I shared a list of thought-provoking short stories in another post. (See February 2018 post.) If you work with advanced students who challenge you to find good reading material, you’ll go through that first list in good time and then be in need of new titles to choose from.
Allow me to share five more. If you’d like to return the favor and recommend a short story, please do!
1. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut (1961). You can’t help but laugh as you read this satire. If you want students to discuss utopia versus dystopia and also prove to them that stories set in the future aren’t filled with UFOs, this is a great choice. More important, they can contemplate whether total equality among humans is actually desirable or possible. The ideas Kurt Vonnegut came up with to create his future society are so delightfully absurd that students will likely ask for more stories like this one.
2. The Reticence of Lady Anne by H. H. Munro, aka Saki (early 20th century). The beauty of a short story is that if the world you enter is grim or full of tension, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to exit it relatively quickly. In the case of this story by the writer known as Saki, readers can leave the rigid atmosphere with a burst of laughter at the end. This is a very brief scene between a married couple in Edwardian London. The only other character is the cat, who actually plays an important role. Students will enjoy analyzing the relationship, and they can also discuss the nature of different communication styles. (Note: On YouTube you can find both audio books and dramatizations of this title.)
3. Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife by James Thurber (1933). I love The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but the language is a bit more challenging with all the made-up jargon used in the imaginings of the main character. An alternative short work by the same author is this tale of a Mr. and Mrs. Preble. If you really want to continue your examination of unhappy marriages, then on the heels of Saki’s story, you can read this one. The abundance of dialog in everyday English makes it easy to read. Thurber is a master at weaving humor into a lifeless marriage. Students can discuss the nature of the marriage and the power struggle going on…in the cold basement!
4. The Continuity of Parks by Julio Cortázar (1964). This is yet one more story of a less-than-ideal marriage, but in an amazingly short period of time you get lost in between what’s real and what’s not. The two-paragraph story is a very entertaining read and allows students to think about the purpose of fiction, the dangers of fiction, and…what can lead a marriage downhill.
5. Mr. Andrews by E. M. Forster (1961). If religion is safe to touch upon in your teaching context, this story makes for a good discussion. The characters lead us to ponder faith, tolerance, expectations, and the meaning of fulfillment. I’ve only read this with one advanced student to date; she has the proficiency and eagerness to tackle any and all literary works. Such topics certainly require a level of trust and openness. Our discussion of the story was productive and enjoyable. Good literature is meant to make us think, and this one did just that.
Photo credit: iPad, Swipe, Surf, Read, Screen by Niekverlann. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/ipad-work-swipe-surf-read-screen-718411/.