Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Tell Me a Riddle” as Want to Read:
Tell Me a Riddle
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Tell Me a Riddle

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,364 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
This collection of four stories, "I Stand Here Ironing," "Hey Sailor, what Ship?," "O Yes," and "Tell me a Riddle," had become an American classic.Since the title novella won the O. Henry Award in 1961, the stories have been anthologized over a hundred times, made into three films, translated into thirteen languages, and - most important - once read, they abide in the hear ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published July 15th 1971 by Delta (first published 1961)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Tell Me a Riddle, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Tell Me a Riddle

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,891)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sep 01, 2013 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teresa by: Mikki
Though there is much more to the four stories in this slim volume than the disruptive force of family life, I think it appropriate that I read the majority of the final, title story while three of my husband's grandkids wanted drinks, snacks, pillows, covers and conversation from me. After they settled in another room with their granddad and a movie, I finished the last story (though not uninterrupted) with the Sunday night baseball game on low volume.

These modern conveniences show that my life
Aug 02, 2015 Fewlas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quattro racconti che sono quattro capolavori.
La Olsen ha avuto una vita faticosa. Figlia di ebrei esuli russi, da quando ebbe dieci anni iniziò a lavorare e si istruì da sola, leggendo. Quando divenne madre ebbe poco tempo per stare con i figli, perché doveva lavorare, ed ebbe anche poco tempo per scrivere, sempre per la stessa ragione, e anche perché fu costantemente perseguitata per il suo attivismo politico (cosa che la fece finire anche in carcere). La sua scrittura è quindi anche un modo p
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
If I remember correctly I reviewed "I Stand Here Ironing" last year, Mothers' Day, which I found in an anthology of short stories. A week ago I found this volume of four titles which includes "I Stand Here Ironing" and decided to give the title story a go while at Starbucks sipping coffee as my wife goes with her seemingly interminable shopping.

She had already joined me, sitting across our small, round table with her decaf and New York cheesecake as I was winding up with "Tell Me a Riddle" and I
Una scrittura immediata, diretta; pensieri espressi senza traduzione, né intermediari. Voci della mente, impressioni pure. Una scrittura inusuale, “strana” che mi ha preso alla sprovvista e inizialmente sconcertato: talmente coinvolgente da provare smarrimento, e diffidenza, come nei primi rapporti con una persona che ti appaia troppo invadente: ci si irrigidisce, si rimane in controllo.
Per questo motivo, forse, i primi tre racconti mi sono scivolati via senza che riuscissi ad immergermi complet
Cindy Arnold
Jun 01, 2013 Cindy Arnold rated it it was amazing
This short story was a game changer for me -- after reading it, I was certain I wanted to major in English literature. Before that, I knew I wanted to teach high school English, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to focus on literature or writing in my major. As I sat on my bed in my freshmen dorm room, silently and uncontrollably crying as Olsen pushed the story further and further, I knew this story had turned on a switch within me. I then went on to write the first literary analysis paper that I w ...more
Dec 08, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it
Olsen, Tillie. TELL ME A RIDDLE. (This ed., 1964). ****. This collection includes three short stories and the title novella by this author. Although the title story is excellent, as is the short story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” the other two stories are, in my opinion, so-so. One of the, “Oh Yes,” about a church service and the thoughts of several of the attendees at the time, was mostly too scattered and without a point to really grab my attention. “I Stand Here Ironing,” is comprised of the ment ...more
Mar 13, 2012 Nan rated it really liked it
Though bleak, it's refreshing reading honest stories of the "other" San Francisco: families scraping by year after year, earning wisdom through deep regret and being experienced have-nots. There are still quite a few folks like these, though you'd never know it through the media's hipster and old-money portrayals of the city. The title story is a challenge to the idea of waiting for retirement.
L'incessante e spossante rinuncia del vivere quotidiano.

Essere moglie «Bugiarda - disse lui risoluto - c'è stata anche un po' di felicità», essere madre «Pensa che solo perché sono sua madre abbia una chiave, o che in qualche modo potrebbe usarmi come chiave? Vive da diciannove anni. C'è tutta questa vita vissuta fuori di me, oltre di me», essere donna «Mai più costretta ad andare al ritmo degli altri», negli anni Cinquanta, negli USA, fra New Deal povertà e battaglie politiche sociali e razzial
I was excited when I learned that this book of stories (three short, one long) is about a family. One of my favorite things is fiction that links places and characters through multiple works. I like a canon. I like the feeling that this is something, someone, who you know the way you know things and people over time, in your real life.

