Books

Top 5 collections of short stories as chosen by Benjamin Markovits

A tale of running a chip shop, a 20-page conversation between mother and son while he's taking a bath and stories about revelations. These collections of short stories bring you a lot in just a few pages

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
Alice Munro

This has my favourite story in it – Post and Beam, about a woman whose cousin comes to visit from her small-town home, and is forced to realise that the front she puts up, to show how well she’s doing, isn’t quite true.

Franny and Zooey
JD Salinger

Two stories about the precocious Glass family, brilliant at describing the kind of intense intricacy of ordinary life. There’s a great 20-page conversation between a mother and her son while he’s taking a bath.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Alan Sillitoe

I spent my last year at university reading non-course books – mostly English novels of the Fifties and Sixties, like John Braine’s A Room at the Top or Stan Barstow’s A Kind of Loving. This short story by Alan Sillitoe is one of the best. 

Mothers and Sons
Colm Toibín

Sometimes even good short stories exaggerate how secretly terrible life is. But this collection has a persuasive account of somebody becoming happier – in The Name of the Game, a widow uses her small inheritance to run a chip shop. Turns out she’s good at it. Sometimes things work out.    

The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor
Peter Taylor

I first came across one of the stories in a New Yorker anthology, Wonderful Town. 1939 is about a couple of creative writing students who drive to New York over Thanksgiving to meet their girlfriends. Part of what they learn is how young they still are.

Benjamin Markovits is a judge for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University. The shortlist is announced on September 14 and the winner will be named on October 2

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