Matrix Blog

English 11-12

The Ultimate Short Story Reading List | Flash Fiction, Short Stories, & Novellas

Scroll down to see the top short fiction texts you need to read to take your English skills to the next level.

Looking to jump start a reading habit but always find yourself bogged down by your school, work, and extra-curricular schedule? Check out the English Team’s recommended reading list for fiction that sits on the shorter side of the narrative – flash fiction, short stories, and novellas.

 

In this The Ultimate Short Story Reading List, we’ll look at:

The idea of reading an entire 400-page novel can be incredibly daunting. Especially, when you’re caught between consolidating your linear equations for maths class and brushing up on WWI statistics for History. The good news is that being widely read also means reading texts with varying word counts. That means short stories and novellas are just as important for your literary education as Charles Dickens’ 544-paged classic ‘Great Expectations’.

In fact, many writers find writing a compelling story in less than a thousand words to be more challenging than spinning a grand plot into a chunky novel. Great expectations, indeed!

 

Differences between shorter fiction forms

What are the differences between narrative text types like microfiction, flash fiction, short stories, and novellas?

 

What is microfiction?

Microfiction or micro stories are stories that are told in 300 words or less, with one of the more famous examples of microfiction being this six-word story from Ernest Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

 

What is flash fiction?

Flash fiction can range from anywhere between 300 to 2000 words, and flash fiction is the creative text type that most high school students are expected to create, usually at the prompt of a visual stimulus. Flash fiction contains the narrative elements of a novel, including complex character development, although usually with a simpler plot structure.

What is a short story?

The short story on the other hand, falls at a word count of around 10,000 or less and can be found in popular magazines like ‘The New Yorker’ or ‘Meanjin’, which is an Australian-based publication. Short stories may contain a fully-fleshed out plot with a more in-depth exploration of multiple characters.

What is a novella?

Finally, a novella can be best described as a “little novel”, falling between 20,000 and 49,999 words. Authors who write novellas may have more room to move around with characters, setting, language, and plot, but the novella is still a condensely concentrated work of fiction!

Now that we understand the differences between these short narrative types, check out our recommendations to get started on your time-sensitive reading journey!

 

Learn how to write Band 6 worthy essays with our HSC Expert Teachers!

 

Flash Fiction

Text: Time capsule found on the dead planet by Margaret Atwood

Reader: All grades and ages

Topics and Themes: Climate change, critique of global overconsumption, speculative fiction

English Team’s Comment: A thought-provoking and wonderfully succinct post-apocalyptic story told through a numbered list that reflects the sequence of human history. A succinct appropriation of Hesiod’s Five Ages of Man (lines 109–201), Atwood provides a haunting speculation of our planet’s trajectory if Global Warming is not addressed.

 

Text: There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury

Reader: All grades and ages

Topics and Themes: Nuclear war, existential angst about environmental degradation, science fiction contemplation about the end of humanity

English Team’s Comment: A provocative example of speculative fiction in which humanity has brought about our own end with nuclear war. In post-apocalyptic suburbia, a fully automated and self-sufficient house stands alone, waiting for nature to take its course.

 

Text: Don’t Ask Jack by Neil Gaiman

Reader: Years 9-10

Topics and Themes: Loss of innocence and childhood, horror, superstition and supernatural themes

English Team’s Comment: A horror-filled story that keeps you guessing about collective beliefs and superstitions that lie in the attic of a seemingly haunted family. What will happen when you let Jack out of the box?

 

Text: Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

Reader: All grades and ages

Topics and Themes: Unequal social expectations on young women, Caribbean identity

English Team’s Comment: A haunting rendition of identity-based flash fiction told through a series of questions and commands from a mother to a daughter. The whole story is one sentence!

 

Text: The Huntress by Sofia Samatar

Reader: Years 7-10

Topics and Themes: Fear, superstition, intergenerational and collective relationships

English Team’s Comment: A three to five minute read at most, this story is more abstract in nature and deals with a darkly surreal “Huntress” that can be interpreted as the personification of fear or superstition.