I loved these a lot. Generally they seem to be set near the 1960's, and are about certain transitional moments in relationships: parents and children (of course),
May 16, 2013 spoko rated it it was amazing
In my continuing attempt to read things with some Nebraska connection, and also (mostly) in honor of Olsen's passing at the beginning of the year, I thought I would read something from her. It turns out that this is really her only completed book of fiction, so I suppose it's not unusual that this is the one I would settle on. Having read the book, in any case, there is one thing I can say for sure: Holy hell, this woman could write. I'm not sure I've ever read a more powerful collection of stor ...more
May 01, 2010 Clare rated it liked it
US school are considering making Tillie Olson’s short story “I stand here ironing” required reading for high school students. I get why. The simple writing is rich with meaning and regret. Reading each sentence is almost like analyzing an Emily Dickinson poem. Life is not beautiful in Tillie Olson’s world, it is nasty, brutish and short. A mother stands ironing while recounting to a teacher the struggle she had raising her oldest daughter and their awkward, painful disconnect now. It’s a moving ...more
Jan 14, 2009 Laurie rated it really liked it
I remember reading this book in 1995. I opted to stay in the car and finish the title story rather than snowshoe in southwestern Colorado - that's how into the book I was. I couldn't remember thing one about the book, though, and recently reread the title story. What a sad, tragic story! There's a lot of early feminist stuff in here, as well as themes like aging, the power of names, family, and immigration. Not a lot of uplift here and a whole lot of sadness. A testament to the life I don't want ...more
Jan 21, 2015 Rhonda rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 01, 2012 Melissa rated it liked it
The first story, "I Stand Here Ironing," was my favorite in this collection. A beautiful depiction of what it's like to be haunted by your failings as a mother without the sense of hand-wringing that seems to accompany many efforts to capture that emotion.
Bonnie Kitts
Jul 26, 2011 Bonnie Kitts rated it it was ok
I like punctuation and full sentences. Found it hard to determine who was the voice and who were the characters.
May 16, 2013 Ffiamma rated it it was amazing
Shelves: donne, americana
fatevi un regalo: leggete questi racconti.
Feb 24, 2015 Runa rated it liked it
Olsen is a good writer, and the plasticity of her descriptions could put her up there with the very best, but for whatever reason every single story in this book falls short of that. It's possibly because of how transparent their structure is (with the exception of the last one, "Tell Me a Riddle", which operates much deeper under the surface) and how unrelatable the characters are. Briefly, this collection has its occasional sparks of brilliance, but, like each of its individual stories, fails ...more
Amanda McDougle
Oct 07, 2012 Amanda McDougle rated it it was amazing
I thought this story was truly sad. The elderly couple - the Cadavers - have faced poverty and oppression since the beginning of their marriage. This couple's flaw is the lack of communicating to each other. Mrs. Cadaver finds solitude in taking care of the house. Mr. Cadaver is concerned about finances, and this leads him to make the decision to sell the house. Mrs. Cadaver's medical condition is progressive.

From limited information I gather from "Tell Me A Riddle," Mrs. Cadaver was not an aff
Jan 01, 2012 Leslie rated it liked it
These short stories have the wistful, melanchotic tug of times of enormous stress, change, loss, dashed hope, and nostalgia. They center around a single family, although the connections between them are not entirely obvious. "I Stand Here Ironing" is a mother's examination of conscience over her daughter Emily's self-estrangement. "Hey Sailor, What Ship?" is the chaotic, drunken haze of a man visiting the only home he knows using the only coping mechanism he has had for the ugliness life has thr ...more
Yuki Shimmyo
Nov 12, 2015 Yuki Shimmyo rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: HS and up
Heart-breaking/bursting and illuminating -- the first short story is superb, not a syllable is wasted in "I Stand Here Ironing." The final (title) novella is poetic, haunting and excellent. I have enormous respect for this writer, and for the indomitable poor working mothers she reveals to us.

"I Stand Here Ironing" ***** (Highly recommended!)
"Hey Sailor, What Ship?" ***
"O Yes" ****
"Tell Me a Riddle" ***** (The title novella left me verklempt - all choked up)

Here's how "Tell Me a Riddle" opens:
Aug 11, 2008 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compilation of four stories (three short and one almost novella-length) written by Tillie Olsen. Not only was I inspired to pick up this book because of an article she wrote that was republished in my copy of An American Album (a compilation of articles, stories, and poems published in Harper's), but also because it was recommended to me by Amy Hempel in the short fiction workshop she taught in Southampton last month.

I've already read "I Stand Here Ironing" (back in high school) and, since the
Feb 24, 2013 Rita rated it really liked it
Gosh, what powerful stories.
She shows us lives that are painful, tortured. Manages to get into the head of an alcoholic ex-sailor. ["Hey Sailor, What Ship?"]

"I Stand Here Ironing" sounds like it might be autobiographical -- Olsen too had to raise her children and provide for them single-handed. The story shares the intense pain of the mother who desperately wanted/wants to give her children much more than circumstances allow.

I have previously read Olsen's amazing and very important nonfictio
Suzanne Mazel
Apr 14, 2015 Suzanne Mazel rated it it was amazing
Tillie Olsen is in touch with a side of humanity hard to grasp - the experiences, desires, and emotions she writes about are universally relatable. Any reader will find himself swept up in the pages of these characters, either recognizing himself or a friend in these words. Olsen's stories are for anyone looking to understand another person, or themselves, better.
East Bay J
Nov 17, 2007 East Bay J rated it liked it
Tell Me A Riddle collects four short stories, probably written in the late 50's. "I Stand Here Ironing" starts off by pulling you into Olsen's unique (and mostly successful) use of words and deft treatment of her characters. "Hey Sailor, What Ship?" is a sad tale of a family who has watched their sailor friend deteriorate through the years. "O Yes" relates a young girl's first experience in a baptist church and the scars it leaves on her forever. The final story is the one this volume was named ...more
Feb 27, 2015 Lily rated it it was ok
Recommended to Lily by: Book group using Great Conversations
Read the title story (1960's O'Henry Short Story Award winner) from Great Conversations for local f2f discussion.

It is good; I just perhaps was not in the mood for this story at the time encountered. Enjoyed knowing more about Tillie Olsen and the role she played in women's writing and activist movements.

Rita O'connell
Nov 09, 2014 Rita O'connell rated it really liked it
These stories are sad, but realistic, and make me glad I read them. Especially "Tell me a riddle," the short story for which the book is named. Since my Dad recently died, and I was his caretaker, I identified with the way his wife's life continued to become limited, until she was bedridden, and eventually died. The whole senselessness of a life that had been full with a brain full of compassion and knowledge, ending, and going where?, emanated from this story.
Sep 06, 2010 Miriam rated it really liked it
This book made me want to call my mom. The last story, "Tell Me a Riddle," has so many good things in it about how a mother lives for her family but that in the end she might want to do something different. And it's bitter, and hard to read, and complex, and so much still goes unsaid. But she captures something specific in each story, and the characters feel real. Her writing style is a bit jumbly for me (lack of punctuation for speaking, hard to know whose perspective/interior monologue it is, ...more
You know when a story is so creatively-written that it becomes a little hard to read? It almost sounds like poetry at times. I know it's probably just me lacking as a reader, but oh well. (I just read Tell Me a Riddle, by the way.)
Nicole Gervasio
May 21, 2012 Nicole Gervasio rated it it was amazing
I can't wait to read more of Tillie Olsen's work. If you can, get a copy of Tell Me a Riddle that includes all FOUR stories that appeared in the original edition (many subsequent versions have only included "Tell Me a Riddle" with accompanying criticism). Reading the four stories back-to-back has a very different impact than reading "Tell Me a Riddle" on its own, although that one is rightfully recognized as the most provocative and fleshed-out story in the collection. The four are meant to be a ...more
May 30, 2007 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
I'd never heard of Tillie Olsen until a friend recommended this small book of four short stories. I was very impressed; the voice is both distinctive unto itself and slightly different in each story. "I Stand Here Ironing" was my favorite of the pieces, but they were all interesting. Olsen deals with issues of immigration, war, race, class, and more, generally from the point of view of women dealing with the way these issues and the "progress" of the twentieth century impact their lives and inte ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 96 97 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Tillie Olsen cover 2 11 Jul 16, 2015 03:45PM  
  • The Little Disturbances of Man
  • Gogol's Wife and Other Stories
  • The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor
  • The Oranging of America and Other Stories
  • I Would Have Saved Them If I Could
  • Falling in Place
  • I, etcetera
  • The World Within the Word
  • The Writer on Her Work
  • Black Tickets: Stories
  • The Changeling
  • Kaspar and Other Plays
  • The Blood Oranges
  • Nog
  • Advertisements for Myself
  • Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories
  • Man in the Holocene
  • Rivers and Mountains
Tillie Lerner Olsen (January 14, 1912 – January 1, 2007) was an American writer associated with the political turmoil of the 1930s and the first generation of American feminists.

Though she published little, Olsen was very influential for her treatment of the lives of women and the poor. She drew attention to why women have been less likely to be published authors (and why they receive less attenti
More about Tillie Olsen...

Share This Book

“There are worse words than cuss-words, there are words that hurt.” 7 likes
More quotes…