13 Short Stories From Classic Novelists You Can Read Over Lunch

13 Short Stories From Classic Novelists You Can Read Over Lunch

It's easy to feel like you don't have time to read literature — especially hefty works by classic novelists. Between busy jobs and hectic weekends, cracking open a lengthy book that tackles humanity's biggest questions doesn't always seem like the most fun pastime. 

Luckily for us, many writers famous for their long sagas wrote short stories too.

Here are some suggestions for poignant stories from the world's most beautiful writers, all of which you can read in the time it takes to scan your newsfeed.

1. 'A Haunted House' by Virginia Woolf

This very short story — barely over 700 words — showcases Woolf's signature modernist style. Unlike Woolf's other works, the story is a fantasy. In "A Haunted House," a ghost couple searches for buried treasure in the house of a living couple. Mysterious in topic and writing style, the story takes on the power of love.  

Read it for free here

2. 'Shooting an Elephant' by George Orwell

This short story by Orwell follows an English policeman in Burma who is called upon to shoot an elephant. The strain of imperialism is represented through the officer's anguish while watching the majestic creature suffer and slowly die. It is also a great companion read to Orwell's novel Burmese Days.

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3. 'A Sound of Thunder' by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury wrote 11 novels — and over 400 short stories. He was famous for writing a story every week, a practice many other writers have since tried to emulate. "A Sound of Thunder" is the most republished science fiction story of all time and is the origin of the sci-fi theme called "the butterfly effect." 

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4. 'The Nightingale and the Rose' by Oscar Wilde

"The Nightingale and the Rose" uses the fairy tale form to take a much more serious look at themes of love and sacrifice. While the nightingale is a character you would expect in a fairy tale, willing to sacrifice herself for true love, the lovers in this story are quite a surprise. 

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5. 'Stone Mattress' by Margaret Atwood

Best known for her novels, including classics like The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood is also a prolific short story writer. This story follows a serial seductress as she runs into her old high school crush on vacation 50 years later — and starts planning his murder. 

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6. 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish' by J. D. Salinger

Salinger is considered one of the best American writers of the 20th century, but he only actually wrote one novel: The Catcher in the Rye. His other works were all short stories or novellas. This one follows the comical conversation of a woman on vacation with her husband, who has PTSD, talking on the phone to her concerned mother.

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7. 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' by Ernest Hemingway

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" follows a writer, Harry, on safari in Africa with his wife who is dying from gangrene. A member of Hemingway's "lost generation," Harry reflects on how a marriage with luxury and without love caused him to waste away his life and his talent.  

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8. 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In Marquez's signature style of magical realism, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is about a couple who find an angel in their front yard. Soon everyone in town has a different opinion about what should be done with the angel and why exactly it is that he can't fly. 

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9. 'Three Questions' by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy took a break from his famously long novels to write this short parable about a king searching to find how he can learn to do the right thing at the right time. The answer comes to him in a very surprising way.

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10. 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' by Mark Twain

This short story was Mark Twain's first success as an author. In it a rather cynical narrator recounts a story told to him by a small town bartender about a gambler and his famous jumping frog. The tall tale was written as part of a contest Twain had with his friends to see who could create the most absurd yet believable story.

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11. 'Eveline' by James Joyce

While best known for Ulysses, one of the longest books in the English language, Joyce also wrote many short stories about the people of Ireland. This one follows a young woman who has to choose between duty to her family and the potential for a better life abroad with her lover. 

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12. 'Symbols and Signs' by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov wrote this piece for The New Yorker in 1948, seven years before Lolita was published. In it he follows an elderly couple going to visit their mentally ill son for his birthday. As everything starts to go wrong, the story explores the truly touching efforts of these loving parents. 

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13. 'The Diamond as Big as the Ritz' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Best known for his novel The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald once again enters the world of the rich and glamorous in this short story. Fitzgerald's critique of wealth remains scathing, this time exploring how far one family is willing to go to hide the secret behind their wealth. 

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For more reading suggestions, check out "14 Brilliant Pieces Of Literature You Can Read in the Time It Takes to Eat Lunch."