 

Text: Sticks by George Saunders

Reader: All grades and ages

Topics and Themes: Human sentimentality and ritual, the banality and cruel reality of life

English Team’s Comment: The shortest story on this entire list, Saunders’ Sticks is a fun portrayal of human idiosyncrasies and the way we impose meaning onto objects that are not necessarily meaningful. Sticks has a slow build with a sudden, heartrending ending that is almost cruel to the reader.

 

Text: Four Stories of God by Joy Williams

Reader: Years 11-12

Topics and Themes: Surreal conceptions of Abrahamic religions, spirituality, life and death

English Team’s Comment: These four micro stories, each punctured by a capitalised, single-worded ending, take on a parable-esque tone in wildly distinct yet similarly surreal circumstances of a humanist scholar, an opera singer, a monk, and a child.

 

The Short Story

Text: Two Words by Isabel Allende

Book cover of the short story Two Words by Isabel Allende

Reader: Years 7-9

Topics and Themes: The power of love and language, civil war and conflict, violence

English Team’s Comment: An evocative short story translated from the magical realism of Latin America. The eponymous two words– which are never uttered, but implied to be the Spanish “Te amo”, or “I love you”– carry a punch and cut through the violence of civil war.

 

Text: A Tree of Night by Truman Capote

Book cover of the short story A Tree of Night by Truman Capote

Reader: Years 11-12

Topics and Themes: Thrilling psychology, death, public paralysis in a dream-like quality of everyday banality, the awkwardness of encounters with strangers

English Team’s Comment: This particular short story by Truman Capote (of Breakfast at Tiffany’s fame) makes the reader squirm in their seat – especially if that seat is on public transport and a stranger forces you to converse with them!

 

Text: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Book cover of the short story The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Reader: Years 9-12

Topics and Themes: Retold fairy tale through a feminist lens, cautionary tale, femicide and the impunity of male violence

English Team’s Comment: An appropriation of the French tale Bluebeard (La Barbe Bleue) told through Angela Carter’s sharp and powerful narrative voice. Instead of a serial wife-killer taking center stage in this short story, Carter centers the first-person narration of the young, female victim and in doing so, redefines the rules of victimhood.

 

Text: Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

Book cover of the short story Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

Reader: Years 7-8

Topics and Themes: A tale of marital resentment, murder mystery

English Team’s Comment: A captivating, fast-paced read for any student looking for a short story that has an ironically dark twist for an ending!

 

Text: The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

Book cover of the short story The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

Reader: Years 7-8

Topics and Themes: Critique of greed and desire for luxury, cautionary tale

English Team’s Comment: In the symbol of a seemingly-luxurious necklace, Guy de Maupassant delivers a stinging cautionary tale for those who are not content with their station in life.

 

Text: Galatea by Madeline Miller

Book cover of the short story Galatea by Madeline Miller

Reader: Years 10-12

Topics and Themes: Retold Ancient Greek myth, feminism, critique of female “hysteria”

English Team’s Comment: Madeline Miller, a Classics scholar at Brown University, constructs a strong, feminist tale that explores the objectification and thus dehumanisation of women. Galatea, a statue-turned-human by the Greek gods, aims to break free of patriarchal control by any means necessary.

 

Text: Recitatif by Toni Morrison

Book cover of the short story Recitatif by Toni Morrison

Reader: Years 11-12

Topics and Themes: Systemic racism in the United States, violence, loss of childhood innocence, questions around truth and memory

English Team’s Comment: Known as Toni Morrison’s only published short story, Recitatif is a story between two girls in an orphanage whose racial identities the reader puzzles over. Unable to distinguish between black and white or truth and fabrication, Morrison provides an evocatively uncomfortable critique of racism and discrimination.

 

Text: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

Book cover of the short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

Reader: Years 7-10

Topics and Themes: The banality of everyday life, ideas of success and failure, imagination

English Team’s Comment: A very popular example of the short story, this piece from James Thurber uses imaginative vignettes to cut through the boring and the mundane rituals of everyday life in the city. It’s even been made into a movie!

 

Text: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Kurt Vonnegut

Book cover of the short story Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Kurt Vonnegut

Reader: All grades and ages

Topics and Themes: Dystopian world, tension between scientific progress and environmental degradation

English Team’s Comment: Kurt Vonnegut delivers yet another thought-provoking science fiction story. It’s about humanity’s obsession with overconsumption and lack of care for the environment. Taking its title from Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy in Macbeth, this short story critiques humanity’s desire to live forever. When the story was first published, it was named “The Big Trip Up Yonder”, so you might see that title instead when you search for this story.

 

The Novella

 

Text: King of Trees by Ah Cheng

Book cover of the novella King of Trees by Ah Cheng

Reader: Years 10-12

Topics and Themes: China’s Cultural Revolution, rapid industrialisation and environmental degradation, tension between ancient spirituality and modern apathy

English Team’s Comment: A haunting novella by Zhong Acheng (pen name Ah Cheng) that explores the cultural, environmental, and spiritual ramifications of China’s zealous industrialisation under Mao Ze Dong’s communist regime.

 

Text: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Book cover of the novella The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Reader: Years 9-10

Topics and Themes: Chicanx literature, Mexican-American identity and racism, issues of class and gender expectations

English Team’s Comment: A short, 100ish-page novel told through a series of vignettes. A Mexican-American tween enters her adolescence. Over the course of a year, we follow her experiences while growing up in the Latin quarter of Chicago.

 

Text: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Book cover of the novella Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Reader: Years 9-12

Topics and Themes: Migration, the US-Mexican border, in-between identities and cultures

English Team’s Comment: A cross between contemporary mythology and the reality of tough lives riddled by even tougher border crossings. Yuri Herrera delivers a surreal exploration of physical and spiritual journeys.

 

Text: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Book cover of the novella The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Reader: Years 9-12

Topics and Themes: Loneliness, social detachment and isolation, existential dread

English Team’s Comment: A dark, but compelling read. A man suddenly finds himself in the physical form of a grotesque insect. Allegorically speaking, this insect is very lonely indeed.

 

Text: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

Book cover of the novella The Ultimate Short Story Reading Guide Flash Fiction, Short Stories, Novellas Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

Reader: Years 9-10

Topics and Themes: Magical realism, collectives consciences, community accountability

English Team’s Comment: García Márquez is one of the greats of the Latin American Literature Boom. In this novella, he constructs a magical realist narrative around a death. The reader knows the protagonist will die. But how? And by whose hand?

 

Text: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Book cover of the novella The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Reader: Years 7-9

Topics and Themes: Magical realism, blurred lines between dreams and reality

English Team’s Comment: One of the captivating aspects of Murakami’s illustrated novella are the illustrations themselves. They visually depict the whimsical yet creeping horror of a public library’s surreal basement labyrinth.

 

Sources

  • Author Learning Center, 2018, Short Fiction Forms: Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and Flash Fiction Defined. Available here [7 June 2022].
  • Theoi Classical Texts Library, nd., Hesiod, Works and Days. Available here. [8 June 2022].

Written by Deborah Prospero

Deborah Prospero is a passionate English teacher and youth advocate. With an international & global studies and languages background, Deborah is a writer with a keen interest in exploring literature, culture, and politics. She is currently the project lead for the Mami Watta Collections Journal and has had her work featured in publications like Kindling&Sage, Gelmag, KOS Magazine, and the Asian Australian Project. When not working or studying, you can find her rock climbing, beading jewellery, and playing Scrabble.

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Get free study tips and resources delivered to your inbox.

Join 75,893 students who already have a head start.

Our website uses cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our cookies statement.

OK, I understand