence. The stories capture the essence of Midwestern life, painting a vivid picture of the landscape and its people, while also exploring themes of isolation, disillusionment, and the search for meaning.

    The 1598th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis

    The collection is a compendium of short fiction that showcases the author's deftness in capturing the intricacies of human experience through precise, often experimental prose. The stories range from the very brief to the more developed, exploring themes of language, memory, and the often overlooked moments of everyday life. With a unique voice that combines wit, keen observation, and a mastery of form, the author challenges traditional narrative structures, inviting readers to engage with the text on multiple levels and to find meaning in the spaces between the words as much as in the words themselves. The result is a body of work that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant, cementing the author's reputation as a significant figure in contemporary literature.

    The 1601st Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. Runaway by Alice Munro

    "Runaway" is a collection of short stories that explore the depth of human relationships, the complexities of love, and the consequences of life's unpredictable turns. The stories revolve around women of varying ages and circumstances, each dealing with her own unique situation. Some are escaping from their past or present situations, while others are struggling to find their place in the world. The narratives delve into themes like betrayal, loss, and the often complicated dynamics between parents and children, and husbands and wives.

    The 1658th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

    "Bad Behavior: Stories" is a collection of short stories that delve into the darker, often unexplored aspects of human relationships and behavior. The narrative navigates through the complex world of love, lust, power, and obsession, focusing on characters who are often marginalized or misunderstood. The stories provide a raw, unfiltered view of human nature, exploring themes of sexual deviance, emotional vulnerability, and societal norms.

    The 1973rd Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

    "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" is a collection of nine short stories that explore the complexities of human relationships. Each story delves into the intricate web of emotions and experiences that define the human condition, including love, hate, friendship, courtship, and marriage. The characters are rendered with depth and nuance, their lives marked by moments of profound change and subtle transformation. The stories are set against the backdrop of rural and urban landscapes, offering a rich, evocative portrayal of life in all its complexities and contradictions.

    The 1999th Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. Who Do You Think You Are? by Alice Munro

    "Who Do You Think You Are?" is a collection of short stories that follow the life of a woman named Rose from her childhood in rural Ontario through her adulthood as she navigates the complexities of relationships, personal identity, and social class. The stories explore themes of self-discovery, the nature of memory, and the impact of personal history on one's present. The narrative is a deep exploration of the human condition, revealing the intricacies of the protagonist's experiences, emotions, and perceptions.

    The 2040th Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley

    "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" is a collection of 17 short stories that delve into the lives of various individuals living in New York City. The narratives explore themes of love, loss, and the complexities of life, often from the perspective of women. The stories are characterized by their distinctive voice, evocative imagery, and a keen sense of observation, providing an intimate look into the human condition.

    The 2270th Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. Like Life by Lorrie Moore

    "Like Life" is a collection of short stories that explore the nuances of everyday life, delving into the complexities of relationships, love, and loss. The narratives are filled with characters grappling with their past, struggling with their present, and uncertain about their future. The author uses humor and poignant observation to highlight the beauty, pain, and absurdity of human existence, painting a vivid picture of life's many contradictions and ironies.

    The 2823rd Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. A Manual For Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

    "A Manual For Cleaning Women: Selected Stories" is a collection of short stories by author Lucia Berlin. The stories are autobiographical in nature and cover a range of topics, from poverty and addiction to love and loss. Berlin's writing is raw and honest, drawing on her own experiences as a cleaning woman, nurse, and alcoholic. The stories offer a glimpse into the lives of those on the fringes of society and explore the complexities of human relationships. Overall, the book is a powerful and moving testament to Berlin's talent as a writer and her ability to capture the essence of the human experience.

    The 3529th Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

    "The Progress of Love" is a collection of short stories that explore the complexities of human relationships, particularly focusing on love. Set in various locations, from small-town Ontario to post-war Italy, the narratives delve into the lives of different characters as they navigate the intricacies of love, loss, and the human condition. The stories intricately weave together themes of memory, time, and the constant evolution of love, showcasing the author's ability to portray the subtleties of everyday life with profound insight and empathy.

    The 3821st Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel

    "Reasons to Live" is a collection of short stories that depict various characters grappling with loss, grief, and existential crises. The narratives are filled with dark humor, sharp observations, and profound insights into the human condition. The stories explore themes such as death, suicide, and mental illness, but they also highlight the resilience of the human spirit and the potential for healing and redemption.

    The 4170th Greatest Book of All Time
  21. 21. Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga

    Obabakoak is a collection of interconnected stories that revolve around the inhabitants of a fictional Basque village named Obaba. The stories, which are a blend of the magical and the everyday, explore the complexities of human nature, as well as the rich history and culture of the Basque region. Themes of love, fear, tradition, and change are woven throughout, offering a nuanced and evocative portrait of a community and its people.

    The 4388th Greatest Book of All Time
  22. 22. Open Secrets: Stories by Alice Munro

    "Open Secrets: Stories" is a collection of eight short stories that delve into the complex lives of women, exploring themes of love, loss, and the secrets that bind and divide people. Set in various locations, from small-town Ontario to Australia, the stories feature characters grappling with their pasts, negotiating relationships, and confronting the mysteries of life. The narrative oscillates between past and present, revealing the profound and often unsettling truths hidden beneath the surface of ordinary lives.

    The 4412th Greatest Book of All Time
  23. 23. The Times Are Never So Bad: A Novella and Eight Short Stories by Andre Dubus

    "The Times Are Never So Bad: A Novella and Eight Short Stories" is a collection of nine narratives that explore human emotions, relationships, and struggles. The stories are set in different environments, ranging from urban to rural, and feature a variety of characters, including priests, soldiers, and ordinary people, who are all dealing with their own personal battles. The narratives delve into themes such as faith, loss, love, and the harsh realities of life, offering a profound and poignant look at the human condition.

    The 4422nd Greatest Book of All Time
  24. 24. The Collected Stories by Grace Paley

    "The Collected Stories" is a compilation of short stories that delve into the lives of various characters, often women, living in New York City. The stories are filled with humor, sorrow, and the daily struggles and triumphs of ordinary people. The author's skillful use of language and dialogue brings these characters and their experiences to life, offering insightful commentary on social issues, relationships, and the human condition.

    The 4598th Greatest Book of All Time
  25. 25. The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

    "The Love of a Good Woman" is a collection of eight short stories, each delving into the complex nature of relationships, particularly focusing on women. The narratives explore various themes such as love, betrayal, death, and the often overlooked intricacies of everyday life. Set in small-town Canada, the stories are filled with characters grappling with their desires, secrets, and the unexpected turns of life, offering a profound and nuanced exploration of human behavior and emotions.

    The 5041st Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

